Rat population booming in Chicago

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Chicago’s mild year and construction boom is creating a rat population explosion.

Janelle Iaccino works for Rose Pest Solutions. She's helping the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum collect and preserve dead rats for future research.

Chicagoans like Becky Thunderpants would love to contribute.

“My feelings are very unpleasant about this situation,” she said.

Thunderpants says rats from her neighbor’s property frequently invade her own back yard in Bucktown, leaving a nasty trail of rat droppings

“There are, like, at least a dozen I've seen at the same time coming out of the neighbor's yard,” Thunderpants said.

Some Chicagoans have devoted decades to battling rats, everywhere from Wrigley Field to Lincoln Park toilets.

Joan Centlivre has been at it since she moved into the Lakeview neighborhood 27 years ago. 

“I was stunned! I mean I had no idea I was going to have to outsmart a rat, and that continues to be true,” Centilvre said.

Centlivre says back in the 90's, she'd call the city for help but it often took days for somebody to show up. So using some tips from city workers, she started going after the rats on her own. She started with rat poison.

“It used to be easy, just put out the poison, but now, they're not eating the poison,” she said.

Then she added peanut butter and bacon to the poison pellets, making what she calls "rat pies." And lately, she's used what she calls smoke bombs.

“Well this morning, this very morning, I see that they have dug down, they took out the smoke bomb, and laid it on the step very neatly,” she said.

Centlivre doesn't call the city for help anymore, but thousands of Chicagoans do. For the second year in a row, the city expects to receive more than 40,000 complaints about rats.  That's 10,000 more complaints than just two years ago, even though over the past two years, the city's budget for rodent control increased by almost 50 percent and rodent crews increased from 10 to 24.

Five more crews and another million for the budget are coming next year. 

Streets and San Commissioner Charles Williams believes there aren't more rats, just more people calling in about rats. A new outreach program allows residents in English, Spanish, Polish and Chinese to report their rat problems and makes it easier with a new app. The city also analyzes 3-1-1 calls about overflowing trash bins and encourages dog owners to clean up after their pets. Some residents say feral cats are a great solution. Another polar vortex wouldn’t hurt either.

“If you have a very harsh winter and it gets very cold, what will not survive will be the young rodents” Williams said.

But even with help from Mother Nature, the experts say reducing the rat population will be a big challenge.

“It's a group effort. And that's what's really going to work the best is - is if everybody contributes,” said Iaccino.