Dog owners would face fines in rodent control crackdown

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Chicago is trying to deal with a growing rat population. | AP file photo

Chicago dog owners who fail to pick up after their pets — even in their own backyards — will soon face hefty fines, under a crackdown advanced Thursday to cut off “the No. 1 food source” for the city’s burgeoning population of rats.

The $50 to $500 fines approved by the City Council’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection are the product of a political odd couple: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and rookie Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th).

“Rats love to feast on dog excrement. So it’s a backyard smorgasbord for rodents. One of the ways the city has tackled our rat problem is attacking the source of food for rats,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“If you have dog excrement in your backyard, you’re feeding the rats. We need to attack this issue. The number of rat complaints the city has received continues to grow year after year. This is one way that we can combat it. . . . Clean up after your pet in your own backyard. Don’t let it pile up, or you might get a visit from a city inspector.”

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has pushed for a crackdown on the rodent population. | Sun-Times file photo

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has pushed for a crackdown on the rodent population. | Sun-Times file photo

For 41 years, Chicago dog owners have been required to pick up after their pets or face fines if that business is done on public streets, alleys and sidewalks.

But dog owners who allow their pets to pile up the poop in their own backyards have gotten a pass—even when neighbors complain about the stench and a rat population that feeds on animal waste explodes.

That would change, under the ordinance advanced Thursday and teed up for a final vote at next week’s City Council meeting.

It states: “Feces from pets deposited upon any private property must be collected and removed daily by the property owner or agent by bagging and placing them in a city-issued or other rodent-resistant lidded waste container.”

Property owners and agents who thumb their noses at the new requirement would face fines ranging from $50 to $500 for each offense.

Deputy Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Josie Cruz, who oversees the Bureau of Rodent Control, said the ordinance is a “great tool to have” to reduce, what has become the “No. 1 food source” for rats.

But the goal is not to write a blitzkrieg of tickets and collect a boatload of fines.

Cruz said Streets and San plans to “work with residents” and “issue warnings first. . . . If they don’t comply, we’ll come back and cite them.”

Pest control giant Orkin declared Chicago the nation’s “rattiest” city in 2013 and 2014 and the problem has only gotten worse since then.

The city’s 311 non-emergency system is on pace to field 50,000 rodent-related complaints this year, up from 32,855 complaints in 2014 and 36,425 last year.

Ramirez-Rosa said it’s high time the city get tough. The stench alone requires it—to say nothing of the rat buffet dog feces provides.

“This ordinance started because I had constituents come to me and say, `We can’t open up our windows in the summer because our neighbor doesn’t pick up after their pet and the odor is just horrendous.’ They say, `We actually have to seal up our windows with tape to keep the odor from coming into our home,’ ” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Emanuel is so concerned about Chicago’s burgeoning rat problem, he’s added ten rodent control crews to respond to a 67 percent increase in complaints certain to spike even higher when the redevelopment of Children’s Memorial Hospital triggers a mass exodus of rats.

The ordinance impacting dog droppings on private property will be enforced in response to 311 requests, along with complaints about overflowing garbage bins and weeds that are too high.

Why should the city stick its nose into private property?

“The city already has a number of rules on the books as it relates to your own property. You have to keep it up to code. You can’t have trash in your backyard. This simply says you can’t have dog crap piling up in your backyard,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

The partnership with Emanuel is a surprise, considering the rookie alderman’s outspoken criticism of the mayor. What does that bode for the future?

“We’ll see. This is a good start,” he said.

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