Oh Rats! A Tale of Rats, Cats and Runaway Dogs


This is a story about rats. Once upon a time, I would sit in my hot tub at dusk, warm water up to my neck, stars brightening up above, dog chewing on a log from the woodpile, and I’d see something scurry from the deck to the fence. Something dark, something small, something that was probably a rat. 
This went on for months, maybe years. In my childlike way, I thought he was cute. I welcomed him to the family, naming him Ratatouille. Ew, rats, people said, but I think everything’s cute until proven otherwise. Remember Sal the Salamander? Ned the Newt? Gary the garter snake?
One day, I found a dead rat on the lawn. No blood, just a black rat corpse. Did Annie kill it? I’ll never know. Grieving the loss of Ratatouille, I carried the corpse out to the woods. Bye, bye rat.
Now at the same time, also for months, maybe years, I was aware of a missing vent cover at the base of the house, over near the fence. Annie noticed, too. Every time she went out, she ran over to sniff its cool darkness. Got to fix that one of these days, I thought. The old metal cover had disintegrated in our coastal wetness, so critters could get in. And out. I never imagined they’d back up the U-Haul and take up residence.
It turns out Ratatouille was not alone. One night as I was washing the dishes, I started hearing noises under the stove. It sounded like something was chewing at the underside of the floor, trying to get out. “Annie!” I called to the dog. “Listen!” Her ears pricked up. She stared at the floor and began to whine. Rather than save me from this marauder, she snuggled against me for protection.
It chewed and chewed. I opened cupboards and looked behind things, afraid something would jump out at me, but it didn’t. I stomped the floor hard, and the chewing stopped. Maybe it was gone. That night I dreamed it was a litter of kittens. The noise came back again and again, under the table, under the toaster oven, under the hallway. The morning it woke me up chewing under the bedroom, I stomped the floor and said, “That’s it.”
I called a company out of the phone book with a name that sounded humane and ecologically sound. When the guy arrived in his VW bug decorated with pictures of ants, it was not a good time at the Lick house. It was 91 degrees in Newport, about 30 degrees hotter than usual. Confused bugs swirled  around my head. My back had gone out and I was hurting from my morning trip to the chiropractor. I was also preparing for a trip to California to help my dad, who had fallen and broken his hip. 
The new dog sitter had just come to meet Annie. Harley, the giant Lab from across the street, had come to the door with her. Annie, seeing her buddy, had whooshed out the door and run away.
“Uh, that was the dog you’ll be taking care of.”
“Well, she looked nice. Hey, there’s somebody else here.”
Rat guy. While Annie romped in the woods, I showed the exterminator the crawl space in the master bedroom closet. A man of size, he blanched. Small doesn’t begin to describe the space under my house. Or so plumbers and house inspectors have told me. He squeezed himself down, looked around for a minute and popped back up, brushing dirt and rat poop off his jeans and shirt. “Ya got rats, he said, an infestation of rats, droppings all over. They have shredded your insulation so it looks like a cave full of stalactites. For the equivalent of two mortgage payments, plus a car payment, we will put out bait, remove the corpses, remove the polluted insulation and sanitize the whole thing. I’ll get one of my skinny young guys to crawl underneath.”
I was in shock. “You kill them?” I had had visions of the rats being lured into a box and being driven to someplace nice to start new lives. Meanwhile, where the heck was my dog?
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Well . . . I’m heading to California to take care of my dad who broke his hip. How about if I let you know when I get back?”
He looked at me as if I was stupid. “You want to wait two more weeks? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Which is how I ended up writing him a check for most of what was in my checking account and letting him place bait/aka poison under the deck and under the house. In two weeks, Rat Guy will return with his crew to remove the corpses and ruined insulation and sanitize the area under my house.
As we walked out the front door, Rat Guy pointed out a rustling in the trees west of my house. We listened. In a minute, my big yellow dog emerged, panting, tail wagging. I snapped on her leash and hugged her hard. “You brat. You scared me.”
She smiled her doggy smile.
I turned to Rat Guy, who was laughing at my worn-out dog. “You’re sure she can’t get at the poison? She’s sneaky.”
“I’m sure. She’ll be just fine.”
After he drove away, the rats were eerily silent. Annie lay exhausted on the lawn. I cried awhile about the devastation of my finances and my inability to keep up with everything that needs taking care of at this oversized house. I grieved for my dead husband, who left me to manage everything alone. Then I ate a piece of cake and moved on.
When I talked to my dad on the phone later, he said he would have put bait out himself. It shouldn’t cost much. So, was Rat Guy just trying to help or was he a great salesman? All I know is I’m not crawling under my house for any price.
Ah, Ratatouille, you rat.
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U stands for unleashed–or is it unhinged?


Fred with Annie (tan) and her brother Chico a few years ago on the deck

U stands for unleashed, as in Unleashed in Oregon. Sometimes “unhinged” might be a better assessment. Last Monday, for example.

Exhausted from my Easter festivities, I was ready for a long, deep sleep, but no. At 2:38 a.m., Annie started barking, and she was still barking off and on five hours later. She seemed to have found a critter trapped under the deck. Whatever it was scratched her face during the night. Or else she scratched it on the lattice along the base of the deck. The intruder couldn’t be very big. I had seen a rat sneak in and out a couple times at twilight, but Annie hadn’t seemed to notice. We occasionally had squirrels. I suppose a cat or small raccoon could have gotten in there if it was determined enough. Whatever it was, Annie was still barking, and I was still awake when it was time to get up.

Sleep-deprived or not, I had a busy day that included a business meeting and providing music for a funeral, but first I crawled around on the wet grass in my bathrobe trying to see what was under the deck. I saw nothing except a muddy spot where Annie had tried to dig her way in. I thought about shooting some water through there, setting a trap, or calling the exterminators. What I wanted to do was ignore it, but if Annie was going to keep barking, I’d never get any sleep and the neighbor would eventually select a rifle from his vast collection and take care of both Annie and whatever she was barking at. Somehow, like our recent adventures with plumbing and yard work, we would handle it. Once I inspected the deck, Annie seemed satisfied for the moment and went to sleep. Now the rain has returned, and Annie is staying in her warm bed during the night. Me too. But the invader is probably still around.

When Fred and I moved to Oregon in 1996, we unleashed ourselves from our families, our home, our jobs, and everything that was familiar. Looking back, it strikes me that we were like dogs who smelled something good way up the road, chased after it and found ourselves in an unfamiliar place with no way to get back. So we started new lives here. It was indeed very good, although we missed the old lives sometimes.
Now that Fred is gone (three years ago yesterday), I am even more unleashed. No husband. No newspaper job. In theory, I’m free to go wherever I want, just like the dog when she slips out the gate and runs into the woods. But also like the dog, I don’t want to wander too far from home. I want my Milk-Bones (see M is for Milk-Bones) and my iced tea. Of course some of my family thinks I’m just unhinged.
This blog is about my adventures with Annie in our post-Silicon Valley lives. We are unleashed and running free in Oregon. Metaphorically speaking. They’ve got leash laws up here, just like most places, and my dog is too much of a wackadoodle to unhook just anywhere.
U stands for a whole lots of “un” words. Unlikely, unbelievable, unwanted, unplugged, underdog and so many more. It also stands for ugly, ubiquitous, utopia, and umbrella, something we don’t use here because it would just blow inside out. And it stands for Under the Deck, where something lives.
U is for Unleashed in Oregon, where I plan to keep blogging long after the A to Z Challenge ends next Wednesday. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:

 
A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon–Key is for Keys
L Unleashed in Oregon–L is for Lick
M Unleashed in Oregon–M is for Milk-Bone
N Childless by Marriage–No is for No, I Don’t Know Children’s Songs
O Unleashed in Oregon–O is for Oregon Everything
P Writer Aid–P is for Prompts
Q Unleashed in Oregon–Q is for Question
R Unleashed in Oregon–R is for Rhodies
S Unleashed in Oregon–S is for Shoes Full of Sand
T Childless by Marriage–T is for Talk
U Unleashed in Oregon
V Writer Aid
W Unleashed in Oregon
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Childless by Marriage

More than 2000 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. For more information, visit a-to-zchallenge.com You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Visit Writer Aid tomorrow to find out what V stands for.