It began when a few cockroaches darted out of Charlie Green's kitchen cupboard.
Then Mr. Green spotted the brown, thumbnail-sized critters in his fridge. After that, it was the sink, stove, walls, electrical outlets, microwave, cutlery drawer -- even the kettle.
Over the past seven months, the "buggers" survived every attempt by Mr. Green and professional exterminators to squish, zap, spray and poison them -- infesting the 62-year-old's bachelor apartment in a city-run seniors residence in north Toronto.
Now Mr. Green, at the end of his rope after his losing battle with Blattella germanica, the dreaded German cockroach and "the fastest suckers you ever did see," has focused his anger not just on his unwanted houseguests but on Toronto Community Housing.
"I don't think I've ever been so upset in my whole life about anything," Mr. Green says. "It's like a big bully picking on a little tiny guy. And that really irks me."
He and several of his neighbours say that some parts of 7 Arleta Ave., a U-shaped, four-storey brick apartment complex with 373 units, are crawling with bugs.
Despite management's anti-cockroach efforts, they say the city hasn't addressed the problem properly because the place is full of seniors who are down on their luck and easy to ignore.
"I've had it; I've had it up to here," fumes Ann Gaddess, 65, who says she's sick of obsessively rewashing every cup or dish that touches her lips, for fear it might be contaminated by cockroach.
June Jefferson, 65, estimates she has had the city's pest-control staff in her apartment a dozen times since she moved in three years ago, "but it never seems to work."
Mr. Green's tipping point came in May, when the gangly native of St. John's awoke to find a few dozen cockroaches swimming in a water dish belonging to Patch, his Shih Tzu.
That day, Mr. Green sat down at the computer in the subsidized apartment he rents for $162.50 a month, and did something he'd never done before. He fired off a letter of complaint.
"Dear Gus," he wrote to the superintendent of Arleta Manor. "I don't want to seem like a complainer but the situation with the cockroaches has gotten worse instead of better. . . . The jell [sic]is not taking effect on the buggers."
Since then Mr. Green, an apartment supervisor in Toronto before cancer took half of a lung and ended his career two years ago, has written two more letters, including one addressed to Mayor David Miller. He's called city pest-control staff to his one-room apartment at least eight times in as many months. He's also threatened to sue.
The building's manager, Mwarigha, who uses only one name, says the city is working with residents to find a solution. Free visits from exterminators are available every Thursday. And while rumours might make it seem like the whole building is overrun, there are only about 10 units with a real problem, he says.
This week, about 50 residents attended a meeting to talk about a new strategy that includes a survey to pinpoint which units have cockroaches. The goal is to start a "treatment campaign" by October.
Mwarigha says the blame may lie with the cleaning habits of residents, the effectiveness of the exterminators' methods, or some combination of the two.
"This is a very sensitive issue. Everybody has the right to live the way they want to live," he says.
What's clear is that their biggest problem is an age-old one: the Teflon mortality of the cockroach.
Cockroaches love to wedge into cracks and crevices, which makes kitchens perfect homes but also great hiding places, says Brian Menard, owner of Reliable Exterminators in Pickering.
Their wickedly fast reproductive cycle is a double threat: If you miss even one female during a raid, you're often back to square one within a month, and often survivors are immune to future chemical treatments.
And sometimes even the most conscientious scrubbing may not do the trick.
"A crumb tossed on the counter is a real meal to them. So controlling them just through sanitation -- no, that's not going to work," Mr. Menard said.
Currently, the preferred method among exterminators -- and one used at Arleta Manor -- is a poisonous gel bait dabbed near cockroach hiding spots. But even that has its drawbacks, says Mr. Menard, who has 28 years of pest-control experience and a degree in entomology.
He says some cockroaches will eat plants, wallpaper, fingernail clippings -- anything with protein -- before taking the bait.
"They've been around for what, 350 million years?" he says.
Mr. Green just wants them out of his apartment.
"There must be a better way than what these guys are doing," he said this week. "If there's not, my goodness, buy a gun and get me outta here."
Cockroaches in Toronto
There are three main species in the GTA: The most common, the German cockroach, prefers dark, warm, humid areas near sources of food and water. Oriental cockroaches hide in cooler areas, such as basements.
Brown-banded cockroaches enjoy dry pantries and closets.
By the numbers:
6 - Number of spine-covered legs
18 - Number of knees
40 - Number of minutes a cockroaches can hold its breath.
280,000,000+ - Years that cockroaches are believed to have been on Earth (first appeared during the Carboniferous era)
Female German cockroaches produce one egg capsule every three to four weeks. Each capsule contains 24 to 45 eggs. they take three to four months to hatch. The young (nymphs) will be able to breed in about 36 days.
More bad news:
Household cockroaches can - and will - eat pretty much anything, including grease, food, plants, wallpaper, toenail clippings, glue, leather, book bindings and soap.
Cockroaches can run up to five kilometres an hour.
They are known to carry human pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can result in food poisoning or diarrhea.
Cockroach infestation by-products - including saliva, feces and cast skins - can irritate allergies and asthma in people, especially children.
The world's largest roach (which lives in South America) is 15 centimetres long with a 30 cm wingspan.
SOURCE: DISCOVERY.COM & UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
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