If you’ve noticed you have fewer rats at your place this year, it’s because they all moved to my house. In the several decades I’ve lived here, there are years when we don’t see even one, and others, like this year, when they’re making their pestilent presence really obvious.
Unfortunately (at least as far as the rodential population is concerned), we have a prolific orange tree, a rat’s food of choice. Walking outside in the morning, our brick walkway was littered with hollowed out orange rinds, the remnants of the previous night’s rat-chanalia. And this, by the way, is one of my biggest issues with them: How hard would it be to just roll the rinds into the bushes and let them quietly biodegrade? I’m not an unreasonable person.
Eating dinner on our patio in the evening, Olof and I watched the rats scurrying back and forth along the top of our six-foot wrought-iron pool fence and escaping into the orange tree. At one point, it occurred to us that it could actually be the same three rats running around in an endless circle just to annoy us while their buddies filmed it for rat reality TV.
But this is our outdoor entertaining season. You’re trying to have a classy dinner party and one of your guests says, “Um, I think I just saw a rat.”
It’s tempting to deny it with a breezy, “No more wine for you!” but in the end, we just had to admit defeat and turn our furry friends into a party game. “Person who sees the most rats gets an extra dessert!” After a couple more glasses of wine, everybody kind of got into it. Or maybe they’re just drinking more because they can’t believe they’re at a La Jolla dinner party counting rats.
Over the years, we’ve tried pretty much every rat-ridding tactic out there, from the pricey Pest Control folks who trap them humanely and maintain that they drive the rats out to the country and let them go, to the finger-breaking steel spring traps (I’m way too much of a klutz, never mind pet danger) to the inhumane rat poison that we use now. I admit that on the Judgment Day, there will be a lot of beady-eyed creatures squeaking “Yes, that’s her!” but I did ask them nicely to go away.
Of course, our fundamental problem is that we have a rat-topia lot, not only the orange tree, but a lot of lush foliage that we’re genuinely attached to. But this year, for the first time, we are thinking of actually removing all the oranges from the tree. The rat invasion has gotten totally out of hand.
In a previous Bad Rat Year (a term that will never cross the lips of the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce), I was on a first-name basis with the Vector Control folks who taught me how to fill the centers of 18-inch-long, 4-inch diameter sections of PVC pipe with rat poison (so the neighborhood cats can’t get to it), and secret them around the yard.
In recent years this has become problematical in itself. We are frequently visited by tiny grandchildren and the ever-inquisitive Winston the Wonder Dog for whom contact with rat poison would be a very bad thing. Because Winston was here for five weeks in May and early June, I didn’t get a chance to do my Spring Rat Offensive. The rats maliciously took advantage.
A complicating factor is that Winston has recently been dropped off for another of his indeterminate visits. (We always fear that our son and daughter-in-law have moved and left a) Winston here, and b) no forwarding address.) Normally, I would never have rat baits out when Winston is around but this is such a crisis that we’ve just put the baited PVC pipes up higher. While most of the rats die their cruel deaths out of our sight, some get their ultimate revenge on us by succumbing on our patio.
My son, Henri, sent me an e-mail the other day: “Mom – please be careful that Winston is not eating dead rats.” Mom to Henri: “Believe me, I am incredibly careful that Winston is not consuming deceased rodentia. There is nothing less appetizing than bagging up dead rats before breakfast. When you come back to get Winston (hint hint), I will give you rat duty for the weekend.”
Meanwhile, Winston, self-appointed Vanquisher of the Furry Peril, likes to hang out near the orange tree and bark at it, scurrying rats along the pool fence. Alas, it doesn’t actually get rid of them, but it’s very entertaining to watch.
We’d really like to be more humane in our e-rat-ication efforts, but there would not be enough alcohol on the planet to make up for spending our weekends driving rats out into the country.
But what else would we do with them? (Well, there IS that one neighbor …) In the meantime, we’ve staged a major anti-rat campaign: extensive pruning, more baits, carpet tack strips on top of the pool fence, removal of bird feeders.
In order to assess our success, we have posted a chart on our refrigerator documenting the dramatically lessening numbers (yesterday none!) of hollowed-out orange rinds on the bricks each morning. It’s all very scientific. Fewer rinds, fewer rats. Unless, of course, they’re hiding the rinds just to toy with us.
We wouldn’t put it past them.