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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:15:34 AM CST

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Marci Jacobs/MEDILL

Open trash cans serve as a food source for rats and contribute to infestations.

Fighting the spring rat invasion

by Abigail Thorpe
Apr 23, 2014


Marci Jacobs/MEDILL

A rat baiter works to fight the problem by poisoning, baiting and killing rats.

Chewing through vents, invading trashcans and pantries, scurrying through allies and under bushes and harassing residents by night.


Rats raid cities large and small and Chicago is no exception. Yes, those evil looking characters even camp by the hordes in our sewers, a scene rather more befitting a horror movie than the place we call home.

But it’s not the city’s job alone to provide a solution, “it takes people to make commitments,” said Kevin Connelly, general manager of A-Alert Exterminating.

“We create situations that give advantages” to rat populations, he said. And we can control those situations.

The harsh winter hasn’t reduced Chicago’s rat population in any tangible way, said Connelly. It only served to kill off the weak and young, which will be quickly replaced by new babies. “If anything it hurt,” said Connelly, as the harsh cold urged rodents indoors to forage for food.

The rat population in Chicago “reached a worse plateau over the last several years,” said Connelly, but Connelly and Carolyn Bowman, of A1 Pest Master, don’t think this year will be worse than past years.

Bowman gave some helpful steps each individual can take to prevent conditions that will be attractive to rats.

- Keep things in your living and work environment clean and sanitary.
- Make sure there is no open food or trash that will attract pests.
- Seal any breaches or holes in your building.
- Check your piping.

If you live near an open field or empty lot you have to be especially careful, as these are the breeding grounds for rats, said Bowman. In such cases it is sometimes best to inform the city by calling 311.

The city's Bureau of Rodent Control is active in helping fight rat infestations by responding to rat sightings, monitoring alley conditions and using Rodenticide in burrows to help eradicate nests. City officials have also said they will consider the rat sterilization process that has proven effective in New York.

Other efforts to help the problem include Tree House Humane Society’s “cats at work” program, which provides feral cat adoption and placement to residents throughout the city.


While it is called cat adoption or placement, feral cats are unsocialized, essentially wild cats that are not meant to serve as pets or indoor animals, but can be helpful in hunting rodents.

The program has grown each year as the prowling cats keep rats and mice away from homes and buildings, said Executive Director Dave DeFuniak.

People who take on a feral cat must adhere to the basic county ordinance protecting the adopted cats and essentially ensuring them food, water and shelter. “In turn the cats act as a deterrent for rats and mice,” said DeFuniak.

But feral cats are not an especially effective method for decreasing the overall rat population, as the number of rats a cat will kill is limited to what the cat needs to be satisfied, said Connelly.

“There are other things that can be done,” said Connelly, who believes the most effective remedy does not lie with sterilization, feral cats or even the city’s efforts. “The question is are you solving the problem or just killing animals?” he said.

Rodents will go elsewhere if they don’t find the resources they need to survive and thrive. Overflowing trashcans, food left outdoors, open water sources and buildings in disrepair all contribute to making rats feel right at home.

“We created the problem and then we sit back,” said Connelly. It is time we took the rat problem as a personal responsibility, each individual working to resolve those conditions that make the city a rat’s paradise.