Yeah. Rodents. In my attic. From there they invaded my garage.

I don’t hate rats in general. Just those who invade my house.

I love squirrels. And chipmunks and even gophers. In Caddy Shack everyone roots for the gopher, right? Squirrel Girl is my favorite superhero. Rats can make interesting pets and are capable of tiny bits of affection. Michael Jackson even wrote a love song to one.

All rodents have a place in the world – something has to feed the owls and snakes and feral cats – and they need to stay there. Outdoors or in a cage.

Once upon a time our eldest cat was effective at killing rats. We know because we found one he got. The new cat in interested but not yet skilled. Our late Bernese, Rex, would glory in the rats he killed. The current crop of dogs gets excited by them but just don’t go for the kill. They just wanna play and it gets away.

Unless you have a yard that is devoid of foliage, rats in the city are unavoidable. Even if your yard is sterile, maybe your neighbors’ aren’t. They will come to explore and follow the scent of food. They will come up from the street drains and sewers and live in the trees.

We have Norway rats and roof rats out here as well as house mice. You can also have bees and bats and birds and small non-rodent mammals invade your home. Raccoons have been known to tear out screening to make an attic their home. Even one just running outside on the roof makes quite a racket.

I will NOT do poisons. P-47 the famous Hollywood sign mountain lion died at the young

P-47, RIP

age of 3 from eating poisoned rats. The rat eats the poison and wanders off to die. A big cat just sees a dead rat as a light snack. You’ve killed a unique urban mountain lion that has never harmed anyone. Or maybe your own dog or cat.

Live traps are ludicrous. Disposing of a dead rat safely does not bother me. I have no intention of inflicting live rats on someone else a mile down the road. Welcome to the circle of life.

Rats in my attic and garage are unacceptable. They chew on rubbery things and that may include insulation on electrical wires. More than a few houses have burnt down because of it. Rats can carry fleas and plague and rabies and hantavirus. They chew right thru packaging to get into food in the pantry. They leave droppings everywhere. They have no bladder control and it just dribbles out where ever and when ever. The areas they infest start to stink like old urine. In extremely poor areas they have become bold enough to attack a baby or small pets.

The ones from the National Institute of Mental Health use technology and will someday probably conquer the world.

Rats are notoriously unable to find happiness and often get caught up in the rat race.

The-Rat-Race

I have plenty of reason to go to war against invading rats.

I first became aware of them when I was convalescing after my hernia surgery. I could hear them skittering about in the attic right above our bed. There were also the telltale droppings in the garage. I was not in any condition to go climbing around in the attic, so I hired a pest control company. The manager came out, undertook a cursory examination of the exterior of the house and decided they were coming in thru a gap in a screen in the attic created when the cable TV people had brought their cable thru. Ok, fine.

A few days later the exterminator man showed up. First, he closed the opening where the cable came thru. Then he looked around in the garage, set out a few traps and started to leave.

“But the rats are mostly in the attic…?”

“Since they can’t get out of the attic anymore, they’ll eventually have to go into the garage to eat and get caught.”

“I’d rather not have them in the garage at all. I want to trap them in the attic and block their access to the garage.”

“Well, I don’t think my outdoor ladder will fit in this small room…”

Here. Use mine.”

The exterminator let loose with a heavy sigh. I put the ladder in place and he climbed up and pushed the cover back from the attic opening. He placed one trap next to the opening and started to descend.

“It isn’t just one rat. It has become an entire family. They aren’t by the opening. They are all in the NW corner of the house.” I was trying to keep the anger out of my voice.

Another heavy sigh! He took a few more traps up, walked to the general area I indicated and set them out and returned.

“Ok, now we need to block whatever holes they’ve chewed to get into the garage…”

“Oh. I don’t have any screen on the truck to do that. You need to find the holes and I’ll come back next week to patch them. It also looks like they have chewed a hole thru the door sweep and you’ll need to fix that.”

“Then, goodbye.”

At that point, I am astonished at how put-upon he acted because I wanted him to just do his job. And a week? How many baby rats can be born in a week? How bad does a week old dead rat in a trap smell?

Time goes by and I’m feeling a bit better. It is obvious if I want this done I’m going to have to do at least part of his job. I found a hole and patched it as best I could. I blocked the gap under the rear garage door, where the sweep had been chewed thru. For some reason, the garage traps weren’t catching anything. A close examination showed that the rats were eating the bait right off the traps without triggering it. Other times they’d trip the trap and come back later to dine.

T Rex trap
T-Rex

I rebaited and reset everything. Did some research on the best places to put traps and moved some. One type of trap, the T-Rex seemed particularly useless. I tripped it and it went snap but it took more trigger force than I thought it should and produced a lot less force than I thought it would when tripped. When I accidentally snapped my finger in one, I jumped and howled until I realized it hadn’t really hurt. My skin wasn’t broken nor any bruising. Now I realized they really weren’t for killing rats. They were to look scary, be pet safe and not cause lawsuits. They might grab a rat and prevent its free movement but in my case, they were feeding stations.

The rat man returned and checked his traps. They didn’t have any screen at the “yard”, so he didn’t bring any. Didn’t catch any rats, so he’ll come back in another week. Said something about he thought he saw some light in the attic where they might come in. And left.

By now I was feeling much better. Activity was only causing dull pain in my groin and testicle, not a feeling of my abdomen being ripped apart. Right after he left, I investigated the attic and learned I had been lied to and screwed over by other contractors besides pest control.

First the roofers. We’d had our house reroofed a while back and while they did a good

IMG_4995
See all that light? Big gap here, not obvious from a distance but closer up it is glaring.

job on the roofing, part of the contract was to ratproof the attic. This had not been done. On each end of the house, there is a section where an upper verticle wall met a sloping wall. There was a gap at that meeting, most of it was a fraction of an inch but a couple spots were two inches wide right over the bedroom. Impossible for anyone in the attic or on top of the roof to miss. Easy to ignore.

Next there was the insulation contractor. We were told that the insulation was intolerable to mice and would prevent them from staying even if they got in. That was a lie. These rats had a small city erected with roads thru and tunnels under. They loved the stuff. The contractor had also failed to push the insulation out to the edges evenly. The area around the attic entrance had as much as a foot in spots. If all you did was to climb up a ladder and look, that’s what you’d see. The closer to the edge of the roof, the thinner it got. There were only a couple inches in spots. Including right over our bedroom.

Eventually, I will have to add more insulation myself.

While I was up there, I found a dead rat, obviously crushed by a Victor rat trap, dumped

victor-animal-rodent-control-m210-64_1000
Traditional Victor rat trap

where it was caught and the trap reset with no bait. But didn’t the rat catcher say there’d been no rats caught? Why lie?

An examination showed the traps were spread randomly, with no strategic thought. Found a tunnel entrance that had a line of droppings going to it. Obviously the main entrance to a large nest. I moved one there. Found another spot where

Victor pedal style trap.
Pedal-style trap

several long pieces of wood came together. It was obviously a major rat freeway intersection. Put other traps where rats would likely go. Unrine and feces, intersecting exposed paths, canyons and tunnel entrances are the obvious spots.

Then I stapled half-inch hardware mesh over the large attic openings. The smaller cracks got packed just in case of mice. Alas! Cutting and stapling half-inch metal screen triggered my tennis elbow which had lain dormant ever since a cortisone injection a month ago. There is a reason I hadn’t done all this earlier and it wasn’t just because I was lazy.

Back in the garage, I put in more Victor traps. In addition to rat traps, I put out mouse traps as a test. In the big “pedal” traps you don’t just plop it on top, you smush it into

IMG_4997
Wadded up fine mesh screen and steel wool in the holes and then covered with .5 in. steel mesh. Later I’ll spackle the whole thing.

the holes to make them work for it.

Then I went on a hunt for rat holes and found one behind the hot water heater in the most inconvenient place. Another under a laundry sink where it drained back into the plumbing in the wall. Then another behind the dryer where the gas outlet came through the wall. Rats aren’t stupid. They chew thru drywall where it has already been weakened by penetration. The gasket along the bottom of the main garage door had been chewed on but not completely thru.

All my own work brought results. The rat man was a waste of money. Five rats in the garage and 7 in the attic. (He congratulated me on my success.) The rats came in 3IMG_4994 distinct sizes leading me to think adults, a first generation and then a second. The smallest rats were not tripping the rat traps but the mouse traps were getting them. Thirteen dead rats later I think we are rat free. Several days with nothing new in either location and no sounds in the attic.

But somehow I hurt my foot walking around up there. Bruised the soft tissues badly when stepping in the V of the trusses. Go figure. Walking became so painful I visited the doctor who recommended rolling a frozen water bottle back and forth under the injured foot.

The final effort was to prune back some trees that had been allowed to dangle foliage onto the roof. It provided the rats with easy access to and from the rooftop. It hurt my elbow even more, but it had to be done.  That was what I was trying to do when I first felt my hernia, a couple months ago.

The irony of that is not lost on me.