CITY HALL — Reports of Chicago being the nation's rat capital are greatly exaggerated, at least according to the city's head of Streets and Sanitation.
Testifying at City Council budget hearings Wednesday, Commissioner Charles Williams dismissed published reports that Chicago is the "rattiest" U.S. city.
"I take extreme exception to that article," Williams said, citing how it was based on a survey by "an extermination company" — Orkin — and calling it "a huge self-serving message."
He said it was irresponsible for media outlets to pass along its findings.
"Is this the worst city in the world for rodents? Absolutely not," Williams said.
During a break in the hearing, Williams scoffed at the very notion of taking a census on the rat population.
"We hit 'em where they are, and we do a very good job of managing them," Williams said. "All you can do is manage the rat population. You're not going to eradicate rats. They've been around longer than we have. And they've tolerated us, which is good. But we are going to do everything we can to manage them as well as we do, and we're gonna improve on it by adding new crews next year."
Earlier, Williams told aldermen, "You will never eradicate rats completely. They're very intelligent animals."
Yet he insisted the department was adept at identifying their homes and baiting them with poison. "What we're using is working," he said.
According to Williams, complaints generally rise in the summer when rats are seen foraging for food. They tend to decline after rats establish homes to hunker down through the winter — except of course where they share those homes with humans.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said six or seven blocks in his Lakeview ward were using feral cats to combat rodents.
"It's increasingly in my ward people are doing that," Tunney said, adding that his residents insist "it's the solution," something Williams took no position on.
Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) said the problem was worsened by dog owners who don't clean up after their pets in alleys, thus providing rats with food. Williams cited signs calling for dog owners to police their pets, but Santiago countered, "That doesn't seem to be enough."
Williams said they could look into an "enforcement tool" by ticketing owners who don't clean up after their dogs.
In addition to the Orkin study, the cable channel Animal Planet also has named Chicago among the 10 worst cities in the world for rats.
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