Monday, January 26, 2009

Special Guest Laura Benedict: "I don’t know why I hate rats more than I hate mice."

(A special project this week is going to make me a little scarce between tomorrow and Saturday. If you really need to reach me, the cell phone will be the best way. Blogging may be erratic, but to start the week off right, here's a entry by my friend, author Laura Benedict, on a subject very dear to my heart. Rats make my own blood run cold. Check out Laura's excellent new book, CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, which made my Top Ten of 2008 list.)

Why is it that rats disgust me so? And why don’t I have the same visceral reaction to mice? Now, don’t get me wrong—I am an avid mouser. Better than any cat I’ve ever met. I’ve caused the demise of about fifty field and house mice over the last two and a half years (we live in the woods and have a very hearty population). But mice are just a minor annoyance to me. Rats are a whole other story. If it were rats that I had to kill, we would’ve moved out of this house about a week after we arrived!

It’s always puzzled me that Cinderella’s fairy godmother turned rats into coachmen. Why not cats? Or chairs? Or all those birds that Cinderella was always feeding in the Disney film? (Or was that Snow White?) Rats are Nosferatu. Rats are Willard. Rats are icky.

Did you know that rats will even eat mice?

Here is my favorite true rat story:

Some friends of mine bought a house up the hill from one of those you-store-it facilities. Soon after they moved in, they started seeing rat spoor in their basement. They heard the rats down their in the night, squealing and knocking things over. They were nearly driven mad with fear because of the rats. They were ashamed, poor things, disgusted and frightened. They bought traps, they called an exterminator, they put out poison. They killed several large rats—rats that were the size of river rats—but they finally captured one alive. They panicked. They’d been driven so mad by the presence of the rats that they didn’t even think to call animal control. The rat was trapped in a box. One of my friends grabbed the box and stuffed it into the basement’s wood furnace and slammed the door.

I’m not a particularly cruel person myself, but I confess that it was with a certain amount of pleasure that I listened to my friend describe the death throes of the burning rat. That’s horrible, isn’t it? But I would probably have done the same thing myself. Oddly enough, that was the last rat that troubled them.

House mice are not the same species as the common Norway rat. You can find the specs here. They’re smaller and they have different tails. They grow at a much faster rate. And they don’t have red eyes, that I’ve observed.

I’ve come to an accommodation with my house and field mice. I’m used to them. Granted, I won’t touch one with a ten-foot pole. My husband has mouse-disposal detail, but I’ve been known to open the little clip traps and drop the bodies into garbage bags without looking when he’s out of town. The best traps are these—they’re the only ones I’ve found that snap quickly and with murderous efficiency. (Don’t be fooled by other brands!)

When we moved into this house, we discovered a glue trap with a couple of well-desiccated mouse bodies melted onto it. Now, glue traps for mice are just cruel, to my mind.

Favorite gross but true mouse story:
A different friend’s daughter discovered a mouse struggling on a glue trap that my friend had set beneath a kitchen cabinet. The little girl insisted that they free the mouse. Logic would dictate that one might just carefully trim around the mouse’s feet and let it go free so it could hobble away with cardboard stuck to it. Inelegant, yes, but doable. Instead, they tried to pull the poor animal off of the trap. I’ll just leave the actual scene to your imagination because that’s what decent writers do….

But I have to say that I wouldn’t hesitate to leave giant glue traps out for rats. Big traps. With Elmer’s or Super-Glue or that stuff that the guy on television uses to glue his hardhat to the eyebeam while he dangles a hundred feet off the ground. Lots of glue. You bet.

Can you tell the difference between them in photographs? I got nine out of twelve. Yes!


Ellen Clair Lamb said...

Thanks, Laura! Um... I think.

I hate rats so much that my loathing/phobia caused me to break my arm, about 15 years ago.

One night after work I went to the gym, leaving my car in the garage under my office building. When I went to pick up my car, I couldn't find my building's keycard, so had to walk around to the garage's main entrance, off an alley behind 18th Street.

I had seen rats in the alley before, and was determined not to any that night -- so I kept my eyes straight ahead, not looking down, not looking in corners. I caught the toe of my shoe in a deep crack in the pavement, tumbled over, and broke my left elbow.

I wound up taking a cab to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, where I sat for three hours, saw weeping sores and a gunshot wound, and was finally sent home with a handful of pain pills and a referral to an orthopedist.

But I didn't see any rats that night, so I have to call the evening a success.

Anonymous said...

I got 9 out of 12, too. I should have done better, considering I lived in Manhattan for 3 years!

Archimedes Principle said...

At one point last Summer, I became convinced that I'd become the patron Saint of Vermin. First a cloud of flies took up occupancy in my tiny flat. Flies love clothes. I've got shirts that look like fishing nets now.

Anyway they went...but only after a lot of persuasion. Basically, I defoliated my flat.

Then it was the tiny patter of mice racing through the false ceiling. More poison.

But Rats...Please God never...

Anonymous said...

Is this a good time to mention that I'm taking Lab Animal this quarter and we learned mouse restraint today?

Some of the little guys weren't very cooperative, they scrunched up when you tried to scruff them, but overall it wasn't too hard.

The rats are next week.

Peggy & Scott said...

I only got 10 out of 12 and spent years working with both. I think the angles of the photos made it harder.
Neither rats nor mice bother me if they are contained. It's the scrurrying and the startling that get me. I HATE to be startled-I scream like a girl and embarass myself.
Rats and mice actually make great pets. They are smart and pretty clean. I've known lots of people who bought them for snake food and ended up keeping one or two for pets. We had some rats as docent animals. We did have to start warning people ahead of time when bringing them out after having a few women run out of the room. Most people I've asked as to why they hate rats say it's their long scaly tails. I say they just haven't met the right rat!

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

"Mouse restraint"? I don't want to ask. I don't want to KNOW.

Laura Benedict said...

Gosh, Peggy. I am SO impressed with your admiration for rats--but I know in my heart that I am meant never to meet the right rat!!!!

Archimedes Principle--I'm seeing an epic film based on your vermin summer. Biblical, even.

But, AG, I WANT to know about mouse restraints. I'm picturing cute little red harnesses with teeny-tiny buckles...

9 out of 12? 10 out of 12? I think that's pretty darn good. I'm giving myself bonus points because I caught 2 mice in the past 72 hours. Yes! Now I'm just using that 40lb bag of sunflower seed as mouse bait!

Anonymous said...

No, no implements. Just picking them up by the tail, putting them on the table, then scruffing them behind the ears (in the neck area, like you would a cat) with your index and middle finger. Keep hold of the tail otherwise the mouse can twist around and bite you. We also have to be able to hold onto them one-handed in case we need to inject them or draw blood.

I can also tell male from female.

the walking man said...

Your loathing of rats may just turn out to be a wee bit shortsighted. In the post apocalyptic world what other source of meat will you have that breeds every month and will fit nicely into the stew pot? Rats unlike mice are more than a mouthful.

Anonymous said...

When I was in high-school, I kept the rat we used in our "learning and motivation" experiments. He was a very nice pet who was playful and smart. He liked to snuggle underneath my hair at the base of my neck while I read books or watched movies (I think I can hear Laura screaming), but he peed and pooped more than any creature on the face of the earth. I also had a pet mouse -- not nearly so charming. She produced many, many offspring that mysteriously disappeared. I later learned that they were the unfortunate victims of my younger brother's experiments with cat reflexes.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I scored 11 out of 12. Yea!


Laura Benedict said...

You have a point, WM. I expect I would go for rat over a big bowl of cockroaches.

Kris--Yep. I was okay until the hair and snuggling thing. I wonder if your mouse came pre-loaded with all those babies. And your brother actually sounds kind of sensible, but I can imagine that would have been puzzling and not a little distressing for you!

Anonymous said...

The mouse did, in fact, come "pre-loaded" -- a gag gift from a not-so-good friend. Subsequent litters were the result of questionable practices in mouse families. Who knew?

I wasn't so sorry to see the decline in the population. I never cared much for the mice. And now I know why our cats spent the summer of '83 pacing excitedly outside the back door.


Chuck said...

"One of my friends grabbed the box and stuffed it into the basement’s wood furnace and slammed the door."

Your friend is a cruel jerkwad who deserves to get a burn injury, just to see how painful it is! Karma.

"I’m not a particularly cruel person myself, but I confess that it was with a certain amount of pleasure that I listened to my friend describe the death throes of the burning rat. That’s horrible, isn’t it? But I would probably have done the same thing myself."

And so are you. Here you are, claiming that you're not a cruel person... but then say you get delight in BURNING an animal to death and admitting you would have done the same thing yourself. What is wrong with you? Go seek therapy. Had I been in that situation then, I would have found a more humane way to kill the animal.

Laura Benedict said...

Yes, I agree that it was a truly terrible way for that rat to die. Personally, I do not use glue traps or poison or any other method that causes prolonged pain to an animal.

It was the horrifying, bizarre nature of the story that I enjoyed, not the actual burning of the rat.

My friend's family had been traumatized by these rats--I expect I would have panicked as well and done what my friend did. Though I would like to think that I would have had the presence of mind to take it outside and dispatch it--quickly and humanely--with a shot from my .22.