When our hearts stopped thumping out of our chests we wondered how long that thing had been hiding three feet from us, where it came from, and most importantly were there more.
"You need to call the city and tell them you have a rat problem. They need to know about this," another neighbor said when I told her what happened. "They'll send somebody out to bait the sewers."
I wasn't sure if one rat was a problem for the city but it was for me and so I called. The guy who answered the phone at the public works department asked for my address and when I told him he said, "Oh I know exactly where that is. We made some people clean up their yard of wood and other debris nearby and it probably disturbed some of the rodents. I don't think you're going to see anything else."
I described how big it was, how it ran right in front of us, how we dang near had a heart attack. He assured me that rats aren't really a problem around here. I wasn't so sure since we live across from a creek but he insisted that this suburbia and rats don't interface.
That was many years ago and this summer after a long, absent spell we've had a squirrel plague. "They're rats with bushy tails," Mark says as he embarks on a one-man crusade to rid his garden of them. Every morning he stands at the back door and counts them at our neighbor's feeder. Then he moves to the front door and counts more in our own yard. He calls me over to the fence and points out something red high up in a tree.
"Do you see that, Kath? Do you know what that is? That's another one of those effing squirrels eating my tomatoes. I think the son-of-a-bitch has an heirloom."
Since I don't like tomatoes this isn't my fight but every morning I hear the head count and the cussing.
Last weekend Mark decided to buy another trap. One for the front yard and now one for the back. We walked up to the hardware store and he came home and set it up with the bait inside. Before long he had an occupant.
And where does he take these yard rats after he traps them? To the park near City Hall.
"The people running this town need to know we have a squirrel infestation," he says as he drops one after another off on their doorstep.
At least he wasn't trapping and drowning them like the old guy down the street did for years. We always knew when he got another one because he and his wife would walk up to the shopping center after dinner with a plastic bag to toss it into the dumpster.
No, this wasn't a death panel but a humane relocation program.
I've only half-listened to most of this squirrel problem until the day I came home and saw two half eaten tomatoes in the front yard. It was like empty Budweiser cans tossed from the car of a bunch of rowdy teenagers on a Friday night and I wasn't having it.
This war just got personal.
The next morning Mark went off to work. As he does every morning these days the traps were set and ready. That afternoon from an upstairs window I saw our cat crouched near the trap. Ding ding ding!!! We had a relocation winner!!!! Then I saw two little girls stop their bikes and walk up to the trap. I ran down the stairs and onto the porch.
Noting the concerned look on their faces I said, "It's okay you guys. My husband takes them to the park so they have more room to run around. You know, that big one by the pool? Plus it's probably cooler over there for them. Really, it's fine. They're fine. You're fine. No worries. Nothing to see here."
"Oh we thought it looked so sad and scared," one of them said.
"Nooooooooo. Why would it be sad and scared? It's going to a bigger yard. It's going to the Mayor's yard!"
"Okay," they both said and hopped on their bikes and rode away.
But it was too late. While I was running down the stairs they had opened the door and released the squirrel.
I felt like making another call to the city. We had some renegade PETA do-gooders trolling the hood and they had no idea what they were unleashing on this neighborhood. They were freeing the ones who have a lot of problems. They bring those problems here. The ones who bring crime. The ones who bring drugs. The ones who steal tomatoes.
And some, I suppose, are good squirrels.
I asked the guy who's out there every day securing the vegetable border. He says every single one of them is a rat.
|Ready for transport to their new home|