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A Rat, the Broom and the Wardrobe

A Cautionary Tale for Fishermen or Anybody Else Who Spends Time In the Woods

It started with my dog. Zeke is a big happy idiot; he wouldn’t bark if a burglar stepped on his junk while breaking in to his food cupboard, bear in mind that the highlight of Zeke’s day is moving from the couch to his dinner bowl. He considers this action as his daily exercise.

One day, not long ago, things changed. Being sloth-like just didn’t seem to be doing it for him anymore. For no apparent reason he would bark at my truck in the middle of the night. His new favorite spot no longer involved defiling expensive upholstery, instead he would spend hours sitting on the bedroom heating vent while watching the window very carefully. For a dog who couldn’t win a participation medal in a “stay awake all day” contest, this was pretty unusual and, truth be told, Marni and I were a little freaked out.

Trevor's dog Zeke
Via Trevor Shpeley

It was also about this time we starting hearing strange noises coming from our heating vents. Something was scurrying around in there, something large. For the past few months we had been feeding our neighbor’s cat. This cat was so fundamentally unpleasant the other cats that lived with her wouldn’t let her eat at home. Recently the cat disappeared; naturally I figured that she had wandered in and found her way into the heating pipes via the missing vent cover in the living room. After a few days of leaving tuna in the pipe and calling her name, it wasn’t looking very probable that our nighttime noisemaker was the missing cat. It was however starting to look very probable that putting tuna so far down your vent pipes, past the point where you could retrieve it, was a questionable idea at best. In any case, no creature of any kind appeared and it was obvious to anybody with a nose that the tuna was (and is) still there.

One day, not long after, we came home to discover that a houseplant I had purchased for Marni when she wasn’t feeling well was itself not feeling well. In fact, it had begun shedding its leaves. It had even begun shedding its branches and somehow gravity didn’t seem to apply to the plant as many of the fallen bits had traveled six-feet across the room to the couch and still others had somehow made their way into the next room beside the closed crawlspace hatch. We also noticed that the cap from the water jug had made its way across the dining room and onto the middle of the living room floor and pens were in places we would never put them.

Now I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer; I’d need a map to find my butt with both hands but it was clear, even to me, what the problem was. We had a poltergeist! Very much against my will, I was forced to abandon that theory when Marni gave me a look she usually reserves for men who wear half-shirts with jean shorts and embrace the only other real possibility, we had a packrat!

I don’t know where you call home but here in Vernon, while I’m sure there are a few of them running around, packrats certainly aren’t commonplace. It seemed farfetched that we had one living in the basement crawlspace but the evidence continued to pile up until finally on a rainy night I was kept awake by the sound made by fat water-drops falling from ceiling height down to a bedroom carpet. I’m not really sure why I didn’t question this since there is about 17 feet of house between my bedroom carpet and the nearest roof but after sleepy consideration I decided to ignore it and hope Marni would wake up and deal with it.

The noise of the water dripping never stopped through the entire night. Finally, it wore me down and at five am I got up to investigate. I could find nothing wet. I did notice, after some time, that my dog was very focused on the bedroom dresser. This is the same dog who doesn’t even know that there is a five-o-clock in the morning, the same dog that wouldn’t disturb his sleep in the middle of the night to lick chicken-blood off a wounded squirrel was wide awake and staring at the dresser. I figured I had better take a look so I turned on the light (kind of like when you turn down the radio in your car to see better in the fog) and  found the noise was definitely coming from behind the dresser. I pulled one side of the dresser out and there he was. I’d like to say he was hideous. I’d like to say my blood ran cold when I first laid eyes on the giant rat that had claimed free-range on my home but the truth was he was pretty cute. He wasn’t small, maybe 10 inches nose to tail and half that wide and he didn’t look like any rat I’d ever seen. In fact he looked more like a chinchilla than anything else. He had soft looking kitten-like fur, big ears, a furry tail and his legs ended in surprisingly dexterous hand-like feet with long flexible fingers. He made no threatening moves, didn’t bare his teeth, didn’t do much of anything really; he just sat there in the corner he was trapped in thumping his back foot on the ground. “Drip, drip, drip”

Marni was wide awake by now and wondering what I was going to do. I could feel the weight of untold generations of Shpeley patriarchs looking over my shoulder waiting for me to do something manly. I did what any of them would have done, I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a broom. When I came back into the bedroom Marni looked at me with eyes that said “really? a broom? What exactly do you plan on doing with a broom?” but it was all I had. So, quick as a bunny, I slapped the head of the broom down over the packrat pinning him in place. I was elated; my dog was impressed and I’m pretty sure Marni considered me a manly God among men. That whole hero moment lasted about three seconds. As quickly as I had him pinned, the packrat shrugged off the few pieces of straw holding him to the floor and launched himself like a furry rat-missile up the back of the dresser, across the top of it, down to the floor and literally over the dog who, along with Marni. was quite frankly starting to look considerably less impressed. Luckily for the rat he had had enough forethought to lift the two-pound brass grate off of the vent and move it to one side, probably with less effort than it would have taken me.

My ancestors went back to bed shaking their heads and all Marni had to say was, “A broom? You went and got a broom?” My manliness was in serious trouble. I needed a strategy. I needed a victory. This was war.

I set immediately to the first order of business: secure the building. I don’t know if you have ever given any thought to how many rat sized holes there might be in a 60-year old house that has a crawlspace and has undergone three additions but, let me tell you, there are a lot. With my man card firmly in my back pocket, I’m pretty sure I found them all and I’m also fairly certain that my property value suffered very little from the addition of sturdy Tupperware lids stapled randomly all over the house.

Working in stealth mode, I conquered the next order of business: the heating vents. Large jugs of water on every vent seemed to do the trick, it came to me later that my remedy was only effective because the rat never felt sufficiently motivated to try and lift one off. In retrospect that alone should have driven home the impossibility of keeping a determined rodent from going wherever he damn well pleased.

Moving on like the true war General I had become, I began strategizing the next order: take the battle to the enemy. When I say, “my house has a crawlspace” I don’t mean it has a radically unfinished basement and I don’t mean it has a “stoop-space.” It has roughly two feet of open clearance between the damp dirt floor and an awe-inspiring tangle of what is surely the worlds largest collection of Black Widow spider nests to be found in a domestic dwelling. At least that’s what it looks like when you are down there and since a great deal of them really are Black Widows, I don’t go down there unless I absolutely have to but desperate times call for desperate measures so it was time to send down the dog.

Zeke was all about smelling the hole whenever I lifted the cover but not at all sure he actually wanted to go down there himself. Nonetheless, thanks to his total inability to fly backwards after being pushed through the opening he was down under the house and zeroing in on his target. His target, it turns out, was the first support pillar, which he promptly peed all over. After that he was a subterranean canine whirlwind, running from support to support, from heating pipe to furnace. He peed on all of it. Then he came back all grins and tail-wags and jumped out of the hole with the obvious air of a job well done. So much for animal on animal warfare, it was time to bring out the big guns.

It was about this point in my ordeal with the rat that I started wondering where exactly my new buddy had come from. As mentioned earlier they aren’t super common around here. I do however spend most of the summer in my trailer up at Sheridan Lake and a lot of time in the bush as well. Had the packrat really hitched a ride all the way from the Cariboo? I’d seen people with their hoods propped open in campgrounds before but had always dismissed it as the paranoid exercises of the sorts of people who always sit in the back of a plane and wear life-jackets on cruise ships. It was starting to seem like taking a look at the truck might be a good idea.

When I lifted the hood of my Tacoma, the nest was hard to miss. It was about a foot across, four-inches deep and constructed entirely from the insulation that had previously been adhered to my firewall. It encompassed as a support system of most of the exposed wiring of my engine, which thankfully he hadn’t gotten around to chewing on yet. Now, it was personal. I propped up my hood, like I now know all people with an ounce of common sense do when there might be a packrat in the vicinity, and made my way to the nearest dispenser of merciless rodent death, Canadian Tire.

A rat's nest in the car's engine
Via Trevor Shpeley

After careful consideration I purchased two large Victor rattraps. Even though they were the biggest ones I could buy, I was a little skeptical; the packrat was pretty big. Still, the traps seemed strong enough to break my finger if, or shall I say when, the inevitable occurred and I accidentally tripped one. I figured they were worth a try. I considered poison but since I already had an open can of tuna in my heating system, I didn’t relish the thought of two pounds of rotting rat in there too. A little internet research revealed that they are mostly plant eaters with a taste for peanut butter, (I probably should have read that before I jammed an open can of tuna down there, but you live and learn), and liked to crawl through tubes. So I selected a long box with a small opening and set my trap with a big blob of peanut butter and a huge bunch of parsley. I went to sleep certain in the knowledge that my packrat problems were nearly over.

In actual fact, not so much.

In the morning I picked up the box; it was far too light to have a rat in it. The trap was sprung and all the peanut butter and parsley was gone. That rat was one cool customer. He had sprung the theoretically lethal trap which I’m sure had to have hit him somewhere, just nowhere good enough, and then ate what he must have thought was a nice dinner I’d laid out for him. I needed to get smarter than the rat.

The next night I took the same box, put two rat traps in the far end, covered them in parsley and put two glue-traps near the entrance. I knew the glue-traps wouldn’t hold him but I was pretty sure having two six-inch plastic plates stuck to him would render him a whole lot less mobile. All my bases were covered. It was a solo-rat Thunderdome. One rat enters, no rat leaves. So what if my grin was a little bit evil when I went to bed? I had earned it.

In the morning there were signs of a terrific battle; both traps were sprung, the box was in disarray and one of the glue traps was missing. This time he hadn’t eaten anything and parsley was strewn everywhere. He was rattled but he wasn’t caught. I still had an option I hadn’t exercised yet, the live trap we borrowed from a friend.

The live trap looked pretty foolproof. The rat had to be well inside to trip the door and there was no way he was opening that door once it was down. I set the release on its most sensitive setting, baited it with more parsley and peanut butter and went to bed. Well it turns out the term “foolproof” does not apply when the fool in question is the one setting the trap. I had neglected to fasten the backdoor. Once again he paused to eat all the food before leaving and there was no sign of him. Except, for the tell-tale “drip, drip, drip” sound coming from behind the pots and pans cupboard.

I called Marni and got her to pull out the pots one by one while I waited with, sigh, the broom. This time however I was ready and had taken the broom part off the handle so he wasn’t going to escape that way. Soon I saw his beady red eyes staring back at me, I lunged, he dodged, I lunged again and he ran behind the fridge. Now lucky for me my fridge is brand new and has just a featureless wall of stainless steel on the back, nowhere for him to hide. I eased the fridge out just a bit and SLAM! He was pinned beneath my broom handle. This time, he wasn’t going anywhere.

Unfortunately, neither was I, we were at a stalemate. My darling sweet Marni who wouldn’t hurt a fly if it laid eggs on her eyeball started yelling, “get the gun!” Yes the same person who would dust underneath the porch if she could was insisting that I start blowing holes in the kitchen wall, as long as it killed the rat. I tried exerting a little more pressure in the hope of damaging him enough that he couldn’t move but that had pretty much the same result as squeezing a watermelon seed; the rat sped past me and into the laundry room like the Mexican rat he so closely resembled from the Sylvester and Tweety Show.

This time, before I went to work I duct taped a kitchen knife onto the broom handle and turned it into a makeshift spear. Marni’s eyes gleamed with approval. I was certain to earn back my manhood with this one; I just knew it! It really was time for the rat to go, things were getting a little weird around here.

A kitchen knife taped onto the broom handle
Via Trevor Shpeley

I didn’t think the rat would come back to the same trap again after its last narrow escape but I figured I might as well set it before I left for work. I was out of parsley but Marni really loves her marzipan so I broke off a big hunk of the chocolate covered almond candy and put it on the release. I double checked the back door of the trap and left for work.

When I got home, success! There he was: Satan’s spawn, the rat from hell in all his evil glory. The source of all my frustration and anger, the destruction of my truck, the smell in my heating vents and the indignation of my long suffering dog who tried to warn us. There he was just waiting in the little cage, waiting for my retaliation and the venting of my rage. He did however take the time after he was caught to eat all of the marzipan. In the words of my buddy Jack, “Marzipan is to die for.”

Rat in a cage
Via Trevor Shpeley

What form of punishment could I inflict that would be suitable? My friends on facebook had all kinds of ideas, none of them pleasant. (In fact, I’m a little concerned about the mental stability of some of my friends now, but… that’s another post.) When I looked at him he wasn’t freaking out at all or acting like a trapped animal. He was just looking at me with his big round eyes, his disheveled kitten-like fur, his long furry tail twitching while his leg softly beat out his song, “drip, drip, drip.” And then, something happened. Suddenly, I felt no real animosity towards him. He was just a lonely animal trying his best to find a warm spot for the winter with plenty of wiring to chew, shiny things to collect and some space on the countertops upon which to poop.

I could have relocated him but I didn’t. I could have been cruel but I wasn’t. I dispatched him as quickly and humanly as possible and that was that, but it wasn’t without guilt. After our long ordeal he almost felt like a family member albeit a particularly destructive and annoying one.

The war was over, the last battle was fought. Are there ever really any winners in warfare? Hell ya! Me! I won! I caught the little sucker before he really got dug in! I’m free! Unless of course….. you don’t think it was a “she rat” do you?

What did I take from all this?

  1. My dog is a wuss but I should listen to him anyway.
  2. My gentle loving girlfriend can make her head spin around 360 degrees and poke her eyes right out of her head when she has a rat in the kitchen.
  3. I am not smarter than a rat.
  4. I will always prop open the hood of my truck in the woods.
  5. If I ever get another packrat in my house, I’m just going to move.

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