- by Rebecca York

summer-garden-1I live in a small city between Washington and Baltimore where I’ve got plenty of room to indulge my love of nature.   In fact, I’ve been happily tending my flower gardens and feeding the friendly wildlife for years. 

But recently, I saw a small gray animal dart out from under the front porch.  It was about two-thirds the size of a squirrel but with a long, skinny tail.  When I spotted another one dash across my yard and disappear under a neighbor’s deck, I started wondering if I’d opened a rat campground. 

I called the pest control company that keeps my house ant-free, and they brought out black plastic boxes with poison bait.  The guy told me it wouldn’t work if I was still feeding the birds and squirrels, but I didn’t want to believe him.  Until the afternoon my handyman showed me where rats were coming out from a burrow in the back garden to eat the seeds scattered under the bird feeder.  I stood at the sliding glass door watching happy little rats leap into the low birdbath for a cooling drink.  I saw rats lounging in the sun on my deck. I saw them gathering in convivial groups to exchange pleasantries on the patio.  

That’s when I freaked and started dreaming about an old Lovecraft story called, “The Rats in the Walls.”

I don’t have anything personal against rats.  I know they’re just out there trying to make a living like everyone else.  But not in my yard, thank you.  Not when they breed every thirty days.

Since I’ve altered my longtime bird and squirrel feeding habits, I haven’t seen any rats.  Maybe they’re being more circumspect.  Maybe the bait’s finally working.  Or perhaps the various devices I’ve bought over the Internet are doing the trick.  Remember when the FBI blasted the Waco compound with non-stop rock and roll music?   I’ve got two transmitters under the sunroom that broadcast noises we can’t hear but are supposed to drive rats batty.  I’m not going to talk about the live traps you bait with peanut butter, but now I’ve got a plastic container of granules that smell like the mothballs my mother threw in with her winter clothes.  The peppermint oil and cougar urine haven’t arrived yet, but I’m eager to give them a try.  My buying orgy has landed me on Amazon’s “infested list.”  They’re keeping track of my Web travels and spending habits and sending me helpful ads for all sorts of pest control devices.  On the off chance that I’ve got other invaders, they want to sell me a small solar mole and gopher chaser and a Spring Star mosquito trap, among others.

If YOU have any rat control suggestions, don’t hesitate to pass them along.  Or share  your vermin stories.  I’d like to know I’m not alone.



  1. I’ll stop laughing now. I know it’s not funny.

    A couple of summers ago, I took my cats out into my (fenced) backyard only to see a BIG rat come out of my garden. It took one look at my elderly, nearly blind cats and and hightailed it out through the narrow space between my fence and gate. My cats were totally oblivious, but I was afraid to take them out there. In a fight with my fragile oldsters, the rat would have won.

    So I called the alderman. Indeed, the next day, a city worker on the rat patrol came. I told her I didn’t want the yard baited because I took my cats out with me. She took a good look for a hole and pointed out the rat probably was living under my neighbor’s garage — there was a big space all along the bottom. She baited the alley around the garage. And I bricked in that space, though I’m sure a clever rat might still be able to squeeze in or out somewhere since I didn’t cement it. But it makes me feel better, especially since I have an Earth Machine composter installed right up against that garage.

    I’ve always put out food for squirrels and birds–breadstuff ready to be thrown out, aging grapes, apple cores. I’ve always made sure the only place I threw them was up on top of the shed roof. Hopefully no rats will go up there. And last year, when a mouse invaded the patio several times, I rethought feeding animals altogether. Years ago, when we had a dog, we were out for a walk and I saw this long pink tail sticking out between two garbage cans. When it turned around, I realized we had possums in the alleys. Just the other day when I was watering, a rabbit hopped out of my yard and scurried across the next yard.

    How do these animals survive in a big city?

  2. Sorry to tell you this, but rats can climb. Also mice. I get mice in the house in winter. But I have three cats, and any mouse who comes in here is committing suicide. Last year, one of my cats was staring fixedly at the front hall closet. I thought a mouse might be in there, so i started taking stuff off the closet floor. The mouse ran up the wall next to me. I then started taking stuff off the top shelf. Mouse jumped down. I found it the next day–after the cats had also found it.

  3. Yeah, I don’t want to think too much about putting out rat buffets.

    Years ago, I used to have a cat pen outside alongside part of the building to the neighbor’s fence. And I cut the screen in the basement big enough so kitties could go in an out at will and be safe. Well, kitties weren’t the only things getting inside. No rats, thankfully, but mice. Once I found a lump under a carpet. Dried husk of a mouse that one of my cats probably chased to death. Another time I found a husk–wait for it–in the wall behind the thermostat. We took the old one out to install a modern one and the mouse husk popped out at me. Another time, one of my cats carried a mouse up from the basement–a present for mom. She of course dropped it, I chased it, and it ended up under my desk. I never found it and wore shoes when I wrote for the longest time…

  4. My mom also left a window open for a cat. It was an upstairs window, and the cat got in by climbing the back fence, jumping to the porch roof, then two feet more to the window. One night, a kitten was sleeping with my mom. The cat came in and started “talking” to her kitten. Then the cat jumped up on the bed and they both began rumbling around. Mom turned on the light to see a baby rat in bed with her. She screamed, then picked up the cat (with the rat in her mouth) and shook her over the toilet. She was able to flush the baby rat away. Lucky the toilet didn’t get stopped up!


  5. Hey I had possums living in a trailer we were renting freaked me out. I never saw them but once. There was a hole in the bottom of the trailer where the plumbing went to the ground. My cat used it as her private entrance, so did some possums one came out and went into our bedroom. Our young poodle was barking like crazy it was hissing at him and i was yelling for my husband to get out of bed and remove the thing before the dog got hurt. THings like this scare me, because I think of rabies. We live sort of in the country in east TExas and I don’t like wild animals like those things. I don’t feed anything outside lol. I make sure we take all our old food in the trash to work since I can put trash in the dumpster at work. One advantage of working in a convenience store aka gas station for 14 years.
    I’m a cashier praying for the end of the baggy pants show my underwear phase. :-)