Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adventures in Urban Living

Over some weeks we have been dealing with a rodent living in our home. Not a domesticated rodent, like our little chinchilla, CC, but an uninvited, neighborhood type rodent.

Initially we noted that the new bag of sunflower seeds we had purchased for CC had been chewed at the corner. We followed the trail and discovered what we assumed to be a small nest area behind the sofa. Dutifully, we cleaned the area, disposed of the nesting material, disinfected the area & vacuumed. We placed all of CC’s food, seeds and dried fruits in glass jars and congratulated ourselves.

A few days later, we found a hole chewed in the large bag of dog food in the kitchen. At this point we decided that it was necessary to set traps. Especially when we discovered yet another nesting area behind the other sofa in the computer/reading room, as well as behind the living room sofa – again!

Traps were set in all areas where we suspected rodent travel. After several days, not a single trap had been sprung. Indeed, none of the traps looked like they’d been touched at all. Perhaps, we thought, this is not a family of mice we’re dealing with. After consulting with a friend who lives nearby and had fought her own battle against urban infestation a couple of years back, it was decided that we should borrow her rat traps.

First, let me say that if you’ve never seen a rat trap, you should imagine a mouse trap, but about five times larger. That, in itself, is kind of creepy. But in addition to being mouse traps on steroids, it seems you must hot glue the enticements to the trap, in order to prolong the amount of time the critter spends attempting to feed, to be certain he places enough pressure to spring the trap. As my dear friend was explaining this to me, she painted a visual of herself at her antique dining table, spread with newspapers, fresh nuts, seeds and raisins, as she did her very best urban Martha Stewart impression, hot gluing the tasty temptations to the aforementioned traps.

Since I lack a glue gun, I used Elmer’s Glue, I figured as long as the seeds were affixed strongly, it shouldn’t matter what type of adhesive you use, right? There were only two rat traps, as opposed to the six mouse traps we had previously set, but I had complete confidence they would do the trick. After all they had worked for ‘Martha’ over in the next block.

Daily inspection of the traps, one behind each of the sofas became our routine. My husband checked them at 4:30 AM when he got up. I checked them at 9:30 PM, before going to bed. And we both checked them at various times whenever we thought about it, which was frequently. We caught nothing. We began to think that the creature(s) had moved on. We allowed ourselves to imagine that having removed the easy food sources, we had frustrated the rodent(s) to the point where he had decided to leave and look for a more gracious host & hostess. We actually thought that the bugger(s) had moved to the grocery store across the way from our house.

We lived in happy stupidity and ignorance for awhile… Then we began moving the furniture…

My dear husband was vacuuming the living room couch. He had removed the cushions in order to vacuum up dog hair, and decided he would open it up all the way, since it’s a sofa bed. Let me say, the mattress hasn’t been used in at least three years. And although the furniture is nearly twenty years old, the mattress had only been used a handful of times in that period and was in relatively pristine condition. No more! When hubs opened the mechanism, we were shocked and appalled! Seems the rodent was living in the mattress of the sofa bed! He had chewed a multitude of entry and exit holes. There were a couple of spots that looked like urine stains (rodent urine? Ewww!) We hauled the mattress out onto the deck and came back inside to finish cleaning, scrubbing and disinfecting the sofa bed.

Once that was accomplished, we went back out on the deck to roll the mattress up, tie it and tape it so we could put it out for trash. Apparently our univited guest had stockpiled loads of dog food in various areas of the mattress. When we lifted it on its end, the sound of the dog food rolling through the springs inside the mattress was reminiscent of those rain sticks that they sell in nature stores.

Gross, huh? But wait, it gets even worse!

While hubs was taking a well deserved break to watch some college football, I moved into the computer/reading room to move furniture, clean and vacuum. There are French doors between the two rooms and I was standing near the doorway, saying something to Raymond while replacing the dust collector on my Swiffer duster. Our dog, Greyla, was velcroed, as usual, at my side. I felt something run over my right foot and glanced down quickly enough to see the rat, (yes, it was a rat, hereafter known as Ratzo) as he disappeared behind the sofa in the computer room. I screamed! I’m not sure it was fear that brought the scream forward, but rather shock at the weight of the thing as it ran over my foot. I was also appalled by the boldness of the creature and by my dog’s lack of response. OK, in fairness she’s a Lab and NOT a Rat Terrier, but she was oblivious!

Needless to say, my scream motivated the husband and we moved into the 'Battle Against Ratzo'. Now it was personal.

We were ready to move the couch in the computer room, after removing all the cushions. My dear husband, who had suddenly transformed into Raymond, the Great Urban Rat Hunter, thought it best that we flip the couch forward, rather than just moving it out from against the wall. With me on the end near the living room and RGURH on the end near the kitchen doorway, we positioned ourselves to flip the sofa. There is a tall telephone stand against the wall on Ray’s side, upon which we keep the phone & answering machine and at the bottom, it has a shelf where we keep the phone books. We flip the couch and as we do, Ratzo runs from under the telephone stand behind Raymond, brushing up against his pant leg, and across the room to the computer desk. Now I’m really freaking out, upset and shaking. Ray, my Great Urban Rat Hunter, just keeps saying, with something that sounds uncannily like awe, “Holy crap he’s HUGE!”

So… we load and set the two rat traps again. This time, in addition to the nuts, seeds and fruit, I've added organic cashew butter! We place one trap behind the sofa in the living room and one under my desk. Both are in areas that are inaccessible to the dog. Unfortunately for us, Ratzo seems to be exceedingly intelligent. He avoids the traps. And he seems to have expanded his domain, to include the basement. His personal peculiarity appears to be a love of electrical cords, which he chews until he breeches the copper wiring. Perhaps he's some sort of rat adrenaline junkie. He prefers cords that are in use. He's killed one lamp cord and the cord to the dehumidifier in the basement. It would simplify things if he would simply electrocute himself!

Well, this is war! We are being humiliated by a fat rodent whom we assumed had moved on when, in fact, he had been living in our sofa bed mattress, developing a kind of rat condominium, complete with food storage! If he wasn’t going to be lured to the traps, we’d take the battle to the next level! Off I go in search of rat poison.

The poison comes in little trays, about two and a half inches square. Since we were now on the offensive, we decided to use all four trays from the box. Ray thought it would be a good idea to mix some dog food in with the poison pellets to make it more appealing to Ratzo. So, being careful to place the trays in areas the dogs could not reach, we set them, one each, in the sun porch, the living room, the computer room and the kitchen.

Ratzo didn’t touch them! He did, however, munch a couple of red potatoes from the bin where the onions and potatoes are kept near the kitchen door, as well as some drywall in the kitchen and a container holding flour. We’re being bested by Ratzo! We’re frustrated. We’re completely grossed out. We’re humiliated that we can’t outsmart an urban rat!

Apparently it’s time to move the war to the next level. It’s time to get the mercenary fighters involved. I think it’s time to call an exterminator.

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