With the exclusion of Rizzo the Rat, Gonzo’s wisecracking sidekick on the Muppets, rats are unwelcome guests in people’s homes and gardens. Luckily the village of Oak Park is taking steps to mitigate the vermin after seeing growth in rodent activity this season, beginning with the village board unanimously voting Sept. 20 to spend more money on rat control by increasing its contract with Pest Management Services Inc. from $21,120 to $31,120.

“If you’re seeing rats in the daytime, that means we totally have too many rats,” Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder told the board.

“They’re uncomfortable in the burrows they make and so they’re coming out of their burrows in the daytime,” she said. “That’s not natural behavior.”

While there is no way the village can ever rid itself entirely of rats, the village is increasing extermination efforts. Chapple-McGruder explained that the village’s hired contractor doesn’t just do rat abatement and poisoning but also performs property assessments to determine what is drawing rats to the area.

Pest Management Services also evaluates the property for cleanliness and searches for rat burrows, while looking out for any possible food and water sources attracting the rodents. Dog droppings, which Chapple-McGruder called “rat caviar,” also attract rats, making it important for people to clean up after their pets.

In an interview with Wednesday Journal, Chapple-McGruder elaborated on the village’s rat situation, sharing her main theories as to why there has suddenly been such an increase in the long-tailed rodents. Her first theory, not surprisingly, has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As human behavior changed, it impacted the rodent behavior,” she said.

With areas opening up again, and people engaging in more social activities, such as picnicking and going to restaurants, it has increased the food sources.

That also increases the amount of trash put out. More refuse accounts for Chapple-McGruder’s second theory.

“Trash is definitely a food source for rats,” she said.

During the height of the pandemic, families were sheltering in place, eating at home, cooking at home, working from home, doing basically everything at home.

“They’re making more trash because they’re home a lot,” she said. “That has led to an increase in food sources for the rats.”

Which drew rats to residential areas and away from their former haunts — restaurants, which were operating at a far lower capacity during the pandemic.

There has been construction on quite a few properties in Oak Park this past summer, which also means more garbage. Construction season typically starts in spring and lasts into autumn, allowing rats to feast on tossed trash for months.

“We have been working with our new construction sites. Anything new that’s happening, [the construction companies] have to have a rat abatement program,” said Chapple-McGruder.

Along with increasing its extermination efforts, the village is also working with waste management companies to re-evaluate the frequency of waste pick-up.

Chapple-McGruder did have some good news. The Public Health Department has started to map rat sightings, as well as alerting neighbors when the vermin have been spotted near their homes. That’s better than seeing a rat scamper across your porch when you head out to grab the morning paper.

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