Rat sightings on the increase
Resident suspects vermin attracted by careless trash storage
Kirby Stewart feels trapped inside her own home by invading vermin.
The St. Andrew’s Drive resident started seeing rats scurry regularly across backyards, parking lots and common areas in her CityHousing Hamilton townhouse complex in late May.
Recently, she found a fearless rodent staring up at her from the front step, seemingly daring her to leave the door open. “It’s creepy and horrible,” said Stewart. “I can’t sit outside in the yard and I don’t even want to open the front door because it seems like they’re everywhere.”
Stewart suspects careless trash storage outside some townhouses in the complex is partly to blame for the scuttling scourge this summer. “But there are so many. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
She’s not the only one noticing the influx of vermin in Hamilton.
The public health department logged 143 rat complaints by the end of June — nearly double the number recorded over the same time last year. We’re on track for a record 455 such complaints if the pace keeps up over the full year, said Susan Harding-Cruz, public health manager of vector-borne diseases.
“The numbers are increasing,” said Harding-Cruz, adding the annual spike in complaints filed under Hamilton’s pest bylaw became noticeable in 2014.
Pest control company Orkin Canada also recently released service statistics suggesting
Hamilton was the fifth “rattiest” city in Ontario.
Public health officials are studying the trend ahead of a rat update to council in October, but Harding Cruz said she can’t point to “definitive evidence” that completely explains the reported pest population uptick.
Building demolition and sewer replacement disturbs previously hidden rat populations and forces them to find new homes, she said — but complaints aren’t always centred in busy-construction areas. High water levels along creeks can also flush the animals out of their burrows — and Hamilton did see one of the soggiest springs in years in 2017.
Regardless, Harding-Cruz said the city is experimenting with new mitigation strategies.
For example, health and public works officials for the first time started discussing formal pre-construction strategies to control rats displaced by large projects.
(That might come in particularly handy when LRT construction digs up most of King Street, for example.)
Harding-Cruz said such a strategy might be as simple as contractually requiring companies to do a “rat assessment” of construction sites ahead of any city project. The results could spur baiting with poison — or simply extra precautions around how and where workers eat and dispose of trash on site.
The city is also paying licensed pest control contractors more often to spread poisoned baits in sewers in “identified problem areas.” Around 150 sewer street drains were baited last year, compared to 126 in 2015.
Otherwise, Harding-Cruz said public health inspectors routinely respond to complaints by first assessing nearby properties for rat burrows, obvious garbage problems or outdoor rodent snacking opportunities.
They educate first, she said, but can also issue orders to property owners if necessary for cleanups or even the hiring of licensed pest control contractors.
Harding-Cruz said so far public health has received three rat complaints from the general area around St. Andrew’s Drive and Quigley Road and has alerted CityHousing Hamilton. Coun. Chad Collins said he has received five complaints this year for all of Ward 5 so far, which he thought was on par for a typical year.
The housing provider said in an emailed statement it is aware of the problem on St. Andrew’s Drive, adding the infestation may be rooted in the demolition of a nearby school.
CityHousing has distributed notices to all tenants — and in some cases, visited particular units — asking for co-operation in dealing with “garbage concerns” that could be convincing the displaced rats to stick around.
A licensed contractor is slated to place rat bait outside four “units of concern” next week.