By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post
While crime usually dominates discussions at Garfield Ridge
Neighborhood Watch meetings, burglary and robbery took a backseat this month, as rats nosed their way to the front.
Two top officials from the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Bureau of Rodent Control offered straight-talking advice and fielded audience questions—more questions than any other topic brought up at the meeting, by far.
“The rats ain’t there because they like the neighborhood,” said Frank Gallardo, a Streets and San assistant superintendent, as the audience of nearly 100 people chuckled. “They’re here for the food, the garbage, whatever we leave out there for them to eat.”
The monthly meeting was held in Brennan Hall at St. Daniel the Prophet Church.
Gallardo and his frontline co-worker, Harold Ross, repeatedly implored Southwest Siders to clean up after their dogs and other pets.
|Baiting a burrow in an alley.|
Ross also addressed those who feed wild animals.
“Bird feeders are an issue,” he said. “I know a lot of people like to feed the birds; but let God feed the birds. When you put the bird feeder out, the squirrels are going to come and get it. The squirrels are going to knock the suet and the seeds on the ground; and now it’s not bird food no more. Now it’s rat food, and the oil [in the suet] attracts rats.”
GRNW President Al Cacciottolo, himself the 23rd Ward Streets and San superintendent, chimed in with a story about a woman living near 54th and Central. He noted that the woman complained about rats, but then he learned that she regularly threw bread on the ground to feed birds.
“She said that the birds eat all the bread, but I told her that there are still crumbs on the ground [after the birds fly away with the larger pieces],” he said. “That’s food for rats.”
Gallardo encouraged everyone with a complaint about rats to call 311 and describe the problem with as much relevant detail as possible, including the exact address of the problem. City workers will apply bait to burrows on private property, with the consent of the owner by appointment.
“If your neighbor has a problem picking up their dog’s poop, call us,” Ross said. “Frank and I have no problem coming out and writing a ticket, fining them.”
In response to a question from a woman who talked about neighbors who throw peanuts in their grass for squirrels to eat (but who may be unintentionally feeding rats), Ross discouraged people from confronting neighbors.
“Rather than get in a pissing contest with your neighbor, just call us and give us the address,” he said. “We’ll take care of it.”
Ross added that some homeowners with rat burrows in their yards actually resist Rodent Control’s efforts.
“Some people say, ‘Well, I don’t want you coming to my yard and putting poison down,’” he said.
“Well, if you don’t want us coming in your yard, then you have to do something about it. If you’ve got rat holes in there, it’s going to start costing you money. That’s where I come in…and I enjoy my job,” he added, as the audience laughed and applauded.
In response to an audience question, Ross noted that rats can burrow as far as eight feet into the ground, which brought gasps from some audience members.
“That’s why we hope for a deep freeze in the winter,” he said. “We haven’t have a good, deep freeze in Chicago since the early ‘80s. We could use that because it would solve half our problems. See, [in an unusually cold winter] the rats will burrow way down deep and start to cannibalize each other. They become their own food source.”
City Hall fielded more than 42,000 rat-related complaints last year, but Gallardo said more calls are welcome. He said that Rodent Control has 25 crews working citywide, and most complaints are addressed in two or three days.
“Only the police and fire departments are faster,” Ross said.
In response to questions, Ross also said that feral cats, raccoons and opossums can help limit rat populations, but they themselves can become problems for people if they multiply too quickly.
Throughout the discussion, Ross minced no words about his view of rats.
“You’ve got some [animal rights groups] out here who want to get rid of rats humanely,” he said. “Look, I’m a garbage man. I kill rats. It’s real simple. There’s nothing humane about this.
“Some people say we should capture the rats and release them into the forest preserve. Well, if you do that, they’re going to mate, multiply and come right back. I believe in killing the rats,” he added, as the audience burst into applause again.
Ross was asked if his bureau responds to calls about snakes.
“No, that’s not us. That’s Animal Control; but if I see one, I’ll stomp on it for you,” Ross quipped, as audience members laughed.
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