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Could City Tap Feral Cat Colonies To Keep Rats At Bay? Animal Control ‘Slowly’ Looking Into It

Animal Care and Control also needs more resources to get a handle on the city's coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rats and snakes, alderpeople told the agency's leader.

A cat in the Chicago Animal Care and Control facility in Chicago's Lower West Side in December 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Could a feral cat program be the solution to Chicago’s rat problems?

At a budget hearing for Animal Care and Control Wednesday, Alds. Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Andre Vasquez (40th) asked whether Executive Director Mamadou Diakhate had thought about using feral cats to combat rats.

“We’ve had an incredible uptick in rodents, rats in our ward,” Napolitano said. He asked if the city could let loose feral cat colonies as an “organic” solution.

Diakhate said the city is “slowly looking into” if an official city feral cat program would work.

The Tree House Humane Society has placed 1,000 feral and free-roaming cats in communities as part of its Cats at Work program since it was founded in 2012, but it is not an official city program. The cats are placed two or three at a time into residential or commercial settings, and are often brought in to provide environmentally friendly rodent control.

At the meeting, alderpeople also said the agency needs more resources to get a handle on the city’s coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rats, snakes, and pet-related problems and needs a dedicated public relations professional and a marketing budget to increase the rate of adoption at the city’s shelters. The agency is requesting a $7.1 million budget for 2022.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said she still has issues with coyotes in her far South Side ward, echoing a complaint she made at last year’s budget hearing when she said a particular coyote was harassing her and her dog. 

While Austin thanked Diakhate for sending her help to try to deal with the coyote, she said she has a new concern: snakes.

“I mean the ones that crawl on the ground, not on two-legged ones,” she said. “I killed two of them in my house, so it’s like, ‘Ahhhh.’”

Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) also said his ward is dealing with a “lot of critters,” asking Diakhate if Animal Control will “get back to trapping them.”

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) said he hasn’t seen a coyote since the coronavirus pandemic began, but the coyotes and raccoons that call Garfield Park home sometimes snoop around near a home for older people in his ward, causing concern among residents.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) has noticed “a few more skunks popping up” in his ward that stretches from near Lake Michigan to the area surrounding the United Center, he said.

Diakhate said the best way to prevent interactions with the animals is to ensure residents aren’t providing a source of food. He said his staff is always available to speak at community meetings to address residents’ concerns. 

Animal Control will only trap or remove a raccoon or other animal if they are inside a home or other property or have damaged property, Diakhate said. But, the state allows residents to apply for their own trapping permit.

Throughout the meeting, alderpeople praised Diakhate’s agency for responding to their requests and stressed the need for a boost to its budget to manage the 8,000 animals it takes in annually.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) suggested the department hire a public relations official through this year’s budget request. 

“You don’t have a marketing budget, your advertising budget is $2,000 and you don’t have a public relations position in your agency, and that’s problematic,” Reilly said. “It’s great to have activists and volunteers who are willing to roll up your sleeves and help, but there typically would be a centralized person who could focus those efforts in a meaningful way so you’re all pushing in the same direction.

“If you built in just $20,000-$30,000 to produce public service announcements that TV stations could run for free for you, those are the types of things a PR-focused individual in the department can help you with.”

Diakhate said the agency sends about 75 percent of the animals it brings in to partner shelters, but it offer cats and dogs adoptions for $65. 

Agency officials said they use social media, appearances on local news and word of mouth to market adoptions and services. 

While most alderpeople said Animal Control should have a dedicated advertising budget, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said he thinks his colleagues were “oblivious” to the fact that alderpeople are in a great position to handle marketing for the agency.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, but I really feel we should be your main marketing tool. We’re the ones that can help you; nobody can help you like we can. We can help you with rescue, we can help you put it out in our email blast,” he said.

Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st) asked Diakhate to name his wishlist if he had an unlimited budget.

At first, Diakhate hesitated to demand more money, joking, “I feel like your trying to trap me.” But he conceded he’d welcome extra funding.

“I think we always work with what we can get; I’ll put it that way,” he said. “We still work what we have, but if we get more, we’ll do even better.”

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