Rat Patrol


Last year, we were surprised with uninvited guests who expected to spend their entire summer vacation in our home. We had heard scurrying sounds above us at night, but I figured it was a hyperactive teenage squirrel running the roofs after curfew. Some of the eave screens around the house were worn out and hadn't been replaced, so occasionally I heard something running a marathon in the attic.

But one evening, our mystery guests ventured out of their rent-free loft. "I'm pretty sure something's out in the garage," I said matter of factly. Some living creature was mere feet from where I stood in the doorway from the kitchen to the garage. Being a woman of courage, I went back into the house, locking the door behind me. The only things I hunt are bargains. I scream at crickets. And lizards. And roaches. And automated sales phone calls.

But my brave Flash jumped off the couch and was in the garage in 0.2 second. He’s the Sherlock Holmes of household pests, myself excluded.

After several minutes, he returned to home base.

“We have rats.”

“Rats? Rats? You mean a little mouse, right?” I was picturing an ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Size, as defined in The Princess Bride) running amok in our attic.

“No, it’s rats.”

“Wait. You said rats, plural.”

“Yeah, I think this is the work of a crime ring.”

I didn't panic because I didn’t believe him. I thought it was Flash’s hypothesis, not yet a fact. Then, he gave me all the gory details of his investigation.

“I was standing in the doorway, looking into the garage, when suddenly he jumped out of a bag of birdseed and looked me right in the eye.”

“You saw it?” I was shocked out of my comfy denial; there had been a sighting.

We have no bird feeder, but a huge bag of seed was in the garage, feeding a small village of dirty rats. We like to do our part for nature.

With the skill of a hitman, Flash put sunflower-seed butter, sprinkled with birdseed, on a trap. Within 24 hours, the rodent world was minus two. The clever one, probably the godfather of the operation, was still at large.

Flash had no appetite, looked remorseful, and said one of them was "cute and fluffy, and I wouldn't mind having one like that as a pet." I looked at him like he was nuts.

My great white hunter was going soft on crime.

Until the next invasion, last week.

I always store our dog food in a large plastic container in the garage, but in my hurrying to put groceries away several days ago, I placed an unopened bag on the garage floor. One day last week, as I carried the new bag into the kitchen to open it, morsels dropped onto the floor. Taking a closer look, I saw a three-inch-diameter oval in the bag.

"We have a rat," I calmly told Flash.

"How do you know?"

"Evidence." I recounted my solving The Case of the Leaky Bag.

"Is it a mouse or a rat?"

"I can't determine that by teeth marks, but again, when it comes to rodents, what difference does it make?"

Mr. Super Sleuth took his trusty flashlight in hand and searched for the culprit, to no avail.

I went on with my life, pretending the rat fink had left the premises the last time I had the garage door open.

Two days later, I heard Flash gasp as we walked into the garage. He lifted his beloved 20-year-old blue and white Western-style shirt out of the hamper. It looked like Edward Scissorhands had tried to fold it. I held the holes up to the light. Cleary, it was the work of something bigger than a breadbox. Then I saw the chewed-up edges of the dog-food container. I shuddered; I had heard that rats eat through plastic.

“Oh man,” Flash whined in a not-at-all-manly way, “why my shirt? My favorite shirt.”

“Rats eat clothes?”

“She probably used it for her nest.”

My slight concern grew exponentially as I pictured a rat family taking up residence in my attic, or garage, or behind the dryer, or inside the air hockey table, or inside the dog-food bag. “Nest? She’s building it, and they will come.”

“It couldn’t be my old t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, it couldn’t be my cut-off jeans. No, it had to be my favorite shirt. They don’t even make them like that anymore.” He was mighty proud of that outdated piece of 90s clothing. I thought he might cry.

Suddenly, a time to weep turned into a time to kill. Using the same bait that had worked last year, Flash slathered sunflower-seed butter on seventeen small traps and placed them strategically around the garage floor.

Twenty-four hours later, the snacks remained untouched.

“This one has a more discerning palate than the last. Only peanut butter will work.” Sherlock was quickly becoming MacGyver.

“Would you like to offer her an appetizer before the main course?”

“Choosey rodents choose Jif. I need you to pick up 10 jars at the store today.”

When he got home that evening, Flash put generous helpings of peanut butter on the traps.

The next night, the peanut butter was gone, but the traps remained intact.

“This is a smart rat. I think the traps are too small.”

Making another trip for assassination supplies, I purchased a large rat trap, “guaranteed to work.” Again, Flash used PB with no J as bait.

“The trap was too big,” Flash reported the next morning after Houdini Rat had again indulged in a late-night snack without sacrificing her life.

We were living out a rodent version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; clearly, we needed a trap that was “just right.”

On the sixth night of The Case of the Elusive Rat Monster, I walked into the garage to put some clothes in the dryer. There was Flash with a headlight-size flashlight in hand, looking into the wall.

My “What are you doing?” was met with an abrupt “Shhh! I know where she is. Oh, she’s gone now. She’s inside the wall where the water line to the house is.”

It sounded like a delightful place to raise a litter of rat babies.

Once again, Flash was setting small traps around the garage. I hadn’t seen this kind of persistence since his last round of Words with Friends.

As I walked into the living room the following night, Flash was grimacing. "She’s dead."

"How do you know?"

"I heard her flopping around."

I couldn't imagine rat-flopping being louder than Sunday night football. That must be some big critter, I thought as I pictured the Mouse King from The Nutcracker marching his troops around our dog-food container, minus Tchaikovsky's music.

"I went out to the garage to see what the racket was," Flash continued, "the bar had come down, but it didn't kill her."

“So how did she die?”

“I hit her with a shovel,” the murderer said as he stuck out his bottom lip, pouting over his deed.

“You know there are more.”

His mood quickly shifted. “I know! I have not yet begun to fight!”

He swung from remorseful to resolved faster than I can find a reason to not do housework.

I haven’t seen any signs of rodents in the vicinity of the house for several days now. But I’m not taking any chances on my favorite clothes’ being tomorrow’s rat lunch; the laundry hamper is safe and sound in my bedroom. All dog food is secured in the plastic container with hopes that the varmints have changed their diet to a different brand.

But I’m not scared. I’m relying on Flash’s killer instinct and his speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-shovel approach. He’s ready for the next wave of rodents. He’s got a new jar of peanut butter, and I’ve got a box of Kleenex nearby for him to use after the deed is done.