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Toronto’s rat population seems to be on the rise, or is at least more visible.

Ana Bailão, Toronto city councillor for ward 18 (Davenport), will be bringing forward a motion to council on Tuesday requesting a report be done on strategies for improving rat control in the city, including education initiatives for businesses and residents.

According to Ms. Bailão’s motion, there’s been a “dramatic rise” in rat-control related complaints from residents and business owners in the west end.

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“[Residents] see it a lot more. They see it on main streets, they were seeing it in their backyards,” Ms. Bailão says.

“I’ve been noticing that other councillors have been sharing the same thing. This is not only happening in the west end.”

Ms. Bailão wants to find out if the rat population in Toronto has actually been growing, or if it’s a “perception issue,” meaning people see rats more often because of other factors such as an increase in construction activity that dislodges the creatures and forces them to seek shelter elsewhere.

“It’s something that we want to ensure that we have under control in our city, and residents are complaining in different parts of the city,” she says. “It needs to be looked into, and if it is an issue ... there’s obviously a strategy that the city needs to develop to deal with these matters.”

A Toronto city employee said it would take one to two weeks to gather data on whether rat complaints have been on the rise.

However, this year Orkin Pest Control named Toronto the “rattiest” city in Ontario based on the amount of residential and commercial rodent calls they dealt with in 2017.

Dale Kurt, assistant regional manager with Orkin, says milder winters are one of the reasons the rats could be more prominent.

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“Rather than slowly go to submission in a cold winter, they can be travelling around through the alleyways and that’s where they’re going to get most of their food material.”

Mr. Kurt says enforcing better garbage cleanup could be one way of mitigating the issue, since reducing the available food supply will make pest control efforts more successful.

“You look into a lot of alleyways in Toronto and you’ll just see bags of garbage all over where rats have chewed in through it and dragged food around. [Bags] should be in tamper-proof bins where rats can’t get at it.

“Why would they want to go to our traps and baits when they’ve got a perfect buffet laying there.”

Daniel Mackie, director of quality assurance with GreenLeaf Pest Control, says the company has also been seeing a steady increase of rats and related problems in the past five to six years, and residential yards could be just as affected as city streets.

“We have this stereotypical perception that a rat is dirty and wants to be in these dirty sewers … and that’s not the case,” Mr. Mackie says. “If you think of their natural biology, they’re in meadows, they’re next to ravines ... of course they have evolved because humans have provided more habitats and food that’s readily available. They’re very adaptable, much like a raccoon.”

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But rat problems can be mitigated with the help of homeowners, Mr. Mackie says.

Residents can plug holes bigger than a quarter in their home`s foundation with hard-to-remove materials like concrete sealant, move shrubbery away from the home so rats aren’t finding shadowy shelter there, clean up debris around their property or add a bed of rocks along the home’s foundation as an uneven surface that rats aren’t able to burrow through.

If Ms. Bailão’s motion passes, the report would be seen by the licensing and standards committee in 2019.

“If it’s an issue, it’s an issue for us, and we need to look into it,” she says. “ Let’s be proactive.”

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