Gentle whitecaps cresting on a sandy shore. Beautiful birds of prey—eagles, hawks, falcons—diving in and out of the murky depths to catch fish. River glass scattered along the shoreline, waiting to be picked up and dusted off. Kayaking on a tranquil summer’s day, the sound of your oars hitting the water the only thing you hear.
Oh, and rats. I forgot about the rats.
I live close to the Hudson River and enjoy everything about river town living. Except one thing: the rats.
Let me back up. It was a peaceful Wednesday night a few weeks back, all of us settling in to watch our new favorite show, “Modern Family,” when child #1 announced that she had no clean clothes and needed to do laundry. She was barely on the top step of the basement when I heard her scream and retreat into the kitchen, dropping her laundry basket and fleeing for the safety of the living room. Once there, she stood before me, shaking, and recounted the mouse that she saw flitting across the basement floor. As she was demonstrating how big it was—the distance between her hands indicated that it was a mouse the size of a newborn baby—I heard Jim call, “It’s not a mouse! It’s a rat!”
And so began a weeklong journey into rodent hell.
Jim frantically paged through the local phone book looking for a 24-hour wildlife service because I assured him that if the rat wasn’t gone by midnight, I was checking into a hotel. He managed to find a service who directed him to a private contractor of rat extermination, who I have dubbed, “Tom, the rat whisperer,” the kindest man I have ever encountered. He couldn’t come that night but promised to be at the house by one o’clock the next afternoon. He explained to Jim that rats can chew through old foundations to escape the cold and that was probably what had happened. He also admitted to being somewhat dubious to our contention that there was only one rat. Rats, it seems, do not travel alone.
My blood ran cold.
We all slept somewhat uncomfortably that night, tossing and turning, imagining that the sounds in our almost one-hundred-year old house were rats in the wall, rather than the sounds of old pipes and settling. I ceased eating. So by the time Tom, the rat whisperer, arrived, I was starving, sleep-deprived, and anxious beyond belief. He took one look at my haggard, exhausted expression, and set off to the basement.
He came up several minutes later and said, “Yep. You’ve got rats.”
“How many?” I asked.
“No telling,” he said, “but I do detect droppings and the smell of rat urine.”
And all this time, I thought it was the scent of my laundry detergent.
He led me around the house, pointing out all of the possible points of ingress. After a few minutes of this, I said, “I have to sit down.”
He lugged up the twenty-pound bag of dog food that we keep down there because there’s nowhere else to store it. “See this?” he asked, pointing to a small hole in the bottom. “Rats.”
I got it. We had rats. They had come in from the cold and were eating our needy Westie’s “Sensitive Systems” dog food. The one that promised a shiny coat and easy digestion. There were some well-fed, not to mention shiny-coated, rats living among us. Tom spent a few more minutes laying some rat poison in the basement—the one that makes them thirsty and yearn for the cold outdoors where there is a water supply—handed me a bill for far less than I would have anticipated and promised to be back in two weeks.
Because I am a “public sharer,” I posed this travail on Facebook (to Jim’s chagrin), and to my amazement, found more than a few friends had had the same problem. My friend, Susan, had one in her garbage shed. Two doors down, Ingrid and Bob wrestled three in two years, finding one beneath their dishwasher only the week before the still-surviving members of the rat population moved into my basement. Seems that our proximity to the river, in addition to wooded areas in close proximity, bring out our rodent friends. I had no idea. We’ve lived here for twenty years and have not seen a rat outside of the confines of the riverside park where we hang out in the summer. The thought of an extended family in our basement was just too much to bear.
It took me a week of living in complete paranoia—as well as lugging everyone’s clothes to the Laundromat—to conquer my fear and descend to the basement. Jim, brave soul that he is, had been down several times, only to report that there was no corpse in a trap, and no trace of anyone with whiskers and a long tail. I have since done several loads of laundry—the maiden load done with a hearty dose of liquid courage—and haven’t seen anything myself.
But if I do see anything that resembles a rat, you can rest assured that there will be a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn and we will be moving to a dee-lux apartment in the sky.
Tell me your wildlife stories, Stiletto faithful.