I see animals every day. They come in all different shapes and sizes and are equipped with their own unique instincts and habits. Over the course of many years I have developed a particular set of skills that allows me to predict what these animals will do based on my experience with them. However, every now and again I encounter an animal that strays from the norm. Animals that are sick or injured can be unpredictable. I have seen this time and time again and am aware of what these animals can do. Unfortunately I forget easily….sometimes I get excited and rush or just get complacent and forget that at that very moment I’m doing something dangerous like hanging off the 3 story roof of a customer’s beach house trying to locate bats (think “Cliff Hanger” the movie but with Sylvester Stallone swatting at bats while he hangs by one arm). Some animals like rats are trapped lethally and are rarely seen alive. I do not keep track of how many rats I have trapped in my career, but I can honestly say it is in the thousands. Out of all of those rats trapped, I can count on my two hands how many of them were injured by a trap and still alive. With this small percentage of rats being only injured by the traps it is easy to recognize what these few rats have in common. The survivors were all freakin huge! Large roof rats and large Norway rats will sometimes get shwacked by my traps and be alive when I come to get them. Which leads me to my next story.
I had received a call from a customer with a rat problem. I went to his home and inspected his attic and crawlspace. This was a large historic home and the crawl-space was very musty and damp with tons of rodent feces and urine all over everything. I could tell by the urine smell and the blanket of rat footprints in the dirt that these rats have probably been there since the house was built in the early 1900’s. There was a good three feet of clearance under there to move, but I tried not to crawl and put my hands on the poop covered ground, mostly I just waddled. Shortly after my inspection, I set ten large wooden rat traps under the house and told my customer that I would come back and check on them the next day. This particular customer happens to be a doctor and is usually very busy. He said “Just come on in and do your thing”. The next day I arrived and crawled under the house. What I found next was strange indeed!
My traps had all been triggered. They had no bait in them and looked like they had been tossed around the place. I was extremely bummed out, as I was about to look at my 10th and final trap and had no success thus far. It’s always a downer when I have to tell a customer that the target critter was smarter than me and got away. At least this time, I decided I would wear gloves and just crawl around under there instead of waddling. My last trap was further away than the others. I had to crawl about 20 feet further and then go around a big bend, around a foundation wall to the left. When I crawled passed the wall and looked at my trap, I noticed it too was flipped. This one was different looking though. This trap was covered in blood. Beside the trap was a pool of blood and a trail that went for about ten feet and then went around another corner. So naturally, me being the curious person that I am, decided to follow the blood trail. I followed around the next bend only to find it leading in to a large softball size hole going into the ground. Bummer!!! “He probably went down in the hole and died”, I thought. So I turned around and started crawling back to the main door so I could give my customer the bad news. Ever have that funny feeling you are being watched?
I made it to the very middle of the crawlspace when my fears were confirmed. I heard a loud “bubbling screech” behind me. So, I stopped and slowly turned around to see what was making this gross sound. What I saw was nothing short of a scene from a sci-fi B-movie. A very large Norway rat was standing on its back legs about 3 feet from me. He had blood coming out of his nose and it was dripping down his teeth and chin. He had crazy in his eyes….no…. he had revenge in his eyes!! I was trying to think of how I was going to out maneuver this bloody savage rat and avoid getting bitten. He didn’t give me much time to think. He started making that crazy sound again…like a war cry of sorts! He was out for blood and I wasn’t going to let him get it without a fight. He started slowly creeping towards me. Red bloody bubbles were starting to get bigger and bigger and he was closing the gap. I had to think fast, so I grabbed a nearby rat trap that was within my reach. I have set thousands of rat traps and at this point I can do it blindfolded. Blindfolded maybe but not when a rodent of unusual size is trying to gnaw my face off. My fingers felt clumsy and I struggled to get the thing set. Time was running out and I had nowhere to go. Finally in a moment of triumph I set the trap right before he entered my “personal bubble”, I quickly put the trap in front of him and BAM..he walked right into it. Sealing his fate and saving me thousands of dollars in rabies shots. So naturally, after the beast was caught, I decided to take it out of the crawlspace still hanging from the trap and still wiggling. I did not realize that my customer, who happened to be a surgeon, was dressed in his scrubs waiting for me on the other side of the door. I emerged with this 1lb rat still undulating in the trap and the customer let out a shriek and a few extremely creative curse words. He said “Ummm, I have to go now…just bill me…HOLY CHRIST that’s been living with me and my family?". I know denial can be an ugly thing but I still have to remain professional and do my best not to call someone out on their case of denial. So, I politely said “Yes, this rat has been living under there for a while..don’t worry, they don’t eat much!”. With a pause and a look of disbelief the good doctor said simply, “Jim, I want you to know that I appreciate your work, but please don’t ever tell me if you catch more and for Christ sake don’t show me.. I’m going to take a sedative”. Then he slowly walked out of the garage, got into his Prius and slowly backed out of the driveway. “I think he took that well!”, I said to myself and continued to my truck to bag this now lifeless stir fry worthy body into a bag when I realized I forgot my headlamp on one of the AC ducts by the door. I opened the crawlspace door and peered inside of the dark musty dungeon whence the beast came. I used my cell phone flashlight to see where I was going. I slowly crawled in and could barely see my headlamp in the distance. It was further than I thought so I shined my cell phone light and started moving. I kept thinking that I was hearing something. Surely it was only me re-playing the savage rat attack in my mind, so I kept going. Still, sounds emerged from the darkness. I could feel the eyes upon me. I couldn’t get to my damn headlamp fast enough because that cell phone light just wasn’t doing it for me. I reached my headlamp and quickly put it on. It illuminated the darkest of places and from those places emerged more giant rats. This time they were inspecting me..walking close to me, coming from several directions then scurrying away. They repeated this over and over again. Now, many people don’t know this about me, but I was raised by the aborigine and have acquired similar animal communication abilities like Crocodile Dundee. All I had to do was communicate with them and they would realize I wasn’t the guy they were looking for. Seemed simple enough so I waited for them to emerge. I then proceeded to yell as loud as I could…..yes, it was a poor plan. I forgot the little Hispanic housekeeper lady was in the house, she doesn’t speak English so when she sees me we just smile and exchange a nice universal thumbs up. Well, when I yelled I heard her frantic footsteps travel across the house followed by the sound of breaking glass. I then realized that it was time for me to get out of that place. The rats never came towards me again after that primal yell I let out. I closed the door behind me and made my way to my truck. Before I opened my door to get in my truck the little housekeeper lady stuck her head out the door and said, “You go now rat man..go by by!!” I’m sure she was angry with me for scaring her and causing her to break something (I hope it wasn’t expensive china or something). Without knowing what to say to her I simply smiled and gave her a thumbs up and drove away with my new friend patiently waiting in his little black bag.