Happy Halloween to all of you who are paying attention to my growing list of error laden blog entries. I thought I would be festive and write a blog with an appropriately named title for this national day of darkness. I love Halloween for some reason. Maybe it’s just the cool fall air at night or maybe just the candy that appears in every nook and crevice in the house. I love that we, as a society, designate one day out of the year to celebrate and embrace evil and horror! Anyhow, I was flipping through the television channels after a long morning of slaying vermin and improving customer’s lives, when I came across an old horror movie called “Ben”. If you have never seen it, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the shock value of movies like, “The Birds” or “Night of the Lepus”. Movies dealing with vermin infestation seem to be an effective way that movie makers develop the viewers, “overwhelmed” and “hopelessness” emotional responses (think zombie flicks). Now back to the movie “Ben”, which is a story about a rat that was released out of compassion by a young boy who didn’t have the testicular fortitude to kill it. This one rat gave rise to a super infestation of hundreds of thousands of rats in the sewer that eventually amassed above ground to kill and take over everything in their sight…it was a good movie!…well sort of (cheesy acting reminded me that the rats weren’t actually real and made me remember I was watching a B movie from 1972). Seeing this movie reminded me of an infestation I dealt with several years ago. This house was vacant for several years and I was given the task of “inspecting for and controlling all pests in the home” for a real-estate company. This sort of thing is very normal to be honest. Think of it as a termite inspection before you buy a house. The only difference is that I inspect for everything except termites.
This house was located next to a big beautiful lake. There were Loquat trees (Asian plums), navel oranges and kumquat trees growing along the edge of the property and near the side patio of the home. It was a two story house and it needed some noticeable roof work. There appeared to be a lot of gnawed wood trim around the dormers and some aluminum flashing that was hanging off the fascia under the shingles. The gutters were full of leaves and water and had caused the wood on which they were attached to rot. I climbed on to the roof and noticed that all of the aluminum hanging from the house was gnawed off…I knew rodents could gnaw through aluminum but I had never seen it done to something that was not in their way or impeding their movement. The wood had been gnawed through all the way to the galvanized metal underneath which rodents cannot gnaw through. However, there were places around the dormers that had baseball sized holes leading directly into the attic. I knew I would find rodents inside. I did not know If I was dealing with rats or squirrels at this point in my inspection. I climbed down the ladder and talked with the real-estate man who was with me. I explained that I had to go into the attic. The guy grabbed his clip board..pointed to the ladder access door in the hallway and said, “I am going to make a phone call really quick” as he stared at me with bug eyes and what I took as a nervous wimpy voice. I said, “Oh, ok. I shouldn’t be long”. He said, “Good, um I mean take your time and tell me what you find…” I turned around for a second just to identify the exact location of the door and when I turned around he was gone. He must have literally ran as quietly in his goofy little penny loafers as he could. I mean it was a long way to the exit door! I had a strange feeling he knew something I didn’t. I pulled down the ladder on the attic door and thankfully I had my mouth closed because rat poop poured out like someone took a shovel and tried to toss the entire scoop down my shirt collar. “Rats!” I proclaimed loudly… ,“But how many and how long have they been there to make such a healthy heap on the top of the attic door?” , I thought. I climbed into this dark ammonia smelling attic. It was very dark when I got up there because the lightbulb was burned out. I reached to my headlamps on button and pushed it. When I looked up I saw eyes…eyes all around me. Sitting on air conditioning ducts, rafters, in the deepest stretches of the attic as far as my headlamp shined, the reflective glare of eyes looking back at me appeared in all directions. These were rats, roof rats to be exact and they were very large. They were not scared of me at all. I believe they had never seen a human before and didn’t know what to make of me. Usually rats scurry and hide at first glimpse of a human but these rats just sat and watched. So, like a moron, I decided to crawl further into the attic. After all, these rats didn’t seem hostile at all! Or maybe they were waiting for the leader to give a signal and attack at once…As I was crawling I kept thinking, “Man…this floor is damp..I wonder why?”. I looked down and inspected closer.. Yup…it was rat pee. Urine was all over everything including my hands, knees and boots. I decided I would turn around at that point and tell the nice Realtor what I found. He was outside smoking a cigarette when I walked out. He said, “So..what did you see?” I said, “I think you know..” Then he put out his cigarette and said, “so can you handle it?”… what a slimy move on his part making me go in there and risk getting bitten by a hordes of rats. I told him that I could handle it but would need to set more traps than normal. He told me to do whatever I had to do. I went to my truck and baited 15 rat traps. I put them in my zip up tool bag and went back into the attic. The rats had not moved..they were just sitting there like fat lumps of fur.. Obviously fattened by the fruit growing outside all around the property. I set my traps all around and at one time I even had to push a rat to the side because he was standing in the place I needed to crawl.. Its weird when that happens..you know? I could have pummeled him with an iron fist but that may have triggered a retaliation among the multitude of rodent brethren present in this tight attic. After setting my traps and counting the sets of eyes (30+ to be exact), I crawled down and told the realtor that I was going to, “catch a ton tonight” and that I needed to go back the next day and reset traps. So I left with a smile on my face knowing that I was going to have a successful trapping and will probably catch one rat for every trap I set. I was wrong..as I commonly am when logical thought is required.
I returned to the lake home the next morning. It was early and I just ate a big breakfast so I was sort of lethargic and felt like I could go back to sleep. The realtor said, “ok I want a body count!” I didn’t reply with words but only a Grinch like smirk because I knew I was going to be able to say, “well, I got 15 last night…aahem..” I grabbed my little garbage bag (aka body bag) and headed up there with my headlamp and this time with rubber gloves. What I saw was horrible. I blinked a few times to make sure I was seeing clearly..eating too much breakfast at waffle house can cause impaired vision so I made sure I wasn’t seeing things. My traps were all snapped and had nothing but body parts in them. A leg here, a tail there, half a head there. “What the heck?..where did they go?...Then I remembered that rats are cannibalistic and eat each other after they get snapped on the traps. Except this time the rats had a feeding frenzy, a disembowelment orgy if you will. There was a rat 5 feet from the door still slurping the intestine of his fallen comrade. Rats had torn open the body cavities of the trapped rats and strung the bowels across the rafters. There were baby rats that came from the bodies of pregnant trapped rats all over the floor and were partially consumed. The ground that I had to crawl on was covered in coagulated pools of blood and slivers of skin and bone. There were still rats everywhere but they seemed nervous and on edge. Their fur wasn’t dry looking anymore but wet and matted like Cujo (towards the end of the movie). They had eaten their own and were still coming down from the “high” they had experienced during their feast. I took a few pictures and returned downstairs to the waiting realtor. He said, “so how did we do?”. I said ,”Well the price for cleanup has increased”. He said,”Why?..that seems a little bit..after the fact.. Doesn’t it?” I replied, “Normally yes but I took some pictures”. I showed him pictures of the intestine slurping rat and the bowls stretched across the attic as well as the baby rat halves and pools of blood. He said a few choice words and agreed to pay extra for the cleanup. I reentered the attic and set more traps. The next day I came back and the rats had done the same thing again. I was killing more and more yet there were still rats being eaten off of the traps. I decided to start doing the roof repairs in an attempt to exclude some of them from the home so they could not get back in. After a few more days of trapping and waiting I got rid of the rats and spent a few days cleaning and sanitizing the attic. It was a gruesome cleanup scene. I found half rat bodies all over the place. The smell of urine, feces, and decaying rat bodies was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to anyone (heavy sarcasm implied).The realtor told me he had this house sold until the man who was buying it decided to look in the attic. The people changed their minds and never contacted the realtor again. The home inspector must not have even looked in the attic. After the deal fell through, the house sat vacant for 5 years. It was a memorable job (for obvious reasons) and a perfect story to tell on Halloween!