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Rat Stories

Spiritual Smart Aleck

When I moved in with Rick in 1977, this building was the most run-down place I’d ever lived. The walls had holes in them. The roof leaked. Rats had free run of the place.

Rick was a patient man. He could sit in the kitchen with a .22 propped on a chair and aimed at a hole until a rat’s head appeared. Ping! One less rat. It wasn’t the most efficient extermination method, but Rick enjoyed the challenge.
I was not patient. I did not shoot, and I did not like having a rat scurry through the kitchen in broad daylight. I went up to Vashon Hardware and got some rat traps. First the big rats were caught, then progressively smaller ones, until they stopped coming. But we live in a neighborhood with a creek, garbage cans, and compost piles, so there was always a fresh supply of rats. The traps got lots of use.

Then we got a cat, Miss Kitty of sainted memory. She was a good hunter. Unfortunately, she liked to bring her catches into the house alive. Rick would rescue them from her and turn them loose, which clearly disgusted her.

One day she brought in a huge rat (Rattus Norwegicus) and turned it loose. Holy carp. We were running around the kitchen like the Keystone Kops trying to nab it. It ran straight up a table leg, and back down. Finally, Rick managed to catch it, and released it outside.

There was the night that Miss Kitty had a roof rat (Rattus rattus) trapped under a cantaloupe crate at four in the morning and was singing a low throaty cat growl at it. I woke Rick up, which he did not appreciate. He shot the rat through the crate and went back to sleep. The next morning, he realized he’d missed our water line by inches.

After that Miss Kitty didn’t bring in living things, but she did leave a large dead rat under the kitchen table. It may have been her way of getting the last word.

Lotus and Kate made our house into a real house in 1987, and in 1990 our yard became a gathering spot for feral cats. Probably because Rick and I fed them. We were both kind of dumb that way. No rodent problems in the cat years.
After we got all those feral cats neutered and spayed their population dwindled naturally, and in a few years rats were back. Soon we had them in the attic, in the walls, and running around the closed-in back porch where the rabbits lived. Rats love rabbit food.

Eventually there was a mass removal and replacement of insulation, and a blocking of holes, and the house became rat-free. Now the exterminator comes by every two months, and life is rat-less.

I now have a cat, Mellow, who is a good hunter. Sometimes he brings his kills home, and leaves their carcasses on the porch by the kitchen door.

In warm weather I tend to leave the kitchen door open so the cat and dog can go in and out as they please.
Mellow must have brought a dead rat into the house on a day that I also left the hot water heater closet door open. You can see where this is going.

I remember walking through the kitchen three or four months ago and catching a whiff of dead something in the air. I looked for the source – under the kitchen table, behind the bookshelf and the canned goods cabinet and the hutch. I must have looked in the hot water heater closet.

I saw nothing. The smell went away in time, and I forgot about it.

Until the other morning when I opened the water heater closet door and looked down, and there was a nice big dead rat lying on the heavy duty yellow extension cord. A Rattus Norwegicus, or Norway rat, to be exact.

It was not pining for the fjords.

I went and grabbed a few paper towels and came back to pick up the late rodent. It was nothing but fragile skin, fur, and bones, a breath in my hand. Mummified.

I gave the rat what we here at Casa Tuel call “the aerial burial.” Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say the house is next to a ravine.

Why did I not see it last summer? I cannot explain that.

This rat reminded me of the old days. I don’t miss the old days.

I learned from rats that there must be boundaries for relationships to be happy, although I do not routinely poison the other members of relationships to maintain boundaries. Only rats.