The first time I heard what sounded like scurrying feet on the roof above our bedroom I thought: “Those pesky squirrels are scarfing up acorns off my shingles.”
The second time, I thought: “Hmmm, squirrels don’t usually scarf up acorns at night, must be tree branches brushing against the house.”
Then my son offered this observation: “Dad, I just saw a rat in the attic. We better not tell mom.”
Good advice. I baited a trap with peanut butter to dispatch the rodent to a better place.
Apparently, rats don’t care for peanut butter, so I switched to the old standby—stinky cheese. By this time I had noticed tell-tale signs indicating that more than one rat inhabited my attic. Cottonseed-sized droppings were scattered over several boxes, including those holding Christmas decorations.
I set the trap. The rats stole the bait. I set it again, and soon took a rodent to a better place—the garbage can. I caught one of his relatives and thought: “I’ll soon have them all.”
I informed my wife of the vermin infestation. “Call an exterminator,” she advised. “Hah,” I thought but had sense enough not to say out loud, “we don’t need no stinkin’ exterminator. It’s just a matter of time until I get rid of these pests.”
Wrong. I fed the rodents a lot of cheese, but they learned how to spring the trap without getting caught. I slept fitfully, hearing scurrying feet overhead, worrying that a rat would sneak downstairs.
My son suggested putting the cats in the attic. These cats have attacked nothing more challenging than lethargic, dying wasps. And they don’t have claws. “Bad idea,” I said.
My brother recommended rat poison. “Worked for me,” he said.
I tried it. Within a day, half the bait was gone. Within three days most had been consumed. I no longer heard scurrying little feet.
My wife went to Florida to see her mother. I drove down a week later. The night before I left, I noticed an unpleasant odor emanating from the ceiling in our bedroom. It occurred to me: “I have smelled this odor before. It is dead rat. It is repulsive. It is sickening. It is impossible to ignore, impossible to cover up with even the most pungent room deodorizer.”
I recalled something my wife had said before she left for Florida: “Call an exterminator.”
What a great idea that would have been. We returned five days later. The smell had gotten worse—much worse. I called an exterminator. “Too late,” he said. “We don’t use toxic baits any longer. Rats tend to die and smell up the house when you poison them.”
“Can someone come out and remove the deceased rodents?” I asked/begged. I was unable to do that since rats do not have the decency to die in plain sight.
“If you can’t find them, we probably can’t either,” he said. “The odor should go away in two weeks.”
I found an odor neutralizer. It helped. Within a few days, during which I could not sleep in my bed but camped out on the sofa where the odor was less odious, the aroma had begun to wane. But I could still pick up a whiff now and then. I even began to smell dead rat when I was in my truck, miles away from my house. “Psychosomatic, you think?” my wife asked.
Most likely, I had to agree.
Fortunately, we had a week-long Christmas visit to see our grandsons and hoped the odor would dissipate by the time we got home. It did. I entered the house and breathed in the wonderful aroma of odor neutralizer but no dead rat smell.
I have learned a lesson. If the traps don’t work, the cats get to play in the attic.