Since my husband’s departure for a job on the opposite coast, I’ve mostly embraced our bi-coastal lifestyle even though it means having to do chores previously designated as “his,” like putting out the trash, clearing the driveway of snow, identifying tripped circuit breakers, and moving heavy furniture. (Slide it onto a towel, and you can move anything.)
The only area of his expertise that I can’t wholly embrace is the removal of unwanted critters. Take stink bugs, for instance. Why do they always buzz around at night? And why do they insist on clinging to curtain rods far above my head?
Then there are the ticks. Why are there still ticks in winter? And why, even with those special tick tweezers, is it such a God awful job to get the head out, too?
Also, why do the coyotes lurking in the woods behind our house insist on howling just as I’m trying to fall asleep?
Still, I was feeling proud of my Pioneer Woman self-sufficiency until two weeks ago, when I was peacefully finishing my dinner and the dogs rushed into the dining room, barking their fool heads off as they gave chase to not just one, but two furry critters.
The invaders were small, so I decided they must be mice, or maybe shrews—we’ve had those sneak into our house to eat the dog kibble—as I grabbed the dogs in time to let the poor creatures escape. I managed to snap a photo of the slower one before it disappeared.
I sent the picture to our exterminator, Ryan, a surprisingly jovial guy whose sole job is to kill pests, or at least remove them from your house. I’d last communicated with him over flying squirrels in our attic. (This blog post makes it sound like I must live in the back of beyond, but I have neighbors on either side and a grocery store less than two miles away.)
“What is this?” I texted Ryan with the photo. “And can you come over and set some traps?”
His answer made my heart sink to my slippered feet: “Looks like a baby rat, unfortunately.”
Yikes! If I’d seen two, there must be a nest of babies. And that meant they had parents, who were probably now intent on taking revenge on my dogs and me.
I slept badly that night, picturing thousands of rats streaming up our staircase to the second floor and attacking me the way they did Willard during that horror movie. This was silly, I reminded myself: Why was I afraid of rodents? I grew up with 9,000 of them! (If you’re curious, you can read about it in my memoir, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter.)
Still, I was horrified to come downstairs and discover that the dogs had killed one of the rats and left it for me under the dining room table as a sweet little gift. Nobody wants rats in their house for health reasons. We’ve all read about the Black Death.
Besides, what kind of housekeeper are you, if you get rats in your house? It was only when I started telling my friends about this that a number of them stepped forward, heads hanging, to whisper their own rat confessions. “It’s not like you want anyone to know, is it?” pleaded one friend.
After Ryan was finished setting the traps, he came inside to lay blame on the neighbor’s new chicken coop next door. “If you keep chickens or bird feeders near your house, that’s essentially a red carpet for rats,” he said. “I figure you probably have 17 rats in your basement.”
I had to laugh. “Seventeen? That’s a pretty specific number. Not, like, about fifteen?”
He frowned. “Well, okay. Seventeen to twenty-four, I’d say.”
“You’re not making me feel better, Ryan.” Two dozen rats working together could definitely carry me out of my bed.
Nor did it make me feel better to know that a group of rats is called “a mischief.” One thing I do not want in my house is a mischief of rats.
Luckily, as the days pass without any more rat sightings, I’ve started to calm down. Rats and humans have always lived together. In New York City alone, Jonathan Auerbach once estimated there were probably two million of them. This seems plausible. Whenever I visit New York City, I regularly see rats frolicking like squirrels on the piles of trash by the curb or between the subway tracks.
Rats are like us, searching for food to sustain themselves and their families. They are nocturnal creatures and skilled at staying out of sight. As long as they leave me alone, I’ll stop texting Ryan.