Every Day Is ‘Groundhog Day’ on Cleveland’s East Side

By Gennifer Harding-Gosnell

Pests Destroy Property and Terrorize Residents In Cleveland’s East Side

The City of Cleveland and City Council held their annual city budget discussions last month, debating, reconciling, and then finalizing their decisions on how they believe the city’s money would best be spent. 

One recurring topic was the issue of groundhogs and other nuisance animals. Several wards in Cleveland appear to have been inundated with them recently, creating a nuisance, and sometimes a scare for residents. In 2021, the city captured 215 groundhogs, 116 possums, 347 skunks, and 134 raccoons. Even foxes and coyotes have been reported to Animal Control. 

Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin said the groundhogs are “terrorizing people,” and that “a lot of these older homeowners are really struggling.”

Councilman Kevin Bishop said it is “a state of emergency in Ward 2,” and reiterated the concern with having senior citizens handling traps and trying to trap animals themselves. “These are not complex issues,” he added. “We need some aggression and some co-operation.”

 Ward 1 Councilman Joe Jones said groundhogs and other wildlife are “one of my number one calls.” He explained that they are biting the wires in residents’ cars as well as digging dangerous burrowed tunnels in their yards. He said he has helped his constituents buy a trap, and then shown them how to use it.   

Ward 7 Councilwoman Stephanie Howse expressed concern that the budget may not allot enough money to combat the problem. “We are talking thousands [of groundhogs]” she said in the budget hearing. “What we’re talking about and what this budget is saying is not truly reflective of [what is needed] to meet the demand.”  

Animal Control currently has 70 to 75 traps, and are planning to order 40 more.

“That’s not enough,” Jones stated immediately. He thinks the city needs 200-300 traps, and that he has twenty just at his home.   

The city has contracted with outside providers, but according to Animal Control Officer John Baird, “There are just so many calls for this that our only contractor that ever bids on the service [becomes] overwhelmed at certain points of the year. They can’t get the traps out there fast enough.”

City officials say they have sent RFPs [Request For Proposal to invite businesses to send in a bid to get the work] to other companies, but never gotten bids back from them.

The City of Cleveland asks residents to call Animal Control at 216-664-3069 with complaints about nuisance wildlife to discuss options for removal. Service this year begins on April 15.   

Groundhogs, despite their fabled status as weather predictors, are viewed as nuisance animals in urban areas. They may dig several holes 8-12 inches wide, enough for a human leg to get caught, creating a severe fall hazard for seniors and young children. The holes are connected by a large tunnel system underneath. The tunnels can be as long as a bowling lane and destabilize the ground above it.   

Ward 2 Councilman Bishop told The Cleveland Observer that he has seen groundhogs in his ward become de-sensitized to humans, eating food meant for birds and “acting like they’re sunbathing on people’s porches.” 

“When they saw you they used to run from you,” he said. “Now, the last year or so, they don’t run from you…it’s almost like you have to approach them for them to even just take you seriously. They will graze in the grass while you’re sitting there looking at them, it’s kinda crazy now.”

Several Council members stated that they believed suburban development has forced these animals back into the city, but research states groundhogs prefer urban areas because of the abundance of food, and fewer predators, like hawks and coyotes. 

The pandemic only exacerbated these problems. Rodents in urban areas could no longer rely on restaurant food waste and had to move into residential neighborhoods to find food. The City of Cleveland did not do any trapping during all of 2020 due to the pandemic, allowing wildlife populations to grow unfettered into 2021 through today. 

Solutions proposed in the budget hearing discussions included a campaign to educate the public on how to avoid attracting nuisance animals to their property by the City’s Public Safety Director, Karrie Howard. Ward 4 Councilwoman Deborah Gray suggested actively recruiting local Black and female-owned pest control companies to cover the extra workload.

Bishop believes a lack of city-wide motivation to fix the problem is a barrier to solving it for the people most affected.

“[Groundhogs] are not in every part of the city, for some strange reason. In certain places, it is a serious problem, in certain [other] places, it’s not…I think the biggest thing we’re lacking is the initiative to go after the problem.”  

Though there’s no completely escaping groundhogs in an area overrun with them, there are some things you can do to help protect yourself and your property from groundhogs and other nuisance wildlife: 

  • Spray approved rodent repellent around the base and wheel wells of your car. 
  • Wrap your wires and hoses in chili oil tape. Rodents won’t touch the hot pepper-infused tape. 
  • Helium balloons and other moving objects will scare rodents from your yard. This includes pet dogs and cats, who are seen as predators. 
  • Pour cayenne pepper or garlic paste around the entrance holes to a groundhog’s tunnels. They have sensitive noses and are repelled by the smell.
  • Look down in front of you while walking through your grass so holes and their dirt “porches” are visible to you before accidentally stepping in them or allowing children to play in the yard.   

This article was written with information obtained from Documenters.org, a local news service providing public accounts of civic and government meetings.