Rat sight­ings on the in­crease

Res­i­dent sus­pects ver­min at­tracted by care­less trash stor­age

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

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.

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