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Friday, October 27, 2006

Rodent Death

B1-66er has a rat problem, perhaps brought on by too many years of not cleaning up his apartment. He has, as part of his rat extermination project, decided to clean his place up. Cleaning up is a good idea, but sometimes it's easier to just take what you want with you and leave, burning the place down behind you. On that other hand, that’s probably not a good way to either endear B1 to his landlord or get his security deposit back.

Mice I've had to deal with. Large fields & woods mice, mind you, but still mice. Rats, not so often — they like to hang out at the chicken houses, since there's fresh meat on the hoof and it's an evil place anyway. I've killed the little SOBs with snap traps, well-thrown shoes, poison, water, (the Natural Way) cats & dogs, winter, and hand-to-hand combat — sticks, shovels, a hammer — whatever is hefty, swingable, and available.

Details follow. If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys stories about Chicken House Hell, you probably want to skip this entry.

The latest one was when I was removing copper pipe from under the house, part of the old heating system, decommissioned under the previous owners. Except for the area where the water heater (and the old oil-based boiler for the registers) live, under the master bedroom, the rest of the basement is one big crawl space. The entire crawl space area is covered with plastic sheet to form a vapor barrier (which incidentally keeps water leaks from making musty smells). To make a long story short, as I was getting started, I put my hand down on the plastic and felt it squirming under my hand. I snatched my hand back, and could see a largish shadow crawling away under the plastic. Since a hammer was in reach, I grabbed it and started whacking. Hearing a satisfying squeal of pain, I whacked it once more and got to work.

Before I moved to FAR Manor and became FARfetched, I was Dirt Road, living in an extended double-wide in the woods, nearly 1/2 mile from the nearest pavement. I caught plenty of large-ish mice with a pair of snap traps, those that got through the perimeter patrolled by two cats and a dog. The mice were a bit too big for regular mouse traps, but an out-and-out rat trap would have really made a mess. The bail would come down and hit the mouse, not cleanly across the neck, but along the back of the skull — still a fatal blow, but one that would make their nasty little eyes bug out somewhat. I often found the traps upside-down and/or moved up to a foot away. Often, the skull would pinch the bail, making it hard to shake the dead rodent loose without touching it.

So one night, Mrs. Fetched and I were wakened by a POP. “What was that?” she said.

“Rodent death. The mouse trap just went off.”


“And what’s that?”

“I think he’s flopping around in the trap.”

“Gross!” she cried. “Do something with it!”

We walked into the kitchen and flipped the light on. The mouse, whose size approached that fuzzy grey line separating “large mouse” from “small rat,” treated us to one final twitch and expired. A small pool of blood lay several inches from the trap; probably shot from its exploded eye. “YUCK!” opined Mrs. Fetched, and fled the scene while I cleaned off the floor and shook the mouse off the bail out back.

Yes, I said “winter” was one of the tools I’ve used to deal Rodent Death. I learned that there can be worse things than a mouse inside: there can be a mouse under the house who scratches the floor joists under your bed while you’re trying to sleep at night. It stayed fairly warm under the double-wide all winter, probably helped by the occasional leak in the heating ductwork. This was January 2000, and the storm we called “Ice2K” knocked out power on a Monday and kept it knocked out for 5-1/2 days all told. Having learned a little something from the 1993 blizzard, we had a generator and I ran it for an hour or two every month to keep it from gumming up. The Boy and I hoisted it onto the back deck and we ran extension cords through the back door and into the house. We had lights, radio, and an electric space heater — but the furnace outlet we’d found some time back and noted for future use had disappeared. Fortunately, we had plenty of firewood (another thing we learned from ’93) and could keep the living room and kitchen warm. But not the space under the house.

Thursday brought two significant events: the joist-scratcher gave up the ghost and it occurred to me to have a look at the furnace control box. Finding a schematic conveniently printed on the back side of the control box cover, I chopped off the female end of a long extension cord and spliced the wires into the furnace. I plugged it into the gennie, and was immediately rewarded with the hisssss-whoomp of a live furnace. Hooray — warm house and no more mouse. That kept us going until Saturday morning, when the power came back on.

Sometimes, you get lucky. One night, I heard a rustling noise come from a paper sack, along with a frustrated squeak. I quickly closed up the top of the sack and took it outside, shaking it a bit to disorient the prisoner and get Megabyte’s attention. Megabyte was my fat cat, a brown-mackerel and white pattern I learned to call it, and he watched with interest as I laid the sack on the ground and opened the top. Out shot the mouse, and Megabyte took it from there.

At Chicken House Hell, there are real rats, albeit with short tails. Like B1’s new friend kind of rats. There are mice too, but rats make for easier targets for a swung stick or shovel. But most of the time, the in-laws’ myriad dogs are around to do the job. I missed this particular episode personally, but Mrs. Fetched told me all about it. Duke, the alpha dog, trapped a rat and it bit back — latching onto Duke’s lip and taking a wild ride, getting flung and spun every which way before Duke got his own teeth into the situation. That usually doesn’t happen; the dogs get the better of the rats much more quickly and cleanly on average.

Of course, deterrent is better than war. Mrs. Fetched hasn’t grasped that; either that or she would rather have mice in the house than cats. But there’s nothing like a cat (or a terrier, if you’re a dog person) for issuing a warning. Only the most desperate or foolish rodents hang around where they can smell something bred to hunt them.

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