Robert’s review: A warm and fuzzy story best enjoyed with a bit of cheese!
Not many people would decide to write a story about their relationships with rodents. My fate to share my life with these nasty little creatures, who make their life’s journey lurking within walls, basements, attics and garages, was confirmed as recently as yesterday. Why do they like us? For the garbage? The dark recesses of our living quarters? Are they amused by our loud screeches in horrified disgust when discovered? Do humans have a genetically built-in revulsion upon encountering them? It seems humanity has always been at war with the earth’s rodent population.
You can tell that I am not a fan. Despite my distaste for the little scrabblers, I once owned, as a pet, a hamster named Wally. I eventually got rid of him. He was determined to live in the nooks and crannies of my sleeper sofa instead of the lovely home purchased and furnished for his comfort. He even had a little wheel to exercise on. Inevitably, the squeaky, squeak of that wheel would start around 2 am, in what I believed to be a rage-filled protest of his confined living space. Anytime I would take him out of the cage to clean it, he would make a dash for the sofa. I would then spend more time than I wished in an attempt to retrieve him. Cushions flung aside, I dared not open the sleeper lest he be squished in between the moving mechanisms. Scraping his little carcass out of my couch would be much worse than having to lure him out with nibbles. And this is the thing about rodents, it’s all about the nibbles. Wally and accompanying domicile were eventually handed off to a friend with kids. I must have been very lonely to have wanted a pet (no deposit to the apartment management) rodent.
I remember only one rodent encounter during my childhood. We had rats in the basement of one of our houses. This basement was unfinished, with a dirt floor and cement walls. I never had any reason to be down there, but went sometimes with my mom when she needed something from the depths. It was the first time I ever saw a rat. My mother did not need to tell me the dungeon was off limits without her. My brothers, however, were intrigued and often tried to tempt me into the basement as they perched on the stairs above the dirt floor. The poor lighting was enough to stop me at the doorway, scanning for movement down below. That’s as far as I would go, happily accepting the scaredy-cat label. I preferred to think of my reticence as prudence. Even then I had a sophisticated vocabulary to accompany my distaste for furry, scurrying vermin.
When I think of monstrously large rats—I try not to, but they do come up in conversation from time to time—I recall the ones I encountered in Acapulco, Mexico. These were, to my disbelieving eyes, about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. The very sight of one made my heart stop. My first reaction was slightly more violent than my feelings during the earthquake, when I was on the 16th floor of the hotel and had to descend the very long stairway, praying I would not be sharing it with any super-sized Mexican rats. Though going down the staircase was necessary, the experience evoked memories of my childhood ratty basement, which slowed my descent ever so slightly.
Mexico is not the only country with tremendously large rats. I was working in a Houston nursing home, delivering quality physical therapy to its elderly residents, when I happened to glance out the window into a lovely, well-landscaped courtyard only to discover a galactically proportioned rat daintily sipping from a convenient puddle of water. There was nothing skittish or scurrying about this guy. He was the king of rats in this location with a fear of nothing and no one. I’m certain my revulsion was evident as I reported his size, location and nonchalance to management. As long as he was outside, they were unconcerned. I made a detailed surveillance of my surroundings before exiting the building to walk to my car.
By the time I got around to moving away from apartment living and settling into a private home, I thought my rodent encounters would be diminished. There are no basements in Houston, so no lurkers down below. Norwegian roof rats fill that void. They live in your attic and garage and potting shed. One nippy morning I opened the door that enters the garage from the kitchen and was greeted by a family of rats, who had the stunned look of being caught in a criminal act. They made a noise. A noise much like shrieking, which then entered my brain and body to forever etch the soundtrack of Rodent Hell into my psyche. Maybe you’ve seen the movie Willard or its wretched sequel Ben. This sight/sound encounter with rats in the plural must have happened to the writer of that movie, who then decided that sharing a terrifying, rat-filled experience would sell lots of movie tickets. It did.
At this same house, we discovered a hole in the floor behind a bookcase we moved to do some cleaning. The floor around it was littered with dog food. I was contemplating how the dog would have gotten behind there to stash her food when it dawned on me that this was no dog den. In addition to our roof rats, we also had mice…in our walls. They were unapologetic dog food thieves. We called our landlord. He was not the least bit surprised and also unapologetic. This was Houston, call an exterminator. As we had a toddler in the house, we moved. But not far enough away apparently.
We bought a nice house in a pleasant neighborhood on the bayou. One morning I heard a noise outside my living room window which caused me to investigate its source. There was a biggish rat rappelling down the decorative, macramé plant holder into the potted periwinkles suspended from the soffit outside my double windows. I shuddered with loathing and outrage. We also discovered a rat I named Jeeves, who routinely visited our compost pile behind the garage.
Not long after, we became aware of shuffling and scratching inside our bedroom wall. Outside is one thing, inside means war. Rats could do damage to electrical wires with their greedy incisors, tear up the insulation and damage wood with their incessant gnawing. We ended up tearing all the siding off the back of the house to expose their many entry points, which we then closed off by replacing the rotting wood and all of the siding. That seemed to work, so we had the exterminator place plenty of rat poison designed to make your rat thirsty so as to exit the attic in search of water and die a horrible death outside on your lawn for your dog to find. We never found any, but it seemed to be quieter in the smallish, darker confines of our dwelling. Except for the roaches, which is a story for another day.
Now we live in fun and funky West Asheville. Our basement is made of solid rock and we have seen no evidence of furry creatures inside. We have spotted a number of inoffensive members of the rodent family such as groundhogs, bunnies, chipmunks, possums, raccoons and squirrels. Our new dog Mindy loves to chase them, though, until recently, they seemed adept at evading her capture.
Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my computer, writing a story for a future blog post when I heard a commotion outside. Then my husband started yelling my name. Fearing he had fallen or hurt himself in some way, I raced to the back door, adrenaline surging. I was surprised to see him standing on the deck, perfectly intact as he started shouting at me, “Don’t open the door! The dog has something she want to bring inside!” I looked down at the dog, her nose pushing at the screen door. And yes, sure enough, she had hold of a limp critter in her jaws.
I quickly grabbed a treat and opened the door to offer a trade. Let’s be honest here, what dog would want to give up a juicy dead thing in the mouth for a biscuit in the hand. She finally acquiesced and left the animal on the deck to gobble down her favorite treat. We bum rushed her into the house so we could squeamishly examine the clearly dead thing on our patio. It was not a dead thing at all, but a realistic-looking stuffed rodent-like toy animal. We heaved great sighs of relief. The dog must have unearthed it during a digging session related to her ongoing excavation projects. We have a colorful collection of ripped up, semi-recognizable critter toys but only this one gave us pause to consider Mindy’s possible hunting activities.
No doubt some type of animal will find its way into our home. Spiders are already here as bait. We are combat trained and ready to deploy our most efficient methods of removal. Our dog seems to be a good deterrent. Until then, we will enjoy our well-behaved rodents outdoors in their natural habitat until our dog kills them or we adopt them as pets.
I know bunnies aren’t rodents,
Guest editor Robert has seen his fair share of rodents. His is especially adept at the removal and disposal of successful trappings in attics. And at reminding me that bunnies are not rodents.