The Day of the Rat

The last two days have been a bit different from usual, owing to the arrival of an unexpected visitor in the Coles residence.

About 5am yesterday (Friday) I woke up suddenly to the sound of something moving downstairs. I thought it might be a burglar, so I switched all the lights on and rushed to the landing just in time to see a large rodent running along the hall on the ground floor. I followed it into the sitting room, but it had vanished somehow. Looking around I found a number of tell-tale holes in the skirting boards and floorboards through which the rat might gone to earth, including one hole which has been there since I moved in but which looked suddenly larger. I blocked them all up as best I could and, there being no further sign of my house guest, went back to bad.

Columbo didn’t seem to be in the slightest bit bothered by the intruder and, although I put him in the sitting room to act as sentry in case the critter appeared again, within a few minutes he was upstairs sleeping on my bed.

I couldn’t get back to sleep, as every little sound I heard made me think of the rat so in the end I got up, had breakfast and got ready to go to work. Thus it was that went into the department bright and early, put a full shift in, and then went along to the Poet’s Corner for a few drinks with the astronomy folks afterwards. This was even more pleasurable than usual because it was an opportunity to celebrate another succesful completion of a PhD; Well done Vanessa!

Anyway, I got home quite late and was pretty tired so went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t woken up in the early hours again by the rat. Unfortunately, about 6.30 I was disturbed by the sound of frantic scuttling and gnawing downstairs. This time the rat wasn’t on the surface, but moving about under the floorboards, trying to find an alternative way up. Clearly I’d managed to block the normal route. I made sure everything was secure and tried to get some more sleep, which didn’t work, and eventually when it seemed a decent hour I called a pest control operative who promised to come about mid-day.

I busied myself with some domestic chores until he arrived, while periodically checking on the sitting room and whether the rat could still be heard. It could. However, about 11.30, the noise grew louder and finally the creature surfaced again. It had made a completely new hole in only a few hours. Rats must have some gnashers on them. I chased it with a sweeping brush and it holed up under the television. There then followed a standoff, only interrupted by the arrival of the rat catcher about ten minutes later.

The guy went for a net – although there isn’t much room to wield such a thing in my house – and we devised a cunning plan to trap it. The plan failed as the rat was much quicker than either of us and its daring escape bid made full use of the element of surprise as it charged straight at us.

The rat vanished again under the floorboards, so we had to settle for plan B which was to lay traps and poison anywhere it might get to. Various forms of rodenticide were deployed, including difenacoum and brodificoum. The traps are baited with a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate, both of which I hate, but which apparently rats adore. With that he gave me the bill and left.

Columbo slept through the whole adventure, but came downstairs to say goodbye to the rat man.

There’s been no more noise from under the floor, but I’m pretty sure the rat is trapped. If it eats any of the poison then it will die there, slowly, and the only way I’ll know about it is when its rotting corpse starts to reek. So I have that to look forward to, unless it hurls itself onto a trap and dies an instant death.

The remaining mystery is how the critter got into the house. It clearly wasn’t through a direct route into the front room, otherwise he could have got out the same way and wouldn’t be trapped. Columbo once caught a rat in the garden, but it wasn’t dead when he brought it into the house. The rat catcher suggested he might have done the same thing with this one, and it managed to escape and roam free. Perhaps guilt is the reason Columbo kept such a low profile through all this?

I’m still kicking myself for not acting quicker when it broke cover. If only I’d had a shovel like when I was little…

That’s enough about the rat. Time to get cracking with my dinner. Followed perhaps by a biscuit.


16 Responses to “The Day of the Rat”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    Perhaps it should be stated for the benefit of new readers of this blog that Columbo is Peter’s cat, not a lodger.

    I once heard a story, again in Cardiff, of a rat getting into a house. The pest controller put baited poison under some floorboards. The sound of the rat stopped fairly soon afterwards. However, a repulsive smell was noticed some days later as the rat corpse began to rot. Attempts to find the dead rat failed. The smell soon became unbearable. Eventually the smell began to subside, but an infestation of flies appeared, with large numbers of flies in all rooms.

    I’m sure that experience will not be repeated in this case.

    (I hope.)

  2. telescoper Says:

    Thank you for that, Bryn.

    I’m fairly optimistic of being able to locate the thing if it dies under the floor in the front room, because (a) the room is small and (b) the floorboards are easy to lift. The rat catcher guy also has a small digital camera with a fibre-optic feed which he could use. I’m still not looking forward to the smell though. Much better if it takes the bait and gets squished in one of the traps.

    PS. I should have explained that one aspect of the fairly unusual construction of my house is that the room adjacent to the sitting room, and the hallway alongside, both have solid floors. There is no way, therefore, that the rat can move out of the front room under the floor. If he surfaces again it’s a different matter, but if he can’t do that he’s confined in a small area.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’m sorry to say that I think Bryn’s scenario is a significant risk. But it doesn’t last forever.

    You are clearly over-feeding Columbo!

    • telescoper Says:

      I’ll just have to wait and see.

      Incidentally, the poison has a quite pleasant odour of aniseed which now pervades the sitting room.

  4. telescoper Says:

    I learned quite a lot from the rat catcher. Apparently rats prefer to live outside and are usually only driven into houses by cold weather. The last few nights have been bitterly cold, in fact.

    He also told me that he recently dealt with a rat infestation in a commercial property. They thought they had one rat, so he put traps down. When he check them, a few days later, one rat had been caught but it was only a skeleton. Apparently rats are cannibals. When one dies the others simply eat it. Ugh.

    Apparently, however, his main business at this time of year is catching moles. I’ve noticed that Sophia Gardens is chock-a-block with mole hills. There’s something of an epidemic going on.

  5. We had mice in a previous house. After feeding them peanut butter for a while using traditional traps that didn’t work, we gave up on traditional traps and left them something more “tasty” to eat, only to find a dead-mouse smell coming from some old sheets under the stairs, where they had been nesting…

    So when in the next house a rat came to visit I decided a heavy-duty trap was the way forward, and it did the job.

    In the meantime, I had heard that the Council pest people dealt with rats (“pest” and “rats” not to be interpreted metaphorically), and a chap came round to visit, free of charge. (I wonder if councils everywhere provide that kind of service?) The information he gave me was different to what you were told. First, he kept calling the rats “Roland”, so apparently they have names. But he also said they live in the sewers and are able to enter houses only if there is a way out of the sewers (for example, a sewage pipe with a ventilation shaft and no cover on the top). Then he left some poison in case any of Roland’s friends showed up, and that was the end of that.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’m not sure what happens elsewhere but in Cardiff the Environmental Health service provides a free pest control service for council houses; there is a fee for private housing. They don’t however have a weekend call-out and it takes a while before they come. Mouse traps are quite unreliable, as mice seem able to remove the bait quite happily without setting them off. Rat traps are a bit bigger, but designed on the same principles. It remains to be seen whether the ones I’ve got are effective.

  6. Ben Maughan Says:

    I’d like to put a word in on behalf of ratkind! I’ve had several pet rats, and they were amongst the best pets I’ve ever had; they can be surprisingly friendly and intelligent! The first came from a reptile shop in Boston where she was destined to be snake food – she was understandably vicious at first, but soon came round!

    That said, of course domesticated rats are a different kettle of fish to the wild rat under your floor – if one of those put in an appearance then I too would be reaching for the shovel!

    • telescoper Says:

      A friend of mine in Nottingham had a pet rat, a white one. It was quite friendly and clean, although I still didn’t like its tail.

  7. One day I will tell the story of how my cats’ catch and release project cost me several tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t know the exact amount because all the problems haven’ been fixed yet.

    Rats running around a house will cost you a bomb if you can’t deal with the problem right away (and Ben, one or two of my UK friends decades ago had pet rats and they were the cutest things, so I’m not talking about all rats!). They will destroy anything and everything they can find. I write this after finding yet another is still in the house after being away for a couple of weeks and that’s despite putting Eddie, my rodent-killing expert, on high alert.

    Just curious, though, here (the US) we can buy rat traps that electrocute the buggers. They’re very effective and in my opinion much more humane than regular traps or poisoning. Are they available in the UK?

    One might ask why I recommend this while I still have a rat in the house. It’s because I got ride of the other two with the trap in just one day and thought the battle was over so didn’t bait the trap again. Just half an hour ago I saw another, so the trap is set again. I hope to have good news tomorrow…


    • telescoper Says:

      I haven’t seen electric traps, but the main(s) problem seems to be getting the critter to take the bait. The mechanical traps I’ve got are pretty fierce and will squash the animal if triggered, but it doesn’t seem to be interested.

  8. telescoper Says:

    Well, I got a full night’s sleep last night. No rats in either sound or vision. Checked the traps this morning. Nada. But all the holes are sealed and I’m sure it’s still down there. If it’s eaten the poison I expect I’ll find out in a few days…

  9. Peter,

    First house I lived in here had a rat problem when the rains came. We put in some traditional traps and they worked OK but cleaning the mess was unpleasant. One day the trap didn’t work out quite as advertised – lots of blood and a very pissed off rat that wanted to do nothing else than attack us. It was a big bugger as well and not something you’d want to face without body armor.

    One thing I’ve figured out with the electric traps I set is to put bait in but leave it turned off. The bait is often gone the next day. After the bait is gone, you but the bait back in but turn the thing on.

    Jeez, I sound like a rat catcher, but it is one of the problems of living out here in the jungle.


  10. Bryn Jones Says:

    Fortunately, the only rodents I have had coming into my home have been squirrels, and that through an open door. I keep a broom next to the balcony door in the summer to use to brush them out. Admittedly, one did get the better of me by jumping on the brush and climbing up the handle.

  11. telescoper Says:

    In case anyone is wondering about the rat, there has been no sign of it in either sound or vision for over a week now. No smell either. Missing, presumed dead.

  12. […] recently mentioned in passing that the rodent control executive whose services I had cause to call on told me that most of his […]

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