Thursday, December 21, 2006

Titled: "I'd rather not join the rat race" or "I smell an aldermanic campaign"

All of a sudden, 43rd Ward candidates are scurrying around, trying to snag some media cheese. Carol Marin shared her own Lincoln Park rat experience December 6, and then all hell broke loose:

Clout or no clout, rats a real problem

Michele Smith got some cheese a week later, in Inside, and she's so thrilled to have an actual issue that she says she's totally "changed the priorities in her campaign" because of it! As if rats just began popping up here two weeks ago. Where have you all been? My block on Lincoln Avenue is one of the densest restaurant and bar venues in the city. Rats are a fact of life here. Last winter, I trapped almost two dozen of them.

Lincoln Avenue is packed with young people on the weekend who throw around their pizzas and trash. When I met with Vi Daley in August 2005, asking her to put several more trash cans on Lincoln Avenue, she shrugged her shoulders and ignored me. When a concerned citizen approaches an elected official with a good idea and gets ignored, it's a good reason to run against her.

Rats are sort of cute, like squirrels. The adults may look disgusting to you, but they are fat now because they are pigged out for the winter. The recent warm spell has had them out foraging again. Look at the squirrels, they're fat now too, but nobody's screaming about that. It's an interesting prejudice.

Rats are not the problem, people are the problem. Increasing baiting will not solve things as much as good alley maintenance and reliable trash pickup. We don't have enough bins in many of the alleys and on the streets, and that leads to overflowing. Overflowing trash cans is the absolute main source of food for rats. We need to boost enforcement of this in certain parts of the ward. That's easy, and it's part of an alderman's job.

The Oz Park playground is also an ideal home for rats. They are safe in their cozy nests underneath the wood structures. Abraham and I head over there after dark and count dozens of them scooting around, picking up food that kids have dropped. That's going to be fixed next year.

This is a good thing. Although leptospirosis has not been identified in the Chicago area, that playground would be the ideal place for kids to pick it up. Leptospirosis -- which shows fever symptoms and is occasionally serious -- is transmitted through rat urine and can infect through cuts and mucous membranes. If you've seen our cute little toddlers playing in the wood chips in the playground, and then putting their hands to their faces, you can see where the problem lies.

Our Norway rat was originally from Asia, later crossing into Europe and hitching rides to New England on ships in colonial times. They are commensal with humans, meaning that the species evolved specifically in coexistence with us in our villages and cities.

Heather Hastings, formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (she grew up on Larrabee, in Walpole Point), told me last year that according to CDC's rat specialist there are no known diseases in Chicago transmitted through rats. Diseases that rats have been known to carry include plague (last seen in L.A. in 1927) and hantavirus (seen recently in New Mexico). Rats don't easily travel from city to city, so outbreaks of leptospirosis a few years ago in Baltimore wouldn't easily spread to Chicago.

Look. Living in a densely populated neighborhood is a profound experience. I loved growing up in Lincoln Park and Abraham loves it too. There is so much more to experience here. But there are also increased risks that we take. We can't live in constant fear of the dangers. We can only mitigate them as best we can.

Again, the single best way to deal with the rat problem is not to boost baiting. It is to manage the waste situation more carefully. Let's communicate with dog owners and building managers and raise some awareness. We also should have enforcement stickers for Ward Superintendent Mike Restivo to have his staff put on every trash bin, pointedly warning people that they can be ticketed for overflowing bins. If a bin is full, use a neighbor's bin, don't drop the bag on the ground. Such a step will reduce the rat population significantly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Silly fools.
Aldermen use Rat Poison to kill dogs, not rats.

Inside News: 12/27/2006 page 7:

"Hail of Poison" lead to hazardous materials violation.

... the police responded to a call of disturbance in the 4200 block of N. Marine Drive. The caller said the man was tossing many pellets on the ground and posting a sign reading "Poison" to prevent dog walkers from letting their dogs foul the parkway in front of his residence.

... He showed the police empty containers - 16 boxes, 3 oz. each marked "Hazardous to humans and domestic amnimals."

The resident said his brother, the owner of the home,had permission from the alderman [Ald. Helen Shiller] to put out the poison -

Which her staff later denied

7:12 AM  
Blogger The North Coast said...

The reason we hate rats while we love squirrels is because rats are truly disease-bearing scourges that are a grave threat to human health and life, especially should you be an infant human living in a rat-infested dwelling.

These creatures carry 37 different life threatening diseases (at least). They will chew on anything- dog feces, electrical line, wood, concrete, and your infant's face. They multiply ceaselessly, and are ready to start their breeding program at age 2 months- do the arithmetic and figure how long it takes a rat couple, with no constraints, to become 20,000.

Squirrels do not attack humans, do not spread diseases (usually, except for the very occasional case of rabies) and most of all squirrels do not INFEST our dwellings and food supplies. They are reticent, polite litte creatures- it really amuses me how daintily they will pick a nut out of your hand and make off with it to put away in a hiding place.

I had to learn to hate the commn Norway rat, too, as I had every sort of creature as a pet while growing up, including lovely tame rats and mice and guinea pigs, who would all recognize me and come to be pet. Hell, I even had pet snakes, as well as cats and dogs and birds. We are an animal-loving family. But there is nothing like seeing a baby's face half chewed off to make you hate a animal. Remember reading, in NEW CITY, of a paralyzed old man living in a slum room who lay helpless, completely unable to move or defend himself, as a rat chewed on his leg.

Squirrels do not do this, and neither do "flying rats",i.e. pigeons, another undeservedly maligned species that only needs some birth control to be a desirable species.

12:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, have you noticed the new garbage cans that are scattered throughout Oz Park as of last week (April 26, 2007)?

Some organization placed the nicely painted new cans throughout the park. However, they are the old round metal cans with no lids on them! They are a feeding frenzy for rats. It's a great concept, but proper cans (i.e. a nice wire metal one) need to be placed AND streets and san needs to be vigilant about emptying the cans daily.

And regarding the cans on Lincoln Avenue, they are not nearly emptied enough on the weekends. They should be checked every shift by Streets and San.

Feel free to forward this to Vi Daley because this problem is getting worse.

9:27 PM  

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