rats, humans, and houses


"Some humans ain't human, some people ain't kind..."  John Prine

RATS have become so deeply entwined with humanity, living in our cities, taking passage on or leaving ships at every port around the world; a separate but parallel existence that occasionally overlaps uncomfortably with our own.  For the past two years, rats have appeared far too often in  my backyard and in the houses around me, never the welcome guest.  Now, the city has issued me a legal order claiming that I have created a public nuisance.  In my defense, I didn’t put the rats there.  

HOUSES...Sometimes I think that I understand houses better than humans...

Almost every human culture except the Eskimo began with a roof made of straw, supported by some sort of structure, over an earthen floor.  Many third world inhabitants still live in such houses.  Our American standard of housing took a somewhat different evolution.

American houses, almost without exception, are stick framed with an attic and a crawl space.  That is where the rats come in, literally seeking out those cavities.  Rats may not penetrate into the conditioned living space immediately, but ½" of sheetrock or old plaster is the only thing in their way.  Old houses in the historic district are particularly vulnerable to rats. "You may be smarter, they have more time..."  

In this neighborhood, the most likely source of rats was the old house at the corner of Willow and Lafayette, the one that was demolished last summer amid protests from the entire neighborhood.  Throughout the winter months, those rats moved into houses all over the historic district and beyond.  Apparently, rats establish a colony; with a social order and a 60-70 foot foraging radius.  Once disturbed, a rat colony will disperse breeding pairs over a much wider area; something like setting off an anthrax bomb or any other garden variety act of domestic terrorism.  If the city were to require an exterminator contract as part of demolition…well, that would require thinking ahead.  Who is the public nuisance here?

Call an exterminator about a rat problem in your house...they will have two solutions, traps and poison.  Traps are effective at first, but some rats learn to avoid traps like the plague (another interesting tangent).  Poison may be more effective, but the chances of having a dead rat stinking up your house or poisoning a hawk or an owl, or the neighbor's cat, weigh against poison.  Domestic cats can be excellent ratters, except that a good hunter will most certainly prey on songbirds.  Having rats turns out to be a bit like getting a tattoo.  Neither goes away completely without a great deal of pain and effort.

Rats have become a bigger problem than the city is willing to admit; more widespread than the exterminators can eliminate without a great deal of collateral damage.  Rats are capable of extensive damage to property; and they can host several highly infectious diseases.  How are we going to control the rats?  Could rats be the issue that brings us together as a community?

Looking back, I’m guessing that rats were living in Allen Dunn’s old barn when the city bought the place in 2015.  The city demolished the barn that winter, the rats dispersed into the meadow, where I found several burrows dug out by foxes or coyotes.  Rats were not in the house at 2650 NOW, because feral cats were living in the crawl space and in the thicket.  When I demolished the house and cleared off the lot last year, the cats disappeared.  Hello RATS!

With a bit of observation, I have realized that the rats at Gulley Park are native rats, wood rats.  Chippy has found his mission in life, chasing rodents.