Philadelphia Has a Big Rat Problem

Suggestion: Avoid flip-flops after dark.

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard a number of anecdotal reports concerning rats in Philadelphia, and there have been some rat sightings surfacing on social media as well.

This is peculiar, because the last time I heard anything about rats in Philadelphia was in 2011, when Inside Edition came to town to expose rats in Philadelphia restaurants. (In case you’re keeping score, two of the five restaurants targeted in that segment have since closed.). And so I wondered if the rats are taking over the streets of Philadelphia, or is this just business as usual?

[Update: Rats invade popular Center City restaurant Green Eggs Cafe]

It turns out that calls to Philadelphia’s Rat Complaint Line (yes, the city does have an office dedicated to this, and the phone number is 215-685-9000) are on the rise.

In March of this year–the last month for which data is available–the Rat Complaint Line received 584 reports compared to 439 in March 2012. February 2013 saw a similarly disturbing jump, with 438 complaints compared to the 339 that were recorded for the same period last year.

The spin on this bad news from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is that while, yes, the monthly complaints are on the rise, if you look at the numbers based on the fiscal calendar (only a city agency would point you in this direction), the statistics are actually down.

But this fiscal year explanation is of little comfort to Philadelphia resident Angela Davis, who sums up the situation like so on Twitter:

Davis tells me that she sees rats all the time, especially in South and Southwest Philadelphia. But it’s not just those neighborhoods that are contributing to Philadelphia’s growing rat problem.

“I just saw a rat the other day in Rittenhouse Square,” reports one of my colleagues at Philadelphia magazine. “He was just running across the park.” Another colleague witnessed a rat shaking a Rittenhouse trash can so violently that “I thought he was going to throw the thing at me,” she remembers.

Philadelphia public relations executive Paige Wolf echoes the disgust. “I’ve been in the city for a dozen years, and I’ve never seen a single rat until this year,” says Wolf, who lives at 12th and Lombard streets. “Then we started seeing rats on the back patio. All of our neighbors are seeing them. I was walking down the street at 11th and Fitzwater the other day, and a rat just ran in front of a bus. They’re everywhere! We already have to deal with hookers and crime and filth, but this is the last straw. If a rat gets into my house, I swear, I am packing up my shit and moving. Enough is enough.”