Thursday, May 14, 2020

Oh, Rats!

My story today is not for the squeamish. Musophobes and PETA members, look away now.

Several weeks ago, I began hearing scratching behind the wall or floorboards beside my bed. I assumed it was coming from outside, where we have some potted plants -- maybe squirrels were jumping around out there. But then, last week, while weeding the patio, I found a small hole in the exterior wall. The bricks had aged and apparently partly crumbled away next to an air vent leading to the crawl space beneath the house.

I knew something was living in there, so I set up my garden camera one night. In the morning, here's the image we saw:

Yep. Not mice, not squirrels, but plain old urban rats. Two of them. One would stay in the hole, and the other would run out and find things in the garden -- earthworms seemed to be a favorite -- and bring them back to the nest. (I actually have a five-minute video, but I'll spare you.)

This shouldn't have surprised me. You may remember we've occasionally had what we believed to be mice -- this is an old house with lots of nooks and crannies -- and I photographed a rat on our bird feeder last year. But I thought they were living outdoors, in the garden.

Coincidentally, that evening, Dave was making dinner and planned to use a small bag of baby potatoes I'd bought that week at the grocery store. He opened the pantry to find an empty, gnawed bag, all ten or twelve little potatoes gone!

So not only were the rats in the house, they were in the kitchen. And we can't have that. I am an animal lover through and through, but I have my limits. That's a health risk to us. The rats had signed their death warrant.

We decided to call an exterminator, and found one who advertised humane trapping -- for an extra charge, they said, they'd take the animal to a "rural area" and release it. We thought this was kind of funny -- they probably just take it out to the van and club it over the head -- but I was adamant that I did not want poison. I was afraid dying rats would escape into the garden and get eaten by something else, contaminating the food chain and killing a predator like a fox or owl. So we called them.

Unfortunately, all this unfolded on Friday, which was a holiday. By the time midday Monday came around Dave still hadn't heard back from them, and I'd gone to work. Dave, feeling the situation was urgent, called another exterminator -- a much more traditional one. He came right away and spread poison in the rat hole and under the cabinets in the kitchen. He blocked the hole so the animals couldn't get back outside.

He told Dave that he believed the bird feeders were our problem, and recommended we remove them.

Unfortunately, this has created a complete nightmare for me. For two nights now, I've heard the rats trying to get out of the hole, and I am sick about what we are doing to them. I'm completely torn up about it. Last night I seriously considered opening the hole just to get their frantic gnawing noises to stop, but I didn't because I knew they'd probably already eaten some of the poison and would potentially take it out into the wider world. We're now committed to our course and have to just stick with it.

In retrospect, I wish we'd just bought big ol' snap traps and handled the problem ourselves. I think we only have a couple of rats, not a serious infestation, and at least with a snap trap death is immediate. Apparently these poisons take days, and then they're lying around under the house (with the dead animals) forever afterwards. This is EXACTLY THE SITUATION I DID NOT WANT!

So I'm not sleeping, and I'm wrestling with all kinds of horrifying images and feelings. It's not Dave's fault, really -- he just wanted to solve the problem and he is far less conflicted about it than I am. ("I have opposable thumbs," he says.) I'm not sure he understands my reaction, and honestly, it probably is silly and self-indulgent to be so upset.

For what it's worth, the experts say humanely trapped rodents that are released elsewhere rarely survive anyway. I may go buy some big snap traps today in an effort to get the job done faster. And once these rats are gone, I'm considering picking up and disposing of all that poison, or at least as much of it as I can collect. I believe the council will take it as hazardous waste.

Meanwhile, we're communicating with the maintenance company to get the hole permanently fixed.

I'm sorry I've inflicted all this on you, but I had to tell the tale and get it off my chest.

(Top photo: Some chalk art on a log at Hampstead Heath.)


  1. What a fascinating tale! Although I am as squeamish as you about killing animals (even rats) I must confess I take Dave's side on this (if we are setting up sides). And all the way through I was wondering what the coloured post had to do with the rats. All was revealed in the last line of course! LOL

  2. I got so far down this post and couldn't read any more.
    When we had our allotment the chap next door used to put down poison and one day we watched a magnificent large rat staggering around the pond obviously dying, it was awful.
    I agree with you that you cannot have rats in the house but its such a shame that these lovely little creatures have to be killed.
    The problem is their procreation rate is so high, if they only had a couple each year all would be fine.
    Look forward to the next post being more like your usual quirky interesting ones. lol

  3. I am pleased you shared the story Steve. Years ago our then next door neighbour discovered she had rats. She called the council and rat poison was put down. We knew nothing about it until a terrible smell started to hang around our entrance hall. What the hell was it? It was awful. I had to pull up the floorboards and there I found the rotting carcass of a rat - complete with maggots. The neighbour later said she was "embarrassed" and that was why she had not told us about her rats! Great!

  4. We used to have rats in the house. The first sighting was when I opened the understairs cupboard door and a rat leapt out of the bag of dog food and disappeared down the back. P found a tiny hole near the floor by a pipe and blocked it and no more problems there. However, they then for several years were coming in to the bins under the sink and up the back of the drawers into them.....chewing the oven glove and soap etc. Poison was put under the sink, and several dead bodies ensued, but they were still coming in. Eventually husband and a friend took parts of the kitchen to bits, and found a hole. Blocked that with cement with glass shards in it, so no more rats in the house. There was one occasion where we were chasing one in the sitting room.....the cat finally got it on the lawn when it dashed out! After securing the house, we were still getting them in the garden and neighbours called the " rat man". Poison was put down in enclosed boxes but they were still around. Rat man came again and without our knowledge buried some poison in a plastic bag under a hedge. On the saturday afternoon I saw the dog rummaging around under said hedge, but I didn't know what had been put there. The next morning he was pooing greeny blue, and I immediately knew he had had poison. Luckily we got hold of the ratman, and found out exactly what the poison was. There were a few choice words given to him too re safety and dogs ! Rushed Alexi to the vet....much too late to make him sick, but he had charcoal pills and can't remember what else, but he was OK, thank goodness. Ratman refunded us his fee, which nearly covered the vet fee......Sunday morning emergency surgery!! Not seen any since thank goodness, though having recounted this I fully expect to go into the garden and find one on the bird feeder! Luckily I am not freaked out by small furry creatures or this would all have been a total nightmare. Hope you get rid of yours.

  5. Hi,
    Oh dear rats are horrible. I will have to share my rat story on my blog in a few days I am exhausted at the moment and I have broken my glasses so I look like I am kissing the laptop lol...

    If the rats can't get out and die Oh.... What a big stinky problem you will have. I did hear that you can get a bag of lime and put in as much Under the area as possible to absorb the odor and IF it was me after I tossed as much as I could I would slit the bag open and put it inside the whole if at all possible.
    I was going to work on my blog tonight but I am just too tired. If I can I want to sleep until noon tomorrow. LOL... Have a wonderful day!!!

  6. A serious problem. Rats are fascinating animals, far better organized and caring than we are...but carry some very nasty diseases and have to be destructive..if they don't gnaw, their teeth carry on growing into the opposing jaw...
    We had a rat problem in the house I moved from in South Wales. Well to be honest the whole village did! Luckily the council rat man was free. The cafe next door then shunned us...but they were getting into my house from her door-less ceiling-less basement....

  7. Oh, thanks so much for sending me back for a look at the chalk art! I would feel exactly as you do. What's most important in my mind is eradicating (eRATicating?) the problem, which is a serious one, a serious health risk. And, sadly, I've heard that bird feeders, especially in tight city spaces, can magnify rat problems. I'm with you on this and hope those rats are soon a memory.

  8. Oh I do feel for you Steve.I would be just the same,worrying about them being stuck in there.At the end of the day they are little animals,with a life...but you cant risk them getting in your home because of any germs.Years ago,before we had any cats,we had mice in the back of the fitted kitchen.One was very brave and use to sit peeping out at me from the side of the fridge.Hubby got some mouse traps and every time I heard the Snap of it go off I got tearful.Hubby says that he wishes I loved him as much as I love animals,lol.xx

  9. I'm thankful we don't have rats here and I would have a hard time listening to them trying desperately to escape. That being said, they cannot live in my house either. I hope it's over soon.

  10. Oh, Steve. I can't begin to tell you how much I feel for you in all this! What a nightmare. I would be feeling and doing all those same feelings and things in your situation. I completely understand both your need to get rid of the rats and your dread of making them suffer. And then to have to live there and listen to them, trapped....I'd probably be on the verge of a breakdown by now. Seriously.

    I'm so sorry this has happened.

  11. Oh, Steve! I understand! What a horrible situation but Dave dealt with it the way he thought it needed to be dealt with. And no, you can't have rats in the house. You just can't.
    But will the rat man come and take the bodies away because if not...
    Please try not to feel so guilty. I'd love it if you didn't feel guilty at all but then you wouldn't be Steve Reed.

  12. I understand completely.
    One year at our last house, I would hear scratching in the bedroom wall - right in back of the bed, of course - and it only happened at night. And this was on the second floor - third floor if you count the fact that the house was on a hill so the basement walked right out to the backyard in back. We'd had mice in the basement for years since we had an acre of woods.
    Turned out it was flying squirrels and until we finally got the exterminator, I could have sworn they were multiplying daily and inviting friends over. Ours were trapped, but I have no idea what he did with them afterwards.
    The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show just isn't the same anymore.

  13. I am so sorry you have to deal with this. It's one of those things that really tugs at your heart, having empathy even for invasive creepy rats. We had mice in our kitchen years ago when we were living in the foothills. It was a bummer to even lay out those traps for them, but we did. I hope the rat situation resolves soon, and that there are no more rats in the future. Take care.

  14. I sympathise with you and the rat problem. I hate rats. They just do too much damage and are a health risk.

  15. Yikes, that is an awful thing to have to deal with. I can so sympathize with you. Having once lived in an older house, I totally understand how these things happen. It's amazing the amount of tiny cracks and crevices critters can take advantage of. Good luck with situation. I'm rooting for you.

  16. Oh Steve, I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. I am rodent phobic, seriously so, my husband tells the story of the Michael Jordan leap I once did across an entire room at the sight of a mouse in our home. They make my skin crawl, I feel faint and feverish, so I can't imagine having to listen to those sounds in your wall for days on end. I hope this all ends soon, and that the visualizations you're having (I would have them, too) will stop.

  17. We have a real rat problem at my house/neighborhood. We are close to a river, and I think it's just something we'll always have to be vigilant about. We blocked off all access when we first moved into our house, and then the people who did the blocking also set snap traps in the crawlspace. But, the rats would NOT take the bait, they were so crafty. But, we could hear them down there scratching at all the places that they used to come and go. It was a nightmare. It really tugged at my heartstrings. No one wants to think about a doomed animal, even a rat.

  18. I'm like you. I don't want the rats in my house either, but I cannot purposely hurt or cause pain to an animal, even a rat. I know what you mean about the poison going from one animal to another and that causes me to loose sleep too. I hope this is all settled soon for you.

    FYI, rats do serve a purpose. They eat a lot of insects and smaller rodents, and they eat a lot of the garbage that we throw out reducing the amount that can cause illness and disease in our areas. They are also the source of food for many birds and animals.

    You have a good day, hugs, Edna B.

  19. The thing is that you really, really don't want them to die in the wall. The smell will be beyond horrible for me, I know.

  20. I think there is not much choice now about trapping and killing the rats.
    I do think in a two person relationship that the decision to poison when you were so obviously against this method is the real issue here. Never let anyone tell you you're being silly.

  21. Oh man, I feel your pain. We our house last year. Gav says it was a mouse but it was big. We tried everything to deal with it humanely. Live traps with nice cheese, sweeping it out the door with a broom, blocking up suspected entrances. Nothing worked. Our cleaner got fed up and dealt with it while we were away on vacation. And then (because Gav had asked her for a picture of it when she caught it with the live trap) she sent us a very gruesome picture of its corpse. We tried to be nice but it ended up shredding a lot of my clothes for a nest which was a bridge too far. Sorry little guy!

  22. David: Yeah, the picture really had nothing to do with the post. Sometimes I just need a piece of art and I use something kind of random.

    Briony: Sorry! I know it was hard to read. (It's even harder to LIVE!) I wish we'd handled the problem a different way, but what's done is done.

    YP: And this brings up the next set of problems -- how to dispose of the remains? I can't see myself pulling up floorboards in our rented house, but stay tuned!

    Frances: I'm SO glad Alexi survived that ordeal. That was a close call. This is why I hate any kind of poison -- the risks of collateral damage are just too great.

    Beth: Thanks for the lime hint! Hopefully I can get the bodies out and avoid having to do that, but we'll see.

    GZ: I've always heard they're very intelligent and quite social, so I hate to have to kill them -- but as you said they're destructive and unhealthy. I wish we'd trapped these alive, but what's done is done.

    Mitchell: Yeah, the exterminator advised us in no uncertain terms to get rid of the bird feeders. I'm not sure we're going to do that, though -- we enjoy them a lot. I wonder if we can simply move them farther away from the house.

    Debi: This whole experience made me wish I had a cat, but Olga would never tolerate that. I'm surprised the rats weren't more afraid of her -- and she showed no interest in them whatsoever.

    Lilycedar: I think the hard part is over. Now comes cleanup.

    Jennifer: It was especially bad because I could hear them from my BED! So in the quiet of night, that sound...ugh.

    Ms Moon: Yeah, what is up with all my guilt?!?! LOL

    Marty: I once had squirrels trapped in my ceiling when I lived in an apartment in Florida. Noisy little buggers! Ours were removed alive, as I recall.

    Robin: I honestly don't have any aversion to rats or rodents in general -- maybe because I had pet gerbils as a kid. But I can't have them living wild in the house.

    Red: Yeah, the damage is an issue too. I know ours were chewing on stuff because I could hear them.

    Sharon: I figure living in an older structure, this is just going to happen occasionally. If I leave the poison down I guess it reduces the chance we'll have them get established, but I hate having that poison lying around.

    37P: It's funny how humans are hard-wired to be repulsed by rodents. I think it's similar to the reaction many of us feel with insects and spiders -- something in our biology that tells us they're potentially dangerous.

    Dee: Yeah, there's something about them being trapped that is especially anxiety-producing for me.

    Edna: Yeah, I wish these guys had simply stayed out in the garden. I wouldn't mind having them around if they didn't move into our house (and our kitchen)! They DO serve a purpose in the ecosystem, as you say.

    Elizabeth: I think they'll die in the open space under our floors -- we have several inches there between the floors and the ground. It's at least partly ventilated, so I'm hoping the smell won't build up. The exterminator didn't seem to think it would. But we'll see!

    Penelope: I think if Dave had it to do over again, knowing it would upset me so much, he wouldn't have done the same. He was just trying to solve the problem.

  23. You really can't have rats in the house. Really.

  24. Be careful of where you place the snap traps. I used to raise chickens and had a bad rat problem. I baited the traps with peanut butter. Put them outside the coop and ended up getting two birds! Don't think you are trapping them in by cutting off their escape. There are at least 5 ways for them to get out. When we finally stopped with the chickens, we took the coop down and the ground was a highway of rat tunnels. Good luck. Oh, and the poison was never touched by the rats.