My former neighbor––let’s call him Dickon––has a thing for rats, the same thing American presidents seem to have for Osama bin Laden. Except Dickon, who once spent time in the U.S. Army Special Forces, is far better equipped to act on it.
Every year about this time, he used to map out an elaborate campaign to rid our alley of the vile vermin. He would start by posting gentle reminders to the neighbors to keep their garbage bin lids closed, clean up dog droppings and generally police the area, an expression he picked up from his Army days. He would call the alderman demanding a “rat patrol” clean-up crew from Streets and Sanitation. And when they came through spreading their poison pellets from plastic buckets, he would scoff at them like they were some kind of Cub Scout patrol lost on their way to Earth Day.
For Dickon, poison pellets were no more effective than trying to put out a fire with an eyedropper. Standard rat traps and cages were only slightly better. And that silly high-pitch sound machine I brought back from Home Depot one day? The only thing that scared away was my dog, he said.
Rats are a wily breed, Dickon noted, far more suited to survive in an urban environment than we are. They can live in warm climes and cold, burrowing through cement cracks as narrow as an inch to create nests and tunnels, feeding off all manner of human waste, and using it to fuel a year round breeding frenzy.
On average, rats live about three years, but young rats reach sexual maturity after three months and jump right on the breeding bandwagon. The females are capable of having as many as five litters a year, with up to 10 pups per litter or more, so chances are if you see one rat, you’ve not seen them all.
I’ve watch Dickon deploy a number of gadgets to eradicate the pests, everything from an electric Rat Zapper to Rodent’s Revenge. The most ingenious was the African bucket trap developed by Zimbabwe wheat farmers to protect their crops.
To make the trap you need a 20-litre bucket, an ear of corn and a thick wire. Once you cut off the ends of the corn, you push the wire through it lengthwise, making sure the corncob can spin freely at the center of the wire. Bury the bucket in the ground, but only fill it about 1/5th full. Then bend the wire and push the ends firmly in the ground.
Every evening, coat the corn with peanut butter, then watch the rats climb out to get it and drop into the water. Remove the drowned rats in the morning. Using this device, Dickon claimed he trapped 20 rats in one week.
One morning, I walked out on the back porch to find Dickon was taking the war to the rats under another neighbor’s garage. He cut away all the weeds to reveal four gaping rat holes. He dug a 6” trench to wrap chicken wire around all sides of the garage, then poured a new layer of concrete over that. “That’ll stop the bastards,” he said. It didn’t.
About a year ago, Dickon moved with his wife and two children to the suburbs, effectively abandoning the territory to the rodent Talibans. The other night, they came back for dinner and the first thing Dickon did was step out on the back porch to look out over the battlefield.
“How are the rats?” he asked.
I had to admit we’d lost a lot of ground. The rat holes were back under Elaine’s garage. Just the night before, I said, I’d seen one scurrying across under my headlights as I turned into the alley. The rat stopped, turned and looked at me like I was the interloper not him.
The Ultimate Weapon
“I’ve found the ultimate weapon,” Dickon said triumphantly. “The Rodenator. It’s a cross between a garden hose and a flame-thrower. You ought to get one.”
The next day, I quickly looked it up on the Internet. The Rodenator is the invention of an Idaho rancher named Ed Meyer. It was designed to eliminate gophers, badgers, prairie dogs, rabbits and other burrowing farm animals – rats being, in Dickon’s mind, simply an urban manifestation of same.
The Rodenator operates on a mixture of oxygen and propane that is pumped into the burrow for approximately a minute, then ignited with a single spark. The explosion is minimal, but the concussive force is enough to kill 92 percent of the animals in its path (“instantly and humanely,” Meyer claims.) Failing that, it will nonetheless collapse the tunnel system so it’s of little use to the rats or anyone else.
According to Meyer, the system is EPA-approved because it leaves no chemical residue in the ground. It also comes with a money-back guarantee if it does not work as advertised. But there is one little drawback. The base unit costs $2,000, not including the upgrades, accessories and supplies that make it function.
I have many neighbors on my block who have purchased snowblowers and generously clear our sidewalk in the winter or share mulch and top soil when we our out tending our sidewalk gardens in the spring.
Maybe this summer, it’s my turn to give back to the community. Maybe I should buy The Rodenator, strap on the ear protectors and go up and down the alley offering to blow up their garages. That’ll stop the bastards.