Katz to rats: 'Drop dead'

DeWayne Bartels
This dead rat in the East Bluff is but one of legions of rats that call Peoria home. And, according to one local garbage expert, North Peoria could become prime real estate for the furry rodents.

When Joe Katz opened the door to the basement, his flashlight hit several sets of beady eyes. Katz knew immediately he was facing a rat problem.

Katz was not in the South End or the East Bluff, but a home in North Peoria.

The home sat vacant for a time and was now being inspected prior to a sale.

There were no signs of rat activity on the main floor. Katz, an Orkin Pest Control route manager, had some detective work ahead of him to figure out how the rats staged their invasion.

The answer was in the backyard where Katz found a neglected in-ground pool.

“There was water in the pool, but that would not stop, or even slow down, a rat,” Katz said.

“They are powerful swimmers. I suspect they got the drain cover off the bottom of the pool and followed the plumbing inside the house.”

Before that job was over, Katz removed 15 rats from the house.

This may become less of an isolated incident in North Peoria, according to one local rat observer, if garbage habits do not change in households north of War Memorial Drive.

Prime for rats

Katz has seen the same scenario all over the city, and not just in vacant homes, because he is the point man for Peoria’s rat abatement program.

When citizens see a rat, they can call the city’s code enforcement department and Katz gets his marching orders to address the problem.

Rat sightings throughout the city picked up last month when the remnants of Hurricane Gustav hit the Peoria area, dropping up to seven inches of rain.

The resulting flood of water into storm sewers drove rats out into the open, where their presence all over the city was revealed.

This is the time of year rats are very active, seeking out warmth as the weather turns colder.

During the warm months, rats may be content to live in underground burrows, but as the weather turns cold, they seek the warmth the indoors brings.

Rats, alive and dead, are easy to spot south of Forrest Hill right now.

But, that is not the only place they call home in Peoria. 

The local rat population is believed to be largest south of Forrest Hill, but that is only a guess, according to John Kunski, the head of Peoria’s code enforcement and inspections departments.

“One thing we know about rats is they don’t discriminate,” Kunski said.

“North Peoria has rats.”

Katz agreed. He said in Peoria, about 80 percent of the rat abatement done is south of War Memorial Drive.

There is no official rat population count for the country, but it is estimated there is one rat for every person in the nation.

That means that even if the majority of Peoria’s rat population is south of Forrest Hill, North Peoria is home to a considerable number of the furry rodents.

And that number could grow unless North Peorians take some pro-active steps, according to Dave Schaab, municipal marketing manager for Waste Management in Peoria.

Schaab said two years ago, the company began an experiment in the East Bluff with large green toters.

The hard plastic toters have a lid that stays attached, is tall and slick, all of which makes entry harder for rats.

“In a dense urban area, rats are a fact of life. But, with the acceptance of the toters, we’ve seen a considerable decrease in the rat population in the East Bluff,” Schaab said.

But, as one moves north of War Memorial Drive on any given day, the large green toters are seldom seen. Garbage cans with tight lids, or any lids, are spotty.

Garbage sitting on the curb in nothing more than plastic bags is common.

That, Schaab said, could make North Peoria prime real estate for a rat invasion.

“The way people put out their garbage in North Peoria will encourage rats to migrate north,” Schaab said.

“It’s an invitation. They will migrate.”

Steady work

Katz has been doing battle with rats on behalf of the city for three years, but Orkin’s work for the city goes back a decade.

“Rats are very comfortable co-habitating with people,” Katz said.

Kunski said experience has taught him the truth of Katz’ statement.

Kunski recalled a frantic call his office received from a man who had no idea he had a rat problem until one night while he was frying pork chops, he turned to put a second pork chop on his dinner plate only to find a rat pulling his first chop off the plate. 

But, Kunski’s favorite rat story involved a man who several years ago fed birds at his house by throwing seed on the ground for them.

The neighbors began to notice rats feeding on the seed in broad daylight.

They called the city.

The man, who did not wear his glasses a great deal, thought the rats were birds.

He was, nevertheless, upset when he discovered he was feeding rats and the city planned to kill them.

“He had grown attached to them,” Kunski said.

“He threatened to take any rats killed at his house and put them on the mayor’s desk.”

Despite the threat, the city moved in to address the problem in the man’s yard and house.

“The mass of rat bodies we took out of that house,” Kunski said, pausing, “was equal to an elephant.”