Saturday, August 20, 2005

Warning: Not for the rodent-squeamish

Apparently some of our readers would like more details on this whole rat episode. Ah, the reading public, always thirsty for gory details.

Our recently replaced roof has a slightly larger gap around the edges, providing more entry points into the attic. The rat population has thus grown noticeably of late, and we've been preparing a Rat Repulsion Campaign, including new flashing to seal off the roof. Since the attic is a bit stifling this time of hear, one rat family has set up summer housekeeping in the underbrush just on the far side of the fence, on our neighbor's property, adjacent to our patio and garden.

Although he has tried - Lord knows, he's tried - Toby had never actually caught and killed anything before. He's chased squirrels, chipmunks, cats, deer, moles, rats, seagulls and ducks, to no avail. So imagine my surprise when he actually caught this rat in the garden. Toby was back behind some shrubbery, where I couldn't easily get ahold of him, and he was immediately joined by Nelly, who wanted to see what he'd found. Envisioning a dogfight to the death over the Best!Toy!Ever!, I adopted my sternest, most urgent tone of voice, and started with Nelly. "Nelly, leave it!!" To my surprise, she looked up at me, so I seized the moment. "Come! Come here! Come on, girl!" She considered for a moment, then calmly waddled out of the garden and sat next to me. This was nothing short of miraculous.

Encouraged, holding Nelly by the collar, I turned my attention to Toby. He dropped the rat at my command, but simply could not bear to leave it there and come to me. He stood over his prize, quivering with excitment, and his wild-eyed look implored me not to make him abandon the best thing he's ever possessed in his whole life, EVER.

Clamboring into the garden I finally yanked him backward by his tail, which probably isn't good for him, and then dragged him out by his collar. I got the dogs into the house and disposed of the tiny animal, with yowls of protest in the background. Then I grabbed a tub of dog treats and began the process of reminding both dogs that, recent events notwithstanding, I am STILL the most interesting thing in their lives. No! Don't look over at that fence! Nothing to see there! Look, I have feeze-dried liver! Look at me, at ME!

It was right about this time that I noticed the bleeding cut under Toby's eye. Toby, the mighty predator, had managed to get himself injured by a teeny, tiny, mouse-sized rat in the process of hunting it. I think he's just not cut out for this killer instinct thing.

He's fine. No stitches required, and the vet was utterly unconcerned, albeit amused (especially since this was his second visit within a week). "Did he eat any of the rat?" she asked, "because that can cause problems. Salmonella, things like that." EEEW, no, I said.

But despite the EEEW factor, I felt a bit badly for the little critter, actually. I should probably have a stronger dislike of rats. Most people seem to shudder in horror at the mere mention of them, but I have to confess that the few I've seen have seemed kinda cute. Small, like a mouse, with white bellies, big brown eyes, and tiny little hands. What's the difference between that and a child's pet hamster or mouse? I understand they aren't very sanitary and they used to spread plague. I don't want them in my house. But it always seemed to me that rats got a bum rap, what with all the loathing and the laboratory experimentation and all.

And really - all those cats in the neighborhood, who torment our dogs and have parties and fights on our carport and prance around with their little tinkle-tinkle collar bells at all hours of the night - why haven't they done something about this brazen rat community, right there at ground level? Why on earth is my hapless dog doing their job for them? Sheesh.

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