CITY HALL — A City Council committee moved Thursday to put the onus on property owners to keep their yards free of dog dirt.
Citing the measure as a way to deprive rats of a primary food source, the Health Committee unanimously passed a resolution making homeowners subject to the same $50-$500 fines faced by dog walkers if they don't scoop dog poop on a daily basis.
Lead sponsor Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) granted that, rats entirely aside, the measure originally grew out of a "problem resident" in his ward who let dog dirt pile up in his backyard until neighbors were reluctant to open their windows.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) agreed, saying he has residents with backyards containing "five, 10, 15 pounds of poop, and it smells."
Cochran backed the measure, saying, "You have to have respect for your neighbors."
Ramirez-Rosa compared it to the city's ban on weeds growing 10 inches or taller. Even so, he said that depriving rats of a food source made a sound rationale for the ordinance as a public-health issue.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) begged to differ, citing anecdotal evidence from a local radio host that rats are more apt to eat berries, birdseed or even baby rats ahead of dog waste.
"Backyards, I don't know," Cappleman said, expressing doubts about the city policing homeowners' yards for dog doo.
Yet Josie Cruz, of the Department of Streets and Sanitation's Bureau of Rodent Control, testified otherwise.
"They will eat that dog feces," Cruz said, insisting that in some areas of the city "that has become the No. 1 food source" for rats.
The city has seen a marked increase in requests for rat baiting this year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who joined Ramirez-Rosa in sponsoring the ordinance amendment, has called it "a real problem."
Cruz emphasized that Streets and San was not out to write tickets.
"We want to work with residents," she said, pointing out that standard procedure would be to "give a warning and, if they don't comply, we'll come back and cite them."
She added, however, "but this is a great tool to have" to compel compliance.
The measure passed without opposition and heads to the full City Council for final passage next week.
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