I know this story will make me seem like a creep at best, and a sociopath at worst, but I feel it needs to be told. I recently had a run-in with a rat. Not a used car salesman, nor Joe Lieberman, but a true vermin, rodent, rat. I was hosting visitors, our best friends Dwight and Sue from New Jersey. We were sitting outside by the pool and my wife Theresa and Sue were getting ready to head out to the store. I went into our outdoor closet to get some pool supply and my eye caught some movement on a shelf in the back.
I saw a rodent face peeking out from behind a bucket and for some reason assumed a squirrel. When it quickly moved to a better hiding place, I saw immediately that it was indeed a rat. As rodents go, I assume that rats could use a better publicist. While I wouldn’t like a squirrel for a pet, I have seen cute videos of them eating nuts, playfully chasing each other through trees, and even water skiing. The typical rat news story involves sewers or subways, diseases, or even finger eating. They’re probably not all that bad, but just like most bad guys in the movies killed by Liam Neeson speak with accents, rats are presumed to be looking for trouble.
As I am as guilty as the next homeowner of “Rodent Profiling”, I asked my wife to pick up a rat trap while she was out. Of course, my wife wanted to pick up something stronger, like C4, which I assume is readily available in South Florida. I explained to her that the rat was contained in a concrete bunker with the only exit being under the door. It had probably come in through a hole in the pool screen and would not leave during the daylight. The rat would prove to have more staying power than I could have imagined.
Once Theresa came home with the rat trap, I liberally gobbed up the trigger mechanism with peanut butter and placed it in the closet near the door. Dwight and I were sitting by the pool chatting, and after about an hour, I checked on the trap. It was still set, but was devoid of peanut butter. The little bastard had somehow licked it completely clean without setting it off. Now, this was a pretty good sized rat, so I was at a loss to explain this. Angered, but with stiffened resolve, I cut an ample chunk of Swiss cheese and rebaited the trap. I made sure to wedge the block of cheese under the metal spike on the trigger, making it impossible to move without triggering the device. I placed the trap back inside.
After another hour, I checked the trap again, and again it was empty and unsprung! I immediately assumed the trap was defective. I took a small piece of wood to test the trigger. I began by applying pressure that I estimated to be the weight of a rat’s tongue on peanut butter. WHAM!! The trap immediately sprung and splintered the wood. What sort of ninja demon was this rat? No more playing around. I had a better chance of killing this rat by overfeeding it than via the trap. Enough peanut butter and cheese could bring on some rat coronary artery disease, I suppose.
This time, I used a piece of steak. I bent the spike after I baited it, so that it was completely impossible to remove it without springing the trap. I assume I will have to wait until dinner at this point. Well, it appears that gluttony is yet another sin attributable to rats. Within fifteen minutes, Dwight and I heard a snap. He was hopeful, but to me, it sounded like metal on wood, as opposed to metal on rat. As I expected, the trap was sprung, but the rat was nowhere to be found. The meat was still in the trap, so at least I was getting warmer. How the rat could move so quickly with a full stomach was beyond me.
Of course, the rat snapped the trap without getting caught one more time. This time, I reset the trap in the corner of the closet, hoping that the walls would provide a little more stability. I feel like Tom the cat trying to get the better of an obviously more intelligent Jerry Mouse. The score so far: Rat 4, Bob 0, with two meals thrown in for extra measure. I left the project until morning bloodied, but unbowed.
I checked the trap early the next day and found it to be unchanged. This probably meant that the rat slipped under the door (assuming it could still fit), and headed for greener pastures. Now, I had to worry that I had created a rat buffet so attractive, that he might be back, so I left the trap where it was. Since Dwight had seen me at what might appear to be my worst, I felt that I should tell him about a recent incident I had with some raccoons.
Twice, in the eleven years that we have owned our home, we have had raccoons in our attic. This was a hassle of epic proportions requiring trappers, poison, roofers, and maybe a priest. My recollection is somewhat hazy. Raccoons in the attic are a big problem as they pee, smell, die, and do significant damage. The most painful damage, however, is the cost. Each incident cost us about $800. Several months ago, I saw a group of what appeared to be a litter of four adolescent raccoons passing through our backyard. I knew that this would be a problem.
First, I called the Broward County Animal Control Office to get some help. It seems that it is actually not unusual for raccoons to be out in the day, so they are not sick, and therefore, the County cannot help. Also, since they were alone, without a parent, they were no longer considered babies and therefore, the County cannot help. You get the idea. The person I spoke to, of course recommended a private trapper that shouldn’t cost me more that $600-$800. Since I had lost my job several months earlier, I decided against the expense of a trapper. I did some research and found that in Florida, raccoons are considered “invasive pests” and you are legally allowed to eradicate them. I want to be careful of the language since while it is legal to kill them on your property, it is not permitted to remove them, alive or dead, from your property without a special permit. Also, I know from the first two incidents, that if you move them alive, it had better be across water, since they are genetically coded to return to where they are born to reproduce.
I briefly considered trapping them and bringing them to the Everglades for release. I rejected this for several reasons.
• I would have to trap them.
• I would have to transport them. Once, the brother of a friend of mine collected some frozen iguanas during a cold snap, placed them in a box, and headed home to nurse them back to health. Unfortunately, they thawed in his car sufficiently to explore their new surroundings. There was biting involved. My friend uses this story when somebody asks, “So, what can you tell me about your Brother?”
• I actually could get arrested if someone sees me release them.
• Dropping them in the Everglades is a de facto death sentence at the hands, actually the mouth of an alligator or python.
I decided that I would have to take matters into my own hands. I took the long extendable pole from our pool brush and duct taped a crabbing net to one end. It became quickly evident that these rodents were not going to get close enough to make this easy. I eliminated the use of traps because transferring these creatures out of the traps would bring them perilously close to my person. With additional research I decided on a poison that had proven successful. This was a poison designed to kill horseflies in stable areas. I found it on Amazon and called my daughter, Lilly to order it for me since she gets free shipping. It arrived in a few days, followed quickly by angry calls from Lilly. It seems that my environmentalist daughter was getting come-ons from Amazon for all matter of animal killing products. If you liked the raccoon poison, you’ll absolutely LOVE the do-it-yourself Burmese tiger trap.
I followed the internet directions and mixed the poison with Coke and hid it in marshmallows and placed it under a palm tree which seemed to be one of their favorite hangouts. I had to watch for them from my pool area to keep any other animals from eating the stuff. Particularly, my neighbor Tara’s cat is a frequent guest and tormentor of mine. Why a cat who kills birds in my yard bothers a man trying to kill raccoons is a question I will save for my therapist. Soon the cute critters head for the tree and two of them stop for a snack. They both head up the tree, but horribly, fall to the ground with a thus, gasping for breath.
I had never considered the suffering of these animals when developing my plan. I suppose it should have been obvious. We can’t even handle lethal injection I this country without obvious suffering. I took my net-on-a stick, scooped up one of the dying raccoons, brought him down to the canal and put both him and me out of our misery. As it turned out, my misery was not nearly over as I had to do the same to the other raccoon. And, I still had two left who had avoided the poison. At the end of the day, I had to put away the poison, lest I awaken to a yard full of dead or dying possums, iguanas, cats, egrets, ibises and god knows what else.
For the next several days, the other two raccoons happily bounded by like clockwork. For some reason, however, they walked right passes the feast I had prepared for them. I could see them chilling in the tree, and when they came down, would again pass it by. Raccoons are supposedly unable to resist marshmallows. I tried other foods as well, but no takers. One day, I became so incensed at their distaste for my cuisine, that I chased them. One ran up a slightly lower tree, which proved to be a mistake. I took my net and went all Lord-of-the-Flies on the confused creature. He went out on an unprotected limb and I was able to grab him. I slammed him to the ground, dragged him to the canal, and held him under until he drowned. What happened to me? The last raccoon disappeared and I never saw him again. I suppose many of Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbors moved as well.
No change. The rat trap was undisturbed. Maybe he won’t come back. I took my friends to the airport and told them that I’d let them know my progress.
I checked the trap and it was gone! I was momentarily stunned and imagined the rat bringing back his friends to set a trap for me. I carefully checked behind me, but quickly came to my senses. It must be in there. I bent down and checked behind some equipment in the closet and finally found the trap upside down with a tail sticking out. Finally! I successfully defeated an animal with a pea-sized brain after only 4 days. I moved some stuff from the closet and triumphantly flipped over the trap to see my prize. It was not a rat. It seems that I had murdered a rather large lizard. Lizards do not eat meat, so I assumed he just walked in the wrong place. For a moment, I considered removing the lizard from the trap and reusing it for the rat, but there was an unpleasant odor in the closet and touching the dead lizard seemed unwise. I dropped the whole thing in the trash.
Let’s see. The scoreboard to date: Three raccoons killed, two of them, twice, and now an innocent lizard. I should be up to a suite in Hell by now. I left to pick up another college friend at the airport. Joe was coming in from Boston. It seems that it was a rather bad winter up north this year. We got back from the airport and settled in for a hopefully, stress-free visit.
Joe and I were sitting outside by the pool. I told him of the rat, and he was telling me of the news from Watertown, Massachusetts. Joe was telling me that the Boston Bomber that was found in a boat was captured only three blocks from his house. He felt that there was more to the story about the police activity that has still not been explained and that there were military helicopters all over the neighborhood. Soon, I got a whiff of a foul odor, which I immediately recognized from the dead lizard. I went over to the closet and realized that something else was dead inside.
I had no choice, but to start pulling things out of the closet. My best guess was that the rat died of overeating. I pulled out a large inflatable boat that was standing up in the closet, and shuddered. In the boat was the deceased rat. I continued to empty the closet and got a clearer picture of what had happened. The boat was facing away from the trap, so that seemed to be unrelated, but upon further inspection, there was blood on the side of the boat where the rat had climbed in. Also, there was a five gallon bucket of chlorine tablets in the closet. It had a blood spatter about eight inches off the floor and a tuft of rat hair stuck to the side. As near as we could tell, the last snap of the trap had somehow mortally wounded the rat by cutting it and throwing it into the bucket. It survived long enough to crawl into the boat, which was otherwise blocked from the trap and bucket. The parallel to the Tsarnev case was not lost on either of us.
Any satisfaction I had in catching the rat apparently on Day 1 was tempered by the fact that it had died a slow, painful, and frightening death. It also meant that the lizard’s death was even more pointless. Joe pointed out that this also meant that I both reset and moved the trap after it was already festooned with rat, up to and including Bubonic Plague. After the clean-up, I washed my hands for about a half-hour and wondered how this episode would be remembered. I considered my history with such events and decided how to memorialize the day. It will be forever known as Wednesday.
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