In the 1900 block of North Mozart, with a mixture of new and older housing---and foliage readying for fall---Wanda Goin readies for the battle of the day.
“I think this past year is probably the worst I’ve seen for rats,” she says.
On this block, it’s not just rats in the alleys that have residents up in arms. It’s rats---are you ready for it?---living in a tree. It is a regular run-of-the-mill tree but with some ugly exceptions.
There are holes in the bottom.
Holes in the trunk.
And what appear to be holes way up.
Call it a high-rise rat warren, with some rats, says Goin, the size of a kitten. “About like that,” she says, her hands together as if holding a kitty.
“The rats have hollowed into and are nesting there,” she says as we tentatively approach the tree with a four foot stick she intends to poke into one of the holes.
“I am just terrified that something’s going to run out,” she says, but this time nothing does.
The tree is emblematic of Chicago’s rat problem, which once again, saw a hefty increase in rat complaints over the summer months.
One year ago we chronicled rat complaints and this year asked the city for similar numbers for the summer months of June, July and August.
In 2014 there were 10,563.
In 2015: 10,741.
In 2016: 13,520.
And this year: 14,840.
That’s a whopping 40% increase in rat complaints in those months from 2014 to 2017.
Last year we asked Charles Williams, who heads Streets and Sanitation about the numbers:
“The only way to manage their population is by killing the rodents. Nothing else is going to work,” Williams said at the time.
Last year the city said it added 10 new crews and baiting increased by 40%.
The city would not speak on camera but replied to our inquires with a statement reading in part, “the increase in reports may be attributed to the increased outreach for residents to report rodent sightings.”
And the Emanuel administration announced just last week five additional crews will be added in the battle of the rodents.
The rats, as many people will tell you, have broken curfew. They are no longer just nocturnal nuisances.
“I see them a lot during the day time,” says Jennifer Rivera. The rat tree sits in front of her house and she has captured video of a baby rat running around the tree with her cell phone camera.
“They come out during the day, they come out at night,” the mother of small children says, and she is not at all happy with what transpires on her block.
Residents say they went to their alderman---Proco Joe Moreno---who called the city’s Forestry Department.
They (the Forestry Department) came out and said the tree is healthy, we won’t cut it down,” Goin recalls. “I went back again and said ‘it’s got rats in it.’ ”
Citywide officials have tried dry ice to kill rats and a poison to make them infertile. But one group says the city is really barking up the wrong tree.
“Those remedies will work to some degree but I think when they problem is as widespread as it is right now, we need alternative solutions as well,” says Darlene Duggan.
She is with Tree House Humane Society, a group that promotes the use of feral cats to control rat populations. But she says her group hasn’t had much interaction with the city.
“Conversations haven’t happened yet,” says Duggan.
Back to the rat tree, residents say they aren’t asking for much…just a city crew…and a saw---so they can say so-long to the dirty, rotten rats terrorizing their neighborhood.
“They are bolder, they’re bigger and we know at least one home that they are living in,” says Goin.
A home---in a tree--- right in front of Jennifer Rivera’s, which is decorated for Halloween.
“Which is scarier, the rats or Halloween stuff,” she is asked?
“Definitely the rats.”