As many who know me will attest, I tend to attract wildlife to my property. I feed whatever wants to eat my sunflower seeds and bread crusts and other scatterings. They are more than welcome to share what I have to offer.
The winter before last, a rat began to search for dropped seeds under my bird feeders. He was brown, of course, and not overly large. This is a rural area; we have rodents. I admired his shiny coat and noted his constant state of alertness. He wanted the benefits of my hospitality but he had no desire to pay for them with his life!
Eventually, he was joined by his smaller and humbler mate. She followed at a distance, careful not to intrude on his place at the feast. Both of them left neat tracks in the snow, and a trail that led beneath my rock-wall foundation. As there is no access to the basement on that side, I simply shrugged and kept refilling the seed supply. After all, the rats did not harm to me or mine. I must admit, though, to feeling more disturbed by the female’s secretiveness and her preference for shadows. The male was right out there, blatantly helping himself and enjoying the bounty. She – not so much. So I wondered what she was up to and what unhappy circumstances she might have set in motion.
All remained quiet for many months and I finally dropped my guard and forgot about these two. Not so long ago, however, I happened to glance out my living-room window and noticed a rather well-toned female rat ambling across the lawn. She navigated my flowerbeds and headed for the basement door – which, as luck would have it, was closed. Since I hadn’t seen either of my rat residents for almost a year, this one surprised me. She might have been a visitor, or one of the previous generation’s offspring. She appeared to be alone; possibly her partner had met his fate. This neighbourhood is a magnet for stray cats, which are taken in and fed by various caring souls. I’d assumed the cat population and the rat population had come to a disagreement. Not so, apparently. One can never assume anything where rats are concerned.
So now I must reassess my attitude toward these creatures. Others have warned me to beware of them. “Ew! They’re RATS. They carry diseases and they make such a mess.” I’ve usually responded with, “So do we.”
But a rat is a rat. Inevitably, she will revert to her true nature. And the thing is: I’ve encouraged her presence. I thought she would respect her boundaries. Clearly, I’m both naive and hopelessly trusting.
A rat will take advantage of any vulnerability. She will quietly intrude where her occupancy is neither wanted nor appropriate, simply because she can. And she might go unrecognized by the human family who have yet to discover her legacy.
The woman who invites a rat into her home – or tolerates that rat’s activities nearby – is only two steps away from being called a fool. Rats have no conscience. They don’t care whose lives and security they disrupt. They defecate on precious and irreplaceable parts of our existence, especially papers. We save letters, books, journals and cards; rats shred them and soil them. A rat can interfere not only with cleanliness and comfort but with communication itself. With memories that we have believed to be inviolate. Then we have little choice but to throw those memories in the trash. The woman who has tried only to be kind will find herself bereft of many things she cherishes. And her friends and loved ones will show her little sympathy. They will tell her that she has brought all this on herself.
Sadly, once established within the boundaries of home and family, a rat will prove tough to dislodge. If we are surrounded by creatures we love – cats, dogs, other pets – then poisoning such an animal is dangerous. The toxicity of our efforts will spread and infect everything. Love and companionship can easily die, while the rat simply slips away without remorse. We shiver at the toothmarks left behind on everything we hold dear, then bury our dead and wonder how we could have been so stupid.
A trap can present the rat with a challenge but most of the time, it won’t feel threatened. No rat ever felt guilty when confronted with a reminder that she has destroyed our peace and privacy; has ruined something within our home that can’t be easily fixed. The expression, “I don’t give a rat’s ass,” is spot-on. A rat couldn’t care less what pain or damage she causes. That’s just who and what she is.
And if you are reading this piece and wondering whether, in fact, it might be a tad allegorical – you’re very perceptive. Rats need not walk on all fours and drag their naked tails in the dust. They can stand upright, too, and seek out any evidence of weakness. They can exploit and destroy. Their very name is synonymous with someone who can neither be trusted nor admired.
I suspect this needs no further explanation. I’ve never met anybody who hasn’t encountered a rat now and then. Perhaps they’ve been put in our paths as a test of some sort? The trick is to figure out an effective answer to that particular question. I must admit to failure on that score. Where the Giant Rat Quiz is concerned, I can’t even understand how to read it, let alone know what I’m expected to write.