I’m here getting ready for the trip up to San Francisco, and the little doggies are bored, so I took them for a little perambulation down the driveway. It’s a fabulous day out, the sun dappling the driveway through the beautiful trees, the creek burbling a few yards away, and as the doggies walked up and down the driveway sniffing and peeing on things, I examined the work done by the landscaping guys. They had cut out enormous amount of periwinkle starting to overgrow the walkway on the high side of the driveway. There are tons of rat holes along the hill between our house and the neighbor’s. Normally obscured by the ground cover, the rats live their little ratty lives and do their little ratty thing.
The sudden denuding of the landscape must have confused the rats. Behind the hay bales that keep the mud from washing into our driveway, there was an enormous rat. It was curled up in the humus, sleeping peacefully. Now, I’m normally not a violent person, but when you’ve lived with wood rats for a while, you realize that any means are justified by the end of eradicating the rat population. Rats harbor all sorts of illnesses, including rabies and bubonic plague. Left unchecked, they’ll eat your insulation, your electrical wiring and set your house on fire. I have reason to believe that rats are capable of stealing your online passwords, taking your identity, and using it to establish large offshore accounts for which you will bear the responsibility of paying taxes. They’re horrible.
This particular specimen was 8 inches long, not counting the foot-long naked pink tail, and had a lot of fur. It had a teddy bear look about it, but I couldn’t let that influence me. I’m not a violent person, as I say, but I’m also not the teddy bear type. I pointed to it and got that high-pitched excited voice people use with animals and said “Hey, Dagmar! Come and get it!”
Dagmar came up looking carefully through the brush. I know that dogs are supposed to have a keen sense of smell, but it seems to me that when they are sniffing something out, they sort of shut off their eyes, because I could see the rat clear as daylight, but the dogs snuffled all around it before they finally sniffed right at it.
You would think that a rat might freak out at realizing that it was at the mercy of a bloodthirsty homeowner and two dogs whose favorite game is snap-back (where they pick up something, shake it, and hear its backbone snap). Except for one thing. These dogs are motivated by tiny furry things that run, squeak in terror and generally look frightened. This particular rat was curled up asleep, and my shouting and the dogs’ sniffing didn’t seem to give it any reason to interrupt its nap. Dagmar lost interest and wandered off, but Esme wanted in on the game now. She went right up to the rat and picked it up, giving it a few shakes and a chomp on the spine. That sort of treatment normally works on mice and smaller rats, but this one just looked up at her with a hurt expression on its face.
When the dogs were puppies and we were trying to get them interested in the dog sport of rat killing, they approached the rats cautiously. They would snap in a rat’s direction, then jump back. Since they’ve hit adulthood, though, rat killing has become efficient. I’ve never seen a second of hesitancy or fear in those dogs. Until they came to this enormous sleeping rat.
Bite. Jump. Sniff. Bite. Jump. Sniff. Sniff. Jump. Bite. Sniff. Sniff. Jump. Sniff.
Esme got bored and wandered off because I still had the treats in my hand and cut up hot dogs are far more interesting than a rat that doesn’t squeak or run. Dagmar, on the other hand, finally decided that the now-sodden and bloody teddy bear was worth her time. By the time I persuaded her to lay off, the poor thing was going stiff.
There are lots of interesting things about living out in the woods. The smell of horses drifting down the hill from the ranch across the way, the little roads that crawdads make along the creek bottom, the way you can turn a corner and be confronted with the kind of views most people only know from movies like Lord of the Rings – all those are reasons why we live here. I guess we take the disgusting with the majestic.