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.

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