The holes in our lawn are the first evidence. They look old though, and it is easy to imagine that they are inert evidence of an ancient infestation. One is covered incidentally by a decorative tree stump, and weeks later tilting it reveals an addition, a passage that runs along the bottom of the tree stump just long enough to connect the original hole to open air. The holes become less inert, more menacing.
Still, the only thing that we see enter and exit the holes that summer is our terrier’s nose. He has rodent control in his heritage, and we hope his curiosity and latent ferocity are enough to discourage overconfidence in any rodents thinking of inhabiting our space. Every evening, when we let him out to pee, he makes a show of running into the back yard, growling, barking, simulating a rat-chase right into some bushes until the simulated rat climbs up the real tree near the back fence. It’s a performance that should strike fear into the hearts of any rats that happen to be in audience.
We forget the rats, for a while. Then one rainy evening, during a downpour that would inspire any non-marine mammal to find shelter, we hear a scraping?, a digging?, a gnawing? in the newly insulated section of our ceiling above our back entrance. As if we’re letting a neighbor in an apartment above us that their music is too loud, we let the rat know that it’s gnawing is simply TOO LOUD by banging on the ceiling directly blow the center of the noise. The noise stops briefly, but a anyone who has lived in an apartment knows, the noise always starts back up again.
Poison, traps, and blocking off the entrances are all tactics we’ve considered using on noisy neighbors in the past, and when it comes to rats all of those options are legal. A balance must be struck between effectiveness and the emotional or physical mess that would be left by a successful application of blood curdling poison or bone snapping traps. So we decide to start by simply making our yard less of a dump.
A big pile of scrap wood has grown up against the side of our house, behind a fence and a beneath a giant holly where our shame can be hidden from neighbors. We move it away from the house, and on to the other side of the yard, so the edges of the house are now clear and our shame is visible for everyone to see.
Above the former location of the scrap pile is a network of branches that connect our roof with three trees at the edge of our yard. It’s easy to imagine even the most casual forager ambling along one of these walkways and onto our roof, so we cut them back and force any climbers to make an impressive leap to get from the tree to our gutters.
We also place a few traps in our attic, but not without some trepidation. After all, we have a daughter now, and although a dead rat would be awful enough, the traps could lie dormant for years until some wayward fairy or smurf wandered into it. We are raising her to believe that fairies with unusual compulsions to gather stale cheese should be cherished, not crushed, and we don’t want those traps up there just waiting to capture undeniable evidence of our hypocrisy.
We leave the nuclear option, poison, safely in its silo/package.
And the rats go away. Well, they still live in our yard, if the growing network of rat entrances, rat roads, and rat high-rises is any indication, but they leave our attic without any of them being crushed or poisoned and we are grateful. Our dog still chases a simulated rat occasionally, but until he wills a real rat to appear in his jaws we put them out of our minds again.