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2020 Was A Bad Year For Rodent Complaints In Chicago, And 2021 Is Shaping Up To Be Worse

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The year 2020 was a big year for rat complaints in Chicago – the worst in some time.

But the latest public data from the city show this year is shaping up to be even worse. On Friday, CBS 2's Tim McNicholas took us inside the fight to keep the rodents at bay.

"They're smart," Cindy Warshell said of the rats.

Warshell is busy enough as an occupational therapist and mom. She didn't want to add rat catcher to her daily duties.

"I'm totally grossed out," she said.

Nonetheless, she has caught three rats in her Irving Park backyard just in the past few weeks. One of them was caught on our cameras, but we blurred it so as not to gross you out too.

"They seem to be appearing more and more – more than usual." Warshell said.

Last year, the annual number of rat complaints to 311 increased by about 31 percent, with a total of 51,764 complaints for 2020. That is according to the city's public data.

And this year, Chicago is on track for even more complaints than last year. In fact, the city is on pace to top the 2020 total by the end of October — with still two months left on the year.

"It all started at the beginning of the pandemic when restaurants closed," said Janelle Iaccino of Rose Pest Solutions.

Iaccino said when more people started eating at home more, rats started flocking to their trash cans in residential neighborhoods. Now, those rats have settled in.

"The populations have just got out of control," she said. "They breed so rapidly, and so frequently."

Remember what Warshell said about the rats being smart? It's true. Iaccino showed us how rats even dug a tunnel underneath a trap in Uptown.

"To completely avoid my trap," Iaccino said.

The trap she set up and that the rats outsmarted was not for a customer. It was behind her own apartment.

"It's frustrating as a professional, when you think even with the science knowledge you have, it's still really difficult to defeat these things," Iaccino said.

She recommends checking your home for any crevices and then plugging them. She also said you should report any rodent problems to the city so they can try to help.

Warshell did that a couple weeks ago.

"It is frustrating," Warshell said. "I haven't heard back yet, but with all the rat problems, it's not surprising." Cindy

It's like being stuck in a trap – and the rats not.

Iaccino says you should also make sure your garbage cans are closed and don't have any openings for rats to enter. If there are holes, you can call the city to get it replaced.

She also recommends calling a professional to tackle rodent problems. She points out that the onset of colder weather often prompts rodents to start to move closer to shelter, so ensuring that rats don't have any way to enter your home is essential.

We asked the city what is driving the increase in complaints.

The city said it is due to many factors, including:
• More residents at home due to the onset of the pandemic;
• More residents have become gardeners, and some are not maintaining or harvesting their gardens; and
• More people are pet owners, and some are not picking up the waste from their animals.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation also sent the following statement:

"DSS continues to proactively address rodent abatement in addition to responding to requests from residents. Crews work daily to bait alleys and backyards. DSS also promotes strategies and best practices on rodent control which can be found in the attached brochure."

The pest control company Orkin has named Chicago the rattiest city in America for the past six years. We may soon win a seventh title – Orkin releases those numbers each October, which is Rodent Awareness Month.

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