Rats all over the city but, with baiting, there have been few complaints. Fact box follows the story.


Carol Holford has learned a number of disturbing truths about rats over the years by necessity, including that they’re all over Peoria.


 


"You can’t totally get rid of them," says Holford, who cheerfully wears the nickname, "The Rat Lady," earned over years of researching and fighting the invasive varmints.


 


"You can try and starve them out, but they never really go away. They just go back to the creek for awhile. But we are their best friends. We have gardens that draw them; (dog) feces and garbage that draws them. You can move out to the Grand Prairie mall, but they have big dumpsters of food that draw them, too.


 


"Rats know no district lines."


 


Indeed, John Kunski, director of the city’s inspections program, says his office has baited about 120 properties for rats so far this year all across the city.


 


"I even asked if there is any area they are concentrated in. No, (the baited properties) are scattered throughout the city," said Kunski.


 


One thing that does stir them up, however, is construction. In 2004, when the reconstruction of Interstate 74 was in full swing, rat complaints more than doubled over the prior year.


 


This year, Bradley University’s expansion has stirred some up, officials there admit.


 


"Back in May, when we started demolition, we did stir up a few rodents and (Councilwoman) Barbara Van Auken heard about it from neighbors," said Gary Anna, Bradley’s vice president for business affairs. "She called and we immediately worked in conjunction with the city to set out some bait. I believe that addressed the issue.


 


"I did confirm there have been no inadvertent construction activities and no direct cause for the rat sightings other than demolition. There was a hollow tree that housed a nest, I was told, which was removed."


 


Van Auken, who represents the Bradley University area, including its surrounding neighborhoods, said she doesn’t believe it is any more a problem in her district than anywhere else in the city.


 


"You can see rats virtually anyplace in the city at some point," Van Auken said. "Believe me, if you know the people in the Uplands, I would hear if it was a problem."


 


Still, Holford, who lives in Van Auken’s district, says she has seen some lately in her Gale Avenue neighborhood.


 


"Last Friday, our dog got loose and she got one. And then a couple days ago, I was looking out the window and saw a big black-and-white cat carrying a big one in its mouth," said Holford, adding that one of the biggest attractions for rats is dog feces. "It’s like filet mignon to them.


 


"People have to clean up the dog waste — that’s the most important thing. It’s not a sin to have them (in your area) because you don’t have to be filthy to have rats. It’s a sin not to do anything."


 


While the city has a free rat-baiting program, Peoria County does not.


 


At-large Councilman George Jacob has talked to at least three residents who live just outside city limits in Limestone Township who are experiencing problems.


 


"I know what my jurisdiction is, and we’ve got plenty to do on our side of the road, but it seems like this might be a perfect opportunity" to share resources, said Jacob, who sits on a city/county committee designed to explore savings between governments.


 


Matt Wahl, director of the county’s planning and zoning department, said he has only had one complaint this year.


 


"At one time, it was pretty bad — about three years ago," said Wahl, referring to the area just outside city limits in Limestone Township which is where the new complaint is from. "We went to a homeowners’ association meeting and explained to them we would be cracking down on the garbage and other violations. I think we cited over 80 homes in that area.


 


"But properties are actually coming around. Things are looking a lot better than they were, say, 10 years ago.


 


"We always tell people, keep your garbage covered and the weeds down. They like to hide."


 


Holford says that’s the same thing she tells her friends and neighbors.


 


"When I brought this up years ago, people would ask me why I wanted to go public with such a filthy issue. I said, ‘My house is clean so why do I deserve to have rats?’


 


"Plus, the more public I went with it, the more people cleaned up their property."


 


For more information on the city’s rat-baiting program, call 494-8654.


 


Jennifer Davis can be reached at (309) 686-3282 or jdavis@pjstar.com.


 



RAT FACTS


 


The Norway rat is a stocky, burrowing rodent, unintentionally brought to North America by European settlers. As adults, they weigh about a pound and can be up to eight inches long.


 


Signs of rats: droppings; visible burrows; tracks (a sprinkling of flour in suspect areas will show footprints); wood shavings or other obvious signs of gnawing and smudges from the oil on their fur on doors, walls, etc.


 


Rats are typically nocturnal so their peak activity is at dusk or before dawn; seeing rats during the day is usually indicative of a large population of rats.


 


At three months old, they can breed. Females average four to seven litters a year, with 8-12 pups per litter. They live in colonies and, as their family grows, will build a network of connecting underground tunnels. They seldom travel farther than 300 feet from their burrows for food or water.


 


Rats will feed on anything — household garbage, pet food and even dog feces. They also only need an opening the size of a quarter to gain entry into a home.


 


Rats are suspicious of changes in their environment so it may take a while for traps or baits to take effect.


 


City of Peoria residents can take advantage of a free rat-baiting program by calling 494-8654.


 


Source: Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, a collaborative Web site run by experts from the University of Nebraska, Cornell University, Utah State University and Clemson University in South Carolina.