On Vermin

January 2021 was a notable month in American history. I won’t pretend that what was going on in our house was anywhere near as important as national events – but they certainly hit home just as hard. When you find rat poop under your sofa, the wider world loses focuses, just for a second.

Yes, rat poop.

So, we called our landlords, they called the guy I like to call the Rat Assassin, and he came to take a look. He confirmed it was indeed rat poop – I had been holding out for mouse poop as this, in my mind, sounded better – and then went on to expertly find “the nest” behind our stove.

Now, at this point, I’d like to pause. My wife and I have cheerfully been telling anyone who would listen about this month’s rat adventure – it’s a nice distraction from events we can’t control. And a pretty common response has been “Oh we had that too! We were worried people would think we lived in filth.” Well, let me reassure you: Rats come in to escape from the cold; they come in because they’re hungry. They are not looking to start building their dynasty in the filthiest dump on the block.

Although, admittedly, a disturbing amount of the nest behind our stove was made of dog hair.

Which brings me to my second side note: We have three dogs. THREE. And not once had they pointed out the rodent living just feet away from our pantry. We are going to have a family meeting once this unpleasantness is done. Grievances will be aired.

So, what to do? First, get a professional in to fix the back door, which had a gap under it wide enough for a rat to get in and out with impunity. The Rat Assassin wanted to lay traps, but he needed permission from the landlords. We waited a day. We set up security cameras inside and outside the back door. Had blocking the entrance trapped the rat in the house or outside the house?

10.30 that night, we had the answer: Inside. Worst-case scenario. Now the rat could not get out to find his food. He was likely to start exploring inside a little bit more. The kitchen was wide open. As were our angelic sleeping faces. Clearly, this could not stand.

And, dear reader, I did perhaps the bravest thing I have ever done. Braver than quitting chess club in middle school. Braver than admitting to being a Dolly Parton fan in a northern England high school. Braver, even, than leaving everything behind and coming to live in a country with roaches, snakes, and rats in the kitchen.

I put on all the lights, made lots of noise, and walked out of my bedroom toward the back door.

I opened the back door, just a crack.

And then calmly walked back to the bedroom like one of those Olympic walkers.

My wife and I watched the security footage on my phone. I tried not to think of something bigger, like a raccoon…or a tiger…now being able to get in.

The rat appeared from behind the furniture, seemed suspicious of the easy escape. Eventually…after so much time…he made the leap of faith and ran out into the yard. I rushed out and closed-and-locked the door behind him.


The next morning, not waiting for our landlord to take action, we bought our own defensive supplies. As the A-Team theme played in our heads, we wandered around Lowes, buying steel wool (pro-tip: all experienced house owners who have encountered rodents advise stuffing steel wool into holes and crevices), expandable squirty foam and, I’m sorry gentle people, but basic and straightforward death traps – with High-Impact Kill Bar(TM) technology.

The rat – my son called him “Remy” after the rat in Ratatouille; I called him DLF, because he is dirty and little – had done a great job in digging through the rotting wood around the back door overnight. One more push and he’d be through. So, using the supplies from Lowe’s, I did a makeshift, aesthetically displeasing but effective job of blocking up the hole.

I set some cheese on a trap and left it near the door. I set the camera up to record the whole thing. We went to bed.

DLF came back around 5.30. He seemed confused that his entranceway was a little more blocked. He had a little dig, a little jump around. He did not show any interest in the cheese. After a couple of minutes, he left. I had won the battle, but the war raged on.

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