Although we have lived in the country for the past 8 years, we have been very blessed. We have never seen a rodent inside the house. Well, except for the ones in cages, like all the gerbils we bred as snake and tarantula food. And also the rabbits the kids brought into the house, but they were cute and domesticated, and are they technically even rodents, or just closely related?
Anyway, I felt very fortunate that we had never had to deal with an invasion of rats or mice. We’ve had other invasions – armies of daddy longlegs come to mind – but never rats and mice.
But a few weeks ago, we came home to a kitchen that almost looked like it had been ransacked. An entire row of jars holding dry goods had been knocked out of one window sill, and another row of pint jars holding water in rainbow colors had been knocked out of the window over the sink. One cabinet door had been torn loose and was dangling from a single hinge.
We were shocked and puzzled. We cleaned up and pondered what to do. It was a very busy week, and somehow I managed to “forget” about the problem. This wasn’t quite as hard as you might imagine, since there were no further signs of occupation. No poop, no chewed packages in the pantry, nothing. It never happened, I told myself. The jars must have fallen, somehow. Maybe the cat was taking liberties on the kitchen counter, and the dogs had challenged his right to be up there.
A week or two passed with no further signs of unwelcome visitors. We had family from out of town staying with us, and all of us left in 3 vehicles to brave the crowds and do a little last-minute gift shopping. I returned home late in the afternoon with a few of the children, and we found that there had been a poop party in the kitchen. The entire counter was littered with rodent dropping, and things were moved about. I was horrified, and we bleached every surface in sight, throwing away any food that might have been accessible.
Now it was obvious that we had been invaded. I became obsessive about hiding every scrap of food before we went to bed at night. I was concerned that hiding the easy food sources might encourage the critters to invade the pantry, but it never happened. I checked the pantry constantly for signs of rodents, but found nothing. I bought and set some old-fashioned mousetraps in the kitchen, placing them along the window sill, against the wall, and anywhere I had noticed a heavier share of droppings.
The next morning all the traps had been sprung but we hadn’t caught a single varmint.
Aha, we thought. RATS. We needed the big snap-traps. We bought the big’uns and set them all over the counter. Instead of relying on the prebaited traps, we smeared peanut butter on them. Just for good measure, we also bought some rat-sized glue boards. We wanted to be sure this time was successful, because I was afraid our invaders would get smart and avoid the traps altogether if we didn’t catch them soon.
We had a few peaceful days with no signs of visitors at all. Then we left again for a daytime outing. When we came home, all the rat traps had been sprung and the bait was untouched. The glue boards were empty – except for a few footprints! They looked like this:
And they were surprisingly big. We briefly wondered if we were dealing with a very young raccoon, but thought it would have been far more destructive. It was a big rat, we decided. And since the droppings varied in size, maybe it was a mother accompanied by her half-grown offspring. I felt a rising sense of panic. Did you know rats can have up to 20 young in one litter?
We gave up on the snap traps, but left the glue boards out just in case. We caught 6 flies, 2 geckos, and our 12yo cat, Tim. He was not happy about this.
Our invaders grew bolder. We began to hear noises during the day. We heard them behind the refrigerator. We heard a big scuffle when we opened the laundry room door.
We considered our next move. Should we get a younger cat, maybe a female with some hunting experience? I wasn’t entirely ready for the longterm commitment of a new pet, but was ready to consider the possibility.
Perry came home with a battery powered trap shaped like a small mailbox that would electrocute rats. We were seeing a lot of droppings on the dryer, so set it up there and baited it with cat food. It was much too small for the cat to fit inside, so it seemed fairly safe.
Finally, it happened. Deanna was the first to actually lay eyes on our visitor. She was carrying a basket to the laundry room and as she swung the door open, she caught her breath.
“Mom! I just saw it! It’s not a rat. Do you know what it is? Do you know it is???”