Christmas invader was not even a mouse

The enemy that has besieged my house in Oregon’s coastal forest for three weeks is dead. Last night, my dog Annie and I slept the sweet sleep of peace, confident nothing was rustling around in the dark.

First there was the mysterious gray powder on the floor by my stove. I discovered holes in the baseboard. Strange. Is it falling apart? Is Annie trying to get at something?

The day after I put the presents under the Christmas tree, I found a box of chocolates on the floor, the wrapping chewed off and the box partially chewed. Annie! The day after that, I found a box of chocolates I had bought for myself chewed open and one of the chocolate truffles skinned. Annie!

A giant hole in the dog’s box of Milk-Bones followed. Wait a minute. How could Annie even get to it on the shelf and wouldn’t she have torn the whole box apart and eaten the contents? I taped that hole closed. The next morning, a new hole appeared in the other side. Then the outer wrapper on a loaf of bread I had left defrosting on the counter was torn. Annie? She’s almost 11 years old and has had surgery on both back knees. She can’t jump.

I secured all of my food, putting everything in glass or hard plastic containers. In response, the invader left tiny turds on the counters. Oh! I had a mouse. I bought humane mouse traps at the hardware store. I would lure the mouse in, trap it, and take it out to the woods. I tried cheese, dog treats, Christmas cookies and peanut butter. Facebook friends offered suggestions: gummy bears, sunflower seeds, raisins. Nothing worked.

Things got stranger. I found the soap and soap dish from my hall bathroom in the sink one morning. Must have knocked it down in a sleepy nighttime pit stop, I thought. The next day, my bathtub soap from the master bath had been lifted out of the dish and shoved across the floor into the bedroom. That’s some big-ass mouse, I thought. And way too close to where I sleep. Or tried to sleep. Every night, Annie woke me up, upset about the critter. Get it, I suggested. No, you get it, she whined. 

Yesterday things came to a head. I saw no new damage, but there were turds on the counter again. Ick. I bought a package of poisonous mouse traps at Fred Meyer. The idea is they go in, die, and you dispose of the whole box without ever having to touch or see the mouse.

But that’s not what happened.

The critter got too bold last night. While I was watching the Golden Globes on TV, it raced past me through the den. A few minutes later, I saw that the poisonous mouse box from the bathroom was in the hall, chewed on the outside but with no mouse inside. That’s not what’s supposed to happen. I put it back on the bathroom sink. Soon it was on the floor again, being pushed around by a rat. Not a mouse. A rat. It was so excited with its new toy that it forgot to run away until after I got a good look. Medium-sized but way bigger than a mouse. It didn’t get caught in my mouse traps because it didn’t fit.

As I approached, the rat raced into Fred’s old office, where I pay bills and keep my book inventory. I tossed the trap in after it and shut the door. Now what should I do? It was a rat, right across the hall from my bedroom. I couldn’t stomp it, didn’t have a gun to shoot it, couldn’t move fast enough to capture it.

I texted my friend. While I waited for her response, I queried Google. The websites all suggested I call an exterminator. Yes, but it was Sunday night and the rat was trapped in the office. My friend Pat S. said to call my neighbor, Pat W. I hate to be such a girly girl, but I called.

Pat loves to shoot stuff. He came over in his camo clothes, carrying his .22 rifle. Tiny pellets. It would just leave a little blood, he said. But the rat had gone into hiding. Can’t shoot what you can’t see. Pat went home and got a trap, baiting it with cheese. We left the trap in the office with the door closed.

Forty minutes later, sitting in the living room hugging Annie, I heard a loud snap. I tiptoed down the hall and opened the door a crack. The trap was upside down, the dead rat splayed beneath it, its neck caught. I saw blood and rat poo on the green shag carpet. 

I felt terrible. I don’t hate rats. The poor little guy was just looking for food and shelter. He didn’t even get to eat the cheese. I don’t like to kill things. But I can’t have a rat in my house, walking and shitting in the places where I cook, eat, bathe and sleep. I can’t have Annie waking me up every night in a dither because the rat is running around. I can’t have a rat chewing holes in my walls.

I’ve had rats before, but they were in the attic and under the house. I hired an exterminator because the rats were tearing out the insulation, and the noise was driving us crazy. But those rats weren’t IN the house leaving big bite marks on my lavender-scented soap.

Weeping, I put on gloves, removed the rat from the trap, and placed it in a plastic tub left over from Annie’s arthritis pills. I took the rat out beyond the fence into the woods. Its body was still warm. Maybe some creature would have a midnight mouse snack, carrying on what my English lit teacher called the Great Chain of Being.

I scrubbed and vacuumed the floor. Annie, terrified of the vacuum cleaner, went outside and barked. I have more cleaning to do today. That rat was everywhere.

My friend Pat S. suggested I say an Act of Contrition, something Catholics do when they go to confession. I did. Sorry, God. Sorry, Mr. Rat. If you hadn’t gotten cocky and shown yourself in the light, you’d still be chewing your way through the house.

I live in the woods. I know creatures will get in. Have I told you about the time I found a live garter snake in the laundry room? Or the dead barn swallow in the woodstove? Or the family of mice that moved into the potholder drawer in the motorhome? We humans don’t have as much power to separate our space from nature as we’d like to think.

I just hope the rat didn’t have a family ready to follow in his footsteps.

So that’s my rat story. Feel free to share your tales of critter invasions in the comments.

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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.