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.