David Wiener sets a trap by his deck.
He removed the lattice around the deck
so he could gather rats that died under-
neath after eating rat poison.
Residents, city leaders scurry to curb a growing rodent problem.
JN Contributing Writer
t's open season right now in David
Wiener's yard. The north Oak Park
resident who lives on Stratford Place
is hunting rats daily and catching them
at an alarming rate. Since mid-July when
he started setting traps, Wiener says he's
caught and killed 22 rats around his tidy,
He pointed to one trap lying in the
grass that snagged two small rats at once.
But poison has now become his weapon
of choice because he says many of the
rats are so large they're escaping the
"It's a nightmare; I can't stand the sight
of them!" Wiener said. "I'm just appalled
by it. Rats sicken me with all the diseases
they carry. People have seen them out
during the day, alive in garbage cans.
They can eat through cement, plaster
and wood; all they need is a hole the size
of a quarter to get into your house."
Wiener and his wife, Suzi, have lived
in their house since 1976. This is the first
time in 36 years they recall seeing rats in
their yard. Wiener stepped up his do-it-
yourself extermination efforts when he
discovered tracks in the grass leading to
half a dozen rat holes under his backyard
deck. He also unwittingly became a Pied
Piper on the issue when he started voic-
ing concerns to neighbors, city leaders
and anyone who would listen.
"If they're in my neighbor's yard,
that's affecting my property," he said. "If
they're anywhere in my area — that's
a threat to me. I don't understand why
everybody doesn't feel the way I do, but
After he recently complained to one
neighbor about that family's uncovered
trash, someone threw eggs at Wiener's
house; he's not sure whether it was a
random prank or retaliation for speak-
August 16 • 2012
ing out about the problem. Wiener's
sister and brother-in-law, Ellen and
Sandy Greenberg, live nearby on Talbot.
They've also trapped dozens of rats and
have been in regular contact with city
"The mayor [Marian McClellan] even
came to my house one Saturday unan-
nounced; a representative from the
health department came to the house,"
Ellen said. "This isn't the way we want to
live. This is a battle you can't win unless
everyone's involved. We need everyone to
come on board — people are not taking
this problem as seriously as it is."
McClellan says rats are not just nesting in
Oak Park; the rodents are a widespread
problem across the state, in part because
of the unusually mild winter. Other cities,
including Warren and Shelby Township,
are stepping up extermination and
enforcement efforts. The increasing num-
bers of complaints in Oak Park also have
been attributed to road construction on
Coolidge, which may be driving rats from
But, the biggest problem by far is gar-
bage left outside of homes and businesses
for extended periods of time in plastic
bags or uncovered containers. Pet drop-
pings also are considered a "food source"
and can attract rats. Wiener says he sees
trouble spots up and down the streets
"I've seen uncovered, overflowing gar-
bage calls; cans that have been turned
over, plastic bags ripped apart, chewed-
up aluminum foil and open pizza boxes,"
he said. "Everybody needs a rat-proof
garbage can. We need it yesterday. I don't
see much progress. Some people are kill-
ing rats, yeah — but, I don't care how
many rats you kill — there are more right
behind them. It's just a continuing prob-
lem some people do not seem to think is
of the utmost importance."
Another neighbor, Don Rosenberg,
who lives on Loretta, says he and his wife,
Shelly, are so fed up they're considering
taking legal action or leaving town.
"We've lived here since 1988," Don
Rosenberg said. "We love the area, our
house is paid for, but we're looking to
The couple just ripped out their vegeta-
ble garden because they noticed the veg-
gies had little bite marks in them. They
also say they're afraid to let their dog out
at night because of the rats.
"It's unnerving, it's disgusting:'
Rosenberg said. "We've got people in the
neighborhood who just don't care. One
nearby house has pans of cat litter on the
side of the house. The city has cited them
several times but has yet to take them to
court. I'll bet you there's a Ritz Carlton
for rats right there."
The city of Oak Park recommends
people take the following steps to
avoid attracting rats.
Don't provide food
• Properly store garbage and rub-
bish with tight-fitting lids. Do not
put out exposed plastic bags.
• Do not leave out excess pet food
or pet supplies.
• Make sure bird feeders are at
least 4 feet off the ground.
• Thoroughly clean dog runs and
pens. Rats will eat pet droppings.
Don't allow nesting
• Clear all unnecessary articles,
junk and large rubbish items.
• Cut tall grass and weeds.
• Store firewood and lumber in
racks at least 18 inches off the
Spreading The Word
Amid staff reductions and falling reve-
nues, Oak Park only has one code enforce-
ment officer to investigate rat complaints.
But the mayor says the city recently re-
assigned an additional person to help out.
Oak Park also is working with waste man-
agement contractor, Tringali Sanitation, to
report problem homes.
"Our attorney is working on an amend-
ment to the nuisance ordinance that will
hasten compliance when code viola-
tions are not handled in a timely man-
ner," McClellan says. "The objective is to
encourage compliance rather than levy
fines that create hardships. Oak Park is
taking this problem very seriously, but the
problem will not be solved overnight."
In addition, city officials are spreading
the word about things residents can do to
help get rid of rat infestations and discour-
age new ones (see sidebar). They posted
a 12-page brochure titled, "Oh, Rats!" on
the city's website and Facebook page. It
encourages renters and homeowners to
"get rid of all unnecessary articles, junk
and large rubbish items; cut weeds and
grass regularly; store lumber/firewood on
racks at least 18 inches off the ground; and
clean dog kennels/pen areas daily"
The city also is urging residents to
upgrade their garbage cans to 96-gallon
wheeled containers with attached lids, which
Tringali sells delivered for $90. Local attor-
ney, Solmon Radner of Oak Park, is helping
organize a series of informational town hall
meetings where people will be able to ask
questions and speak with the code enforce-
ment officer in the coming weeks.
"I hope to create awareness because
there are some people who are still living
in denial," Radner says. "If we give [rats]
places to live and eat and if we make life
comfortable for them, they're going to
• Look for holes or fresh digging
under concrete slabs, near garbage
storage areas, along earth banks
and near brush piles.
• Watch for rat droppings (black,
shiny and capsule-shaped, about
three-quarters of an inch long and
with blunt ends).
• Other typical evidence includes
narrow, beaten paths of earth free
of debris, greasy smear marks
indoors, along walls and steps, and
gnawing on door ledges, corners,
stored materials, wood and other
For more information or to report
a rat problem, call Oak Park's code
(248) 691-7450 or go to