Alderman says ‘aggressive squirrels’ eating through garbage carts

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Chicago is wasting a ton of money replacing and repairing garbage carts because “aggressive squirrels” are eating through them, a South Side aldermen said Friday.

Colleagues giggled at the mere mention of what amounts to squirrels on steroids, but Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) was dead serious.

“It’s a pet peeve. It does invoke some giggles. But we are spending too much money on replacing garbage carts because the squirrels continue to eat through ’em,” Brookins, former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, declared.

“I get calls [with residents saying], ‘I need a new garbage can.’ I just gave you a garbage can. [And the caller says], ‘Well, the squirrels ate through it in two days and nobody wants trash throughout the community. So they keep asking us for garbage cans.”

With Susan Russell, executive director of the City’s Commission on Animal Care and Control, on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings, Brookins asked what can be done about “aggressive squirrels.”

Russell appeared to be at a loss for words.

“Well, the squirrels — uh — may I get back to you on that, alderman? We’d be happy to … talk about strategies to assist residents with wildlife. [But] I’m not sure at this time what CACC might be able to do with aggressive squirrels. But let us look into it,” she said.

Brookins refused to drop the subject.

“Even if it is a recommendation to Streets and San—either about the material that these carts are made of or putting a screen in the cart. Is it mothballs? I don’t know what it is. But it just seems like a waste. I mean literally—I can have a brand new can drop and within a couple days, the squirrels have eaten a hole through it,” the alderman said.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), vice-chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, was somewhat puzzled by the discussion.

“Aggressive squirrels. That’s a new one,” Ervin said.

A citywide inventory conducted last spring found that there were 1.4 million black and blue carts in circulation in Chicago.

The average single-family home had “two or three” total carts, including black for routine garbage and blue for recycling carts. Two-flats averaged “four or five” carts.

Eleven percent of the carts were damaged, triggering $300,000 in repairs. Cart repair and replacement is “one of the top service requests” to the city’s 311 non-emergency number. The city is expected to spend $1 million on carts in 2017.

During Friday’s budget hearing, Brookins also complained about the lack of a centralized database in Chicago to locate lost animals.

“I had a dog that got loose. We finally found her in a PAWS shelter in Tinley Park. The real problem has been that, in going around to all of these shelters to check each day to try and figure out where the dog was, nobody was talking to each other. You had to literally go to each individual shelter every day to try and retrieve your animal,” Brookins said.

“The city probably needs to take the lead with other PAWS and other shelters developing one website, developing something where people can go to retrieve their lost animals. A lot fewer of them would be euthanized if you could actually find your pet.”

Russell said she couldn’t agree more.

“You hit Chicago on the head—the whole city. We do not have a centralized database that connects all of the facilities that take in stray animals at the present. And it is a problem,” Russell said.

“We try…to direct people to resources like Lost Dog of Illinois or Helping Lost Pets. There are centralized free databases at present by which everyone could upload their data. [But] we’re going to be working on doing that ourselves….There is a deep need that there be a centralized data base for people to look for their pets. We’re certainly working on that in partnership with Lost Dogs of Illinois and other organizations.”

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