Saturday, June 4, 2011

The mad rat scramble

Last week a teenaged rat went on a shopping spree in the chicken coop. When not stealing food, he snugged up beneath the nest box next to the feeder where I discovered him when I lifted the box, actually a remodeled plastic tub. The rat dashed out the entrance, through the chicken pen and, with Miró in pursuit, across the yard and out a gap in the fence to the neighbors’ yard—like Peter Rabbit but not as cute.
nest box and feeder

Knowing he’d be back, I lifted the nest box daily to peer underneath, something I can do while standing outside the house and lifting up the hinged roof. The other day, there he was, peering up at me with startled, rounded eyes as I peered down at him with the same expression.

This time, I ran around the side of the coop and into the pen where I blocked the coop door. Out again and around to the side of the coop where there are cute little doors that slide up for you to stick in your hand and steal eggs right from under the chickens—if you put in the right kind of nest box in the right place, which I have not. Sliding open one door is useful, however, for giving a rat only one exit where a terrier awaits with big, black nose snuffling in the coop. If Miró had just stood there with his mouth open, events might have been simpler.
hiding place (bottom)

The rat scurried along the side of the coop and into the cinderblock on which the feeder rests. I lifted the feeder out of the coop and jiggled the cinderblock. The rat ran to the other side of the coop, only a few feet away but I was not about to reach in with my bare hands to catch him. I ran around to the other side of the coop and lifted the roof by way of a threat—he wouldn’t know I didn’t want to touch him—and he ran back to the cinderblock. After some more scrambling back and forth, poking, and swearing, he finally ran out the door and past the dog to the play area covered in wood chips.

signs of the chase
A person would stand there a moment thinking, “The expletive rat got past me;” but a dog simply acts. Miró and the rat ran in merry circles around the play area, throwing up wood chips as they skidded like a couple of cars in a movie chase. When Miró caught the rat by its head, I thought he’d break its neck the way terriers are supposed to do. No, he has having fun. He tossed it and caught the tail. The rat wriggled free, got caught, tossed, escaped.

feeder top/planter
 By this time, Alanis noticed something was happening. She joined in and both dogs chased the rat across the yard to the line of arbor vitae near the fence. When the rat bit Miro’s lip and hung there for a moment, I thought unprintable things, directed at myself for getting us into this. I grabbed top cover of the chicken feeder (a bowl-shaped planter with holes) and popped it over the rat, holding the cover down while dogs circled like sharks and dug at the ground around the plastic top, which sharks can’t do.

I squatted there a while trying to figure out what to do. If I lifted my hand, the rat could squirm out and/or the dog, who was unconcernedly dripping blood over the feeder top, would get the rat again. I pointed toward the trees and yelled, “Go get it!” While the dogs ran in one direction, I ran in the other to fetch the nearest heavy objects: the waterer from the chicken pen and a brick.

For unknown reasons, I felt it necessary to clean off the plastic planter. That, I explained to my son later, is how the rat got wet; it wasn’t all dog slobber. I decided to lift the edge of the planter and, if I got lucky, whack the rat with the brick. If the rat got away, fine.

size 12 boot
The rat was not as smart as I thought. It ran toward the fence, chased by two Airedales. At the last moment, it veered away toward the house, taking shelter beside my son’s black rubber size 12 gardening boots. Never leave your boots lying sideways; anything might crawl in.

I popped a boot, sole side up, over the rat and we all stood there a moment, panting. When I tipped the boot, I didn’t see anything underneath; but when I picked it up to peer inside, there was a tail sticking out from the toe of the boot. It was time for reinforcements, which had been indoors all this time talking on the phone to a friend in London, as I discovered when I carried rat and boot, followed by two muddy-pawed dogs, one dripping blood, around the side of the house and into the kitchen. I held up the boot and mouthed, “Rat.”

Choking a bit, my son said, “I’ll have to call you back. My mom caught a rat in my boot.”
He put the rat into a plastic storage bin in the garage while I fetched peroxide to swab around Miró’s mouth. The bleeding had stopped and I could barely see where he’d been bitten. Marty reported back that rat was still alive but wet. “I can explain that,” I said.
We discussed rat disposal. Marty said too bad it wasn’t a fish. You can kill a fish quickly by whacking its head on the dock. I wondered about carbon monoxide.

“In the lab, we put mice in a plastic box and ran carbon dioxide through it,” Marty said. “I don’t think it’s safe to mess with car exhaust.”

“I could drive it to the park and let it go,” I offered.

Marty said the rat seemed injured and it would be cruel to leave it. I said something would surely eat it quickly. Finally we had to agree on the whack-it-with-a-brick idea, except with the sledgehammer.

Fetching the hammer, he said, “I’m not going to wear that boot again.”

“Sure you can; I’ll disinfect it with bleach,” I said.

“It won’t be the same.”

“In the Southwest, people have to shake out their boots every morning because scorpions and all kinds of stuff crawl inside.”

He just shook his head and politely invited me to leave the garage while he dispatched the rat. He was only thirteen when his father died, but I guess that was old enough to imbibe the lesson that killing and disposing of vermin is a man’s job. Gratefully, I left him to it and went to feed the dogs. I wrestled Miró into a headlock while I searched his lip; there was only a tiny mark to show the skin had been broken.

When Marty came back inside a while later, the dogs were happily snoozing off their adventure and the laundry room reeked of bleach as proof that the boot was now perfectly clean. “Well, I said briskly, “what would you like for dinner?”

“Not meat,” he said.

the final resting place

rat catcher


  1. Unquestionably your most exciting blog post yet.

    "The gameness of the early hunting terriers was exploited by using them in sporting contests. Initially, terriers competed in events such as clearing a pit of rats. The dog that was fastest in killing all the rats won" (Wikipedia, "Terrier").

    I don't think Miró is descended from winners of that contest.

  2. Bummer that you didn't get to play with the rat longer, Miro!

    Love ya lots
    Maggie and Mitch

  3. Poor Miro. Mean rat.

    My hubby would have stomped him....

    He doesn't mind dispatching them in any way he can.

  4. An excellent tale of chase and final disposal! Such an exciting day for hoomans and Dales alike. Wish we could have joined in the fun.
    Smooches from pooches,
    BabyRD & HOotie

    I do not know how YOU were so brave Sherry. I think a rat would have had me in cardiac arrest!

  5. WE have had episodes with RATS! Hoomans are hopeless and shriek and run like crazy here.

    It once took 3 hoomans to catch one rat in our garden. If only we had been allowed to sort it out everything would have been over in 2 shakes of a rat's tail.

    Well done Miro.

    Molly, Taffy, Monty and Winnie

  6. oh yeah, those gardening boots must go in the garbage too. What an adventure....

    Wyatt and Stanzie

  7. Wow, that was a totally crazy adventure! We are sorry to hear that Miro got bit, but we are glad he is okay.

  8. I was on the edge of my seat. Mom had to wack a rat over the head once, because it had a broken leg and was screaming not nice but had to be done, then dad enrolled him and mom on a motorbike first aid course mom didn't what to go on it, then dad said if I come off the motorbike and hurt myself are you going it wack me over the head with a stick lol!!
    Have a good week
    See yea George xxx