Hi there. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. And this is one of my favorite service stories about why effective rat control comes down to finding entry holes…
Pre-industrial revolution, no one welcomed a rat catcher into their home, farm, or bustling mid-city factory and expected him to stay long. And why would they?
The reoccurring rodent service hadn’t been invented yet.
Certainly no one expected to house, feed, and entertain a rat catcher while he battled rats on their property for two years, or longer.
Try to imagine that scene. “So, how many rats did you catch today?” A homeowner might ask as they watch their rat catcher slurp all their farm-to-folk soup and guzzle all their local organic beer. The rat catcher would probably mutter something between slurps about, “That Big Egg Thieving Bastard in the barn,” which he’d follow with a rage filled monologue about cleanliness and godliness followed by a long calm discussion about why no rat catcher should ever use only one style of trap. As usual, the only thing the homeowner really wants to know is how soon they can feel secure again: How soon will all the rats be dead? When can we get back to business as usual at the farm? How much longer do we have to feed this rat catcher?
All good questions, no doubt. Our homes should make us feel safe and secure.
Disney would have us all believe that rat catchers are comical characters. I hate to admit it, but I think that’s partly true. The Fool in Shakespeare’s plays always has the best lines, but The Fool lacks one very important trait that the other more respectable characters possess. In a word that’s “civility.” The best rat catchers lack civility in more ways than one, because we have to navigate the borderlands between wilderness and civilization every day. It takes a rat to catch a rat. For those who might think that’s an insult to rat catchers, it isn’t. Rats are admirable creatures, and it takes a wilder kind of human to catch them.
And that’s why you should never trust a rat catcher who shows up in a white clean shirt.
No matter, my point is that we may be unintelligible and comical at times, but rat catchers understand The Math of owning and building a home, better than most. Pests are uninvited guests. They are the creatures who eat at our table longer than we’d like. And that’s why, I strongly believe no one should feed their rat catchers longer than they would provide food, water, and shelter for their friendly neighborhood rats. If we were part of the civil corporate world, we might call, “Don’t Feed The Rat Catchers!” our mission statement. But we’re not civil, so don’t buy a bumpersticker or T-shirt with that shit written on it. Like our prey, rat catchers crave safety, security, food, water, shelter, and money too. Can’t build a proper home infestation without it.
These were the thoughts that flashed through my mind when Richard told me that my old employers—Pioneer Pest Management (now PURCOR)—had been trying to rid his rental of rats for two years.
“Two years is a long time to live with rats!” I thought as I talked with Richard for the first time.
I listened as Richard explained that the rats were in the walls. His tenants never saw rats, but they heard the rats all the time. He asked if I could kill them without using bait.
Not knowing what I was getting into, I said, “You bet. I’m an old fashioned rat catcher who’s good with my traps. Using bait poison is usually more trouble than it’s worth.”
A week later, I was on set doing my usual initial rodent service (inspect and find and mark the entry holes, set traps to determine level of activity, and write a custom action plan). I started with the one truth about rats I hold dear: THEY HAVE TO LEAVE THE HOUSE SOMETIME. And I was going to find where that somewhere place was, and trap it. After poking around the exterior (up and down on my ladder a half a dozen times) I found a large gap along the gutter line, leading directly into the attic.
“This has to be it!” I thought as I marked the entry hole with plastic bags and set a bunch of traps in the gutter. I was so excited. All I could think about was the moment when I sent Pioneer Pest Management a copy of the story of how I’d found the entry hole they couldn’t find in two years.
I was so excited I called Richard and told him I’d found “the rat highway.” I also told Tyree, the kind tenant who lived upstairs. She asked me to set some traps inside, so I did.
CHAPTER 2: A New Hope
I returned a week later to check my traps. No signs of activity from the rat highway. No signs of activity from the traps I set in Tyree’s kitchen.
Frustrated, I poked around the attic a while looking for more entry holes. It was weird. I had found a monster entry hole, yet the attic had no droppings, trails in insulation, or urine smell…and the traps and bait packs Pioneer had set everywhere had been gathering dust for what looked to be about 2 years.
I was about to call it a day when I instinctively knelt beside the old chimney in the center of the attic to take a closer look. As I contemplated the chimney and its relationship to the rest of the house, I happened to catch a whiff of a smell that was all too familiar.
“I smell a rat!” I cried aloud to no one but myself, then I crouched down to get a better whiff of the chimney. Sure enough, the smell got stronger. I had no idea how they were getting down there, but I didn’t care. This was the best lead I had yet, so I sent a box full of dog food and traps down the hole to “fish” for activity.
Next up, I decided it would be smart to gather more story from Tyree. She was busy taking care of her kids when I walked in, so I chatted up her brother. I wasn’t expecting him to know much. I was just doing my thing where I pretend to be social (and like humans) when I’m nervous. Turns out, Tyree’s brother was tracking the story too. He was a large amiable guy who smelled heavily of weed, so I didn’t take his story about the “reoccurring rat hole outside” too seriously at first. Honestly I thought he was high or crazy or both. But I listened, because that’s what I do. I listen to humans, because they know their homes better than I do.
I asked him to show me. We walked outside to the strip of earth between the driveway and the foundation. He pointed in front of one of the downspouts, and said, “That’s the hole.”
“It’s probably a mole,” I replied, knowing well that moles don’t make open holes. I didn’t expect to find Tyree’s brother still there after I returned from my van with a shovel, but he was still there, smoking a cigarette. I liked that he was interested in this story as much as I was. He watched as I dug down about a foot and found a nice fat hole leading under the sidewalk. For shits-and-giggles, I set a mole trap along the tunnel. Then I filled in the hole, and then did my thing and made a plan with Tyree for the next service.
I puzzled over that reoccurring hole all week. “If the gap I found under the back stairs, the rat highway along the gutter line, or the reappearing hole aren’t the winners, then what next?” I thought as I ran my route around Portland working lesser rat huts. “Could the sewer be a possibility?” I don’t know. All I know is, I want to be the rat catcher that catches the rats and leaves the table for his next meal in another part of town.
CHAPTER 2: First Contact (Yes like Star Trek)
[ The following was based on an email we sent to Richard ]
STORYSOLD: I stopped by today to check traps. The large gutter gaps to attic are clearly not the rat highway I thought they were, so I downsized my blockade. Next, I checked the gap under the stairs. The plastic bag markers I stuffed up there were still in place. Strike two for the Would Be Rat Catcher. Then I went into the attic to check the “fishing trap” I sent down the old chimney.
“Fuckers!” I cried aloud when I saw what they’d done…
The rats had managed to jump into my little box, trip all my traps, and eat every scrap of dog food in the box. I’ve seen a lot of crazy rat shenanigans, but this one took the cake!
If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone was messing with me. But I had seen this before. It reminded me of the rat we (Ecolab) cornered in the dog food aisle in Safeway. He danced around every trap and piece of bait we set for months. When we came to check the traps, we knew where to find Big Rat Balls (that’s what we called him), or “Balls” for short. We could see him hanging like a sports fan in his little man cave under the pet food aisle. He had fresh water from a cooler leak a few feet away. He had all the pet food he could eat (the cleaning folk pushed spilled pet food into his cave all the time). We could see him, but it didn’t matter. He would simply stare back at us with his dead “fuck you” patriarchal rat eyes.
Sorry about the side thought. The good news for today is, “I made first contact.”
You know, like Star Trek. But instead of real aliens, I mean the rats in your rental who might as well be aliens based on Pioneer Pest Management’s previous efforts. They’re down there! Now I have to find a way to get them. To step my game up, I filled the box with glue boards and sent it back down the hole. We’ll see what they have to say about that.
STORYSOLD: All the failure aside, the real whammy discovery today was this:
That’s not a mole hole, and it’s not a burrow hole either. That’s an exit hole. Which means, either they use the runways I blocked and decided to dig there way out for food, or this simply is the main entry point. I dug down where I put the mole trap (which mysteriously wasn’t there) for a while without luck. My guess is, if I get serious and dig down to where the sewer line enters the home, we might find our entry point. Tyree’s brother’s story from the beginning was, “There’s a hole that keeps appearing there.” I have no idea how far down that pipe is, and I don’t feel comfortable digging too deep without your permission, but I’ll give it a shot if you like. It might be worth it. Something has to explain why you’ve been struggling with rats for years. It might yield another clue. The other thing is the food and water question. I think there’s a good chance that they’ve become uninvited household pets, sneaking a bite or two of dog food and water when the house is quiet. That’s why I added another slightly trickier live trap behind the dog dish (I put the dog food bag in the trap to cover the trigger). I explained my plot to Tyree, and let her know that I would come out to clear the trap if we caught one. She seemed happy to know that. The live catch cage is a new idea, so it may take some time to work. The last time I used one it didn’t kick in for three weeks. I know it means more waiting, but waiting is what wise old rats do best. And they’re not going to explore something new until they’ve checked it from every angle before they go in. All in all, I’m feeling optimistic. I have succeeded in making contact.
CHAPTER 3: The Subterranean Exclusion
Richard agreed to my plan to dig. I planned to do The Dig the following Saturday, but I had a few other stops in the area on Wednesday, so I stopped by to check my fishing hole.
When I pulled my fishing box from the chimney and saw that the rats had once again made off with my lure, rage no longer felt like appropriate expression. What I felt at that moment was beyond rage. It was the cool, calm, calculated, psychopathic feeling that precedes the revenge plots we humans love to feature in so many of our action movies. I don’t love dogs like John Wick (he’s a psychopath), but I feel strongly that the stealing of dog food should be grounds for the launching of a revenge plot (yes, I’m also a psychopath). No matter. I shined my light down the old chimney and did The Math: they had cleared two traps and three glue boards in the confines of a little box! It could have happened “by instinct,” but it sure as hell looked like they tore the edges of the cardboard box, tossed the torn pieces on the glue, and used it to walk on. If they muscled their way out of the glue, there’d be a lot more hair…
Yes sir! I read The Action, and The Earth Show now read that The Rat’s “it’s so crazy it just might work” good guy revenge plot worked better than mine!
Of course I met Richard on site the day of my defeat. We talked, and I was sure he could see the shame and humiliation in my eyes. Who could miss it?
As I drove away, I hit PLAY on my moody indie rat catcher’s playlist on Spotify: The Rat by The Walkmen, Rats by Pearl Jam, The Funeral by Band of Horses, How It Ends by DeVotchka, and The Poor Places by Wilco. Then I moodily processed The Action as I drove to my next rat catching adventure: Clearly the rats had the traps figured out, but it was the effort they expended to get at that dog food that was the real tell. Why would they work so hard to get at my lure if the rats at the bottom of my fishing hole were fat and happy? Then some new questions flashed in my mind, “Maybe no one has been able to put traps or bait/poison in the right place? Maybe The Action wasn’t happening in the kitchen like I’d imagined?”
Rat catching is a relationship. Done well, it’s a “call and response” like jazz.
I know The Industry has trained their customers to believe that a given product can offer a better, guilt free way of killing rats. That’s not true. I work hard to produce the best kills possible for my prey, but it’s still killing…and killing isn’t always clean.
And I have to say, my response to having my traps robbed for a second time was rolling with The Action. I’d pre-baited the rats with the dog food. I knew they liked dog food, and I could have set my traps with dog food again and hoped for better results, but I didn’t do that. I reset the traps to make it look like more lure, mixed up a feast of dog food, added two kinds of bait poison, and then I sent it back down the fishing hole.
Three days later, I pulled into Tyree’s driveway with our farm truck half full of the gravel. I’d used it earlier that morning at another job, and I had every intention of using it if I unearthed a rat hole. After I gently repotted the thyme plant that was growing beside the reoccurring hole, I started to dig. It didn’t take me long before I set the shovel aside and began to dig out my first object of interest with my hands. As I suspected, I’d found the point where a pipe made its entry through the concrete foundation.
It looked like it was a good candidate, until I got down with my flashlight and checked all the way around it. “Damn,” I sighed. “That’s not it. I feel concrete all the way around.” I was thinking about calling it a day when the downstairs tenant opened the door and walked by. I introduced myself and asked him if he had a few minutes to answer some questions. He said he did, so I asked him if he’d been hearing noises around the excavation site. “Yeah,” he replied. “I heard them around here.” He pointed down where I was digging, to the left of my dig, and explained that the scratching sounds sounded like they were lower than where I was digging. He said it was at knee level from inside his apartment. “How often do you hear them?” I asked curiously.
“Oh, about every day.” I thanked him for taking the time, and then I continued to dig. It didn’t take long before I found my second object of interest.
What I found was an uncapped pipe that lead down somewhere. I stuck a metal rod down it, and it was open for at least a foot past its opening. The pipe was right below the reoccurring exit hole I’d found the week before, but it wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I mean, if they’re using it to travel in: where does it exit? They still have to get into the house somehow! I’ve never done a subterranean exclusion before, but the first thing I’d do if I wanted to test a possible entry point would be to mark it. So I searched my truck and found an old piece of dried foam, and did just that.
Then I pushed the dirt back into the hole. The plan was, if the pipe has a function (and needs to be unblocked) the foam can be removed easily. If it leads to some mysterious underground lair, then we will know it was the entry point if (a) the hole doesn’t return (b) the behavior of the rats inside suddenly change dramatically. Or it’s possible that it’s just an old pipe, and the burrows are still six feet below it like we talked about on the phone.
I would have checked my fishing hole during this service too, but I didn’t have my ladder. Instead I drove home, unloaded the gravel, and wondered what the competition was doing with my new box full of bait. To win, they have to trip my two traps, eat all the dog food, and leave both kinds of bait uneaten in the box. We’ll find out when I return on Thursday.
Chapter 4: Rats 2, Rat catcher 2
After my Saturday of digging I wrote the following email:
STORYSOLD: Good morning Rich, Did some research yesterday. It’s possible the pipe is an uncapped disconnected drainpipe. I’m not sure why homeowners in Portland have been disconnecting them from their downspouts (one person said something about a charge from the city), but it’s a thing. In any case, if it’s a disconnected drainpipe, it would lead to the sewers.
This discovery was a revelation for me. Why would any homeowner want an entry hole from the sewers to anywhere on their property? Sure it was too small for alligators, but mice and rats could use it?
I suppose I never thought about it, because I don’t own a home. But now that I am thinking about it, I want to sound the alarm like Paul Revere and ride around town to check everyone’s drainpipes. In your case, it looks like a new pipe was installed at some point, but the old one wasn’t capped. I can only imagine how many homes suffer the same situation… No wonder Portland is overrun by rats. The good news is, on Thursday Oct 17th I checked the bait I send down the chimney hole and found this:
Every scrap of bait and dog food had been picked clean. Encouraged by the promise of death, I scooped up all the bait packs Pioneer had left scattered about, added some of my own, and then sent it down the chimney hole with two armed snap traps for old time sake. A week later, I returned to check my offering of bait.
My trusty box had been torn to shreds, bait ripped open and overturned, and one my traps had disappeared into the mysterious shadow land at the bottom of the chimney hole. As you can see, some of the bait had not been eaten for some reason. My guess is, it was the brand Pioneer used… I like to think the rats preferred mine.
“That was one of my fancy American made traps, rats!” I hollered down the hole quietly so I didn’t disturb the tenants below. “You’ll pay for that!”
“Whatever you say, rat catcher,” the rats laughed back. “Your traps don’t work on us!”
I’ve only been after these rats for a month. I’ve battled meaner rats for a lot longer than this, but these sewer swimming, sneaky tunnel-digging cowards at the bottom of Rich’s chimney hole were really pissing me off. “Do you know what the worst thing you can do to someone is?” I asked the rats as I reworked my fishing line. “The worst thing you can do to someone is willingly feed them their own brand of ignorance.” With that I fixed a trap directly to my line and fed it down the hole lured with my new berry brand rodent attractant.
Then I rigged 2 more of my better traps the same way, and set them gently at the bottom of the hole.
“See rats,” I snickered to myself in silence. “All I want to know from these traps is…are you still alive? Because, I have to say, it sure smells a lot like death down there.”
And I’m going to count that as (at least) 2 wins for me.
CHAPTER 5: Don’t Rush Off Now! There’s Dessert!
The following was taken from live email and text correspondence:
STORYSOLD: I think we’re winning…I checked the hole Thursday and today and no signs of activity from the hole, not even a nibble on what I would consider to be a real rat feast. I also talked with Tyree’s mother and she said they haven’t hear anything in a while. I’m not celebrating yet, but that’s all good news.
That’s what we wrote Rich, but a week later Farmer Emily and our human host Jake were celebrating. It wasn’t the death of the rats they were celebrating. It was their annual post farm season vacation celebrating the end of another bountiful year at Full Cellar Farm (www.fullcellarfarmoregon.com). This year’s vacation was a road trip to visit their farmer friends Katie and Dallas in Kalamath Falls. On the way, they explored the tide pools along the southern Oregon coast, hiked in the Redwoods, climbed Mt. Elijah near the Oregon Caves, and watched the stars through the skylights in an off-grid hippie Airbnb in Cave Junction.
While we were hiking gleefully out of cell phone range, Richard replied to my email.
RICHARD: Great. I entered the basement last week and noticed heavy dead rat smell throughout unit, but more pronounced in living room area. Same today as cleaners are in there with heat on. Have you been by to check on bait since 11.6.19? Do you have any recommendations to eliminate odor? I am researching a company called NoOdor which sells pouches of a natural substance they claim attracts the odor molecules and traps them in the material. Need about one $15 pouch for every 150 sq. ft. Has good reviews for what that is worth.
STORYSOLD: Thanks for being patient with me. We snuck out of town for our annual post farm season trip. Here’s the rat report from my last service on October 15th: 1) I messaged Tyree and she’s still hearing scratching around her bathroom and bedroom/chimney area, which has been her story every time. 2) The bait I left on my last service had an effect. It was half eaten. Still no way to know how many I’ve killed, or how many are left…
3) I checked out the basement apartment. I didn’t notice a smell, but I still smelled it in the chimney. I was hoping for some inspiration, but all I found was 2 inactive entry points and Pioneer’s old mouse traps. Speaking of which, I am still collecting all their old equipment with the intention of mailing it or dropping it off next time I’m in Vancouver. 4) I removed the ineffective live catch traps from inside the kitchen. Tyree and her mom reported they haven’t seen a rat inside in a long time. 5) I devised yet another original chimney trap made from a live trap, a snap trap, and a bag of dog food. I have hight hopes…
6) The reoccurring hole has yet to reappear, so that’s good news. Moving forward, I’m going to go back to weekly trap checks and check ins. I’ll send you the full report/service story soon.
RICHARD: Thanks Jake. Referring to item 2 in your report: when did you leave that bait there? I was in the bottom apartment yesterday and the strong dead rat smell was gone, but did notice an unidentified odor. Maybe the last remnants of the dead rat odor?
STORYSOLD: I smelled it too, but I thought it was the stuff the odor guy you hired used. At that time, I was checking our rat fishing hole twice a week. Here’s my text exchange with her: STORYSOLD: Hey sorry to bother you Tyree. I saw that you were busy when I stopped by, but I was wondering if you could give me an update? Have you heard more or less scratching this week? TYREE: So far the only thing is the smell. I haven’t seen them or heard them. It’s jus the smell STORYSOLD: Ok, I had no sign of activity in hole this week, but I’m not giving up. I put some water down to see if they drink it…I’ll be back next Monday. Thanks for your help 🙂 TYREE: You’re welcome we will get them
And here’s the next report I sent to Richard:
STORYSOLD: I checked the traps again on Dec 2nd. My live trap/bait mix showed no signs of activity, so I send a bottle of water down with a few traps and bait in the hope of getting some sign, one way or another, to ascertain if they’re still down there. I texted Tyree as well. She said she’s still smelling the smell, but no signs of activity this week. I’m planning to check traps again on Monday.
RICHARD: Thanks for update, Jake. What is the bottle of water for?
STORYSOLD: The water is bit of a stretch. I know the rats need 2oz of water per day, and I thought if they’ve become “bait shy” at least they’ll drink the water and we know they’re still down there. The box below has a new flavor of bait and a couple of snap traps.
RICHARD: You wiley clever guy…
As promised, on Monday, I checked in again:
STORYSOLD: I’m stopping by to check my hole. Have you had any signs of activity last week? TYREE: Nope nothing. STORYSOLD: Good sign, I’ll check in again next week TYREE: Ok coo
A week later I checked in again:
STORYSOLD: Hello! Just a heads up. I’m going to drop by in about a half an hour. Any signs of activity since last time? TYREE: No nothing so far jus the smell STORYSOLD: Looking good on my end 🙂 happy holidays! TYREE: [thumbs up] happy holidays
STORYSOLD: [to Richard] We’re on a roll. 3 weeks no signs of activity in fishing hole or reports of activity from Tyree. RICHARD: Wonderful….it’s a Christmas storysold And that’s how our service wrapped up. Just in time for Christmas. There was only one more scene I needed to perform to make our story complete:
Mailing the traps back to Pioneer was gloating, for sure. But it was also a reminder for us, as well as all our fellow rat catchers, that we should never be too comfortable eating at our customers’ tables. Two years is way, way too long to be living with rats.
And that was the scene I wrote when I was a hopeful hearted rat catcher. It was the rats turn to write next.
What wrote made “hope” look like a word that was only good for hooking suckers.
CHAPTER 6: Hope Isn’t Always a Good Thing
Many months later, like a monster in a horror film, the rats returned to stir the pot of action again. The new tenants in the downstairs unit reported hearing scratching in their ceiling and walls near the door right outside the once open drain pipe leading to the sewer. That activity was followed by the presence of flies outside their door and the smell of death.
Long story short, I checked my rat fishing hole. The water had evaporated from my Powerade bottle, but everything in my little box of tricks was as I left it. And Tyree said she hadn’t heard or seen any new signs of activity. How that rat (or whatever) happened to roar suddenly to life like a nearly beaten monster from the depths of the sewer only to die trapped somewhere underground was beyond my powers to understand. The good news was, it prompted us to not only do a more permanent exclusion on the once open drain, but the still open attic spaces as well.
Here’s some proof-of-work shots from those exclusion adventures:
So, now, as of July 18th 2020 the home I’ve dubbed “Old Pioneer” in honor of the 2 years Pioneer Pest Management freshened the bait in the stations like snake oil salesmen every so often, is once again sheltering humans without the aid of a rat catcher. I know many of you readers must be wondering, “How can we afford to turn our backs on this story? Obviously the rats are going to rally and try to cross The Line again! Wouldn’t it make sense to pay a rat catcher to, at least, check The Line every month or two?” If you’re one of those readers, our answer is still “No.” Don’t feed the rat catchers. They will never catch the rats if you do.
Did that last paragraph still sound hopeful to you? It should, because I really thought that was The End again.
CHAPTER 7 – The Rats Strike Back! (The 2 Year Anniversary)
Today’s date is 1/23/2022. I started this service story in the spring of 2019. Using the skills I’d developed fishing for rats in the chimney, I cleared the rats featured in the previous chapters and enjoyed a nice long break. After all my many trials and errors learning to fish for rats in a chimney, the best trap set up proved to be a large body trap fixed to a 2×4 lowered on a rope down into my rat hole.
I was proud of my newfound rat fishing skill, because it meant that I was meeting my customer’s expectation. I was clearing the rats from what I now call a “wall infestation” without the use of bait poisons. And I was doing it well.
Trouble was, there were always more rats. Right on cue (days before we took our annual post farm season vacation in 2020), the rats rose from the sewer again to reclaim their warm spots on the building’s heating ducts.
You would think that I would have made the connection a long time ago. We were on the same schedule as these got-damned sewer rats. Farmers don’t get vacations in the summer. There’s too much work. Got to “make hay when the sun shines” or some shit like that. The rats were doing the same thing. They were free to harvest The Urban Wilderness, digging their burrows outdoors close to food sources like humans who are nomadic or homeless, migrating from one fruit tree and bird feeder to the next…until their endless summer finally ends when Fall reminds us that Winter is on its way. Apparently farmers and rats both seek warmer climates in November. Only twist on that idea was, in 2020 we didn’t travel south to backpack in Grand Canyon or Zion, or float the Great River in Moab. This year we were facing COVID, so we spent a week in a yurt in Wallowa Lake State Park where we responsibility visited our friends who live in the area.
When I returned from our annual warmth seeking adventure, I returned to my rat hole and fished the ratonauts (rats who explore new territories) from the chimney one by one until the scratching inside was no longer heard. Then I enjoyed another nice long break.
Until next year, right on cue, we about to head off on our annual post farm vacation when Richard emailed to let me know his new tenants (three youthful transplants from Ohio named Claire, Abby, and Debbie) had been hearing scratching in the walls again.
This year’s adventure was the warmest warm scene we could find, a place humans call “Death Valley.”
The wilderness ghetto (aka national park) was far from a lifeless moon colony. Death Valley was full of life at every turn. We even saw a kit fox! It was the first fox our humans had engaged in the wild ever.
CHAPTER 8 – Capped! (You Have to Be Freaking Kidding Me)
I should have seen What Happened Next coming, but I didn’t see It Coming any more than any sucker member of The Audience.
A few days after our adventure to Death Valley, I walked on stage like Disney’s Goofy prepared to fish the rats from the walls like normal. I set my ladder up in the back, opened the door to the attic, and walked in ready to lower my trap line and catch the rats.
“Gosh!” I exclaimed when I saw that my chimney hole had been capped with plywood. “Someone has sealed off my only access to trapping the rats in this confounded duplex!”
I understand why homeowners exclude The Urban Wilderness from their homes (every wild creature on earth draws a line around their homes), but this was the first time I’d experienced a homeowner who had made an environmental change to exclude their rat catcher from their ability to catch the rats infesting their home.
In that moment, I could hear it. The laughter in Portlands’ sewers could be heard for miles around.
After I took a deep breath, I walked into the upstairs unit where a contractor was working in the kitchen. Tyree was no longer there. She’d moved on; hopefully somewhere where she didn’t have to pay the high price of Portland rent AND listen to the rats scratching through the walls every night too.
I took one look at the contractor and it all made perfect sense. Why hadn’t I seen it sooner?
“It’s the got-damned Californians again!”
He was more of a Classic Bro than a Californian, but clearly he was working for the Great State of California in the kitchen of a home that any loyal Portland native would describe as a “colony.” Before you rush to judgment, please allow me to tell the story…
Since the 80s, Californians have been moving to Portland, buying up “cheap” real estate, and driving up our cost of living. Over the years, the BMWs invaded Oregon in waves. To maximize the effect of their invasion, they also established colonies in Washington, especially in Seattle. The trademark Californian move was to buy property with the intent to sell it at a profit. Californians aren’t homemakers. They sell their homes which are worth a lot more in California, then they buy many properties with their earnings in Oregon. They live in one of the properties, then rent out the rest…and make their small fortunes as landlords and or property managers. In the 90s, native Oregonians began to notice an influx of other prospectors moving in from other parts of the country: New York, Boston, Cleveland Ohio. Oregonians couldn’t afford to buy homes from Californians. The new people were the people the Californians were selling their investments at a profit to.
Our human Jake likes to joke, “I can’t even make jokes about Californians anymore. There’s not enough Oregonians around to laugh at them. Finding a native Oregonian in Portland is like finding a unicorn in a field…they’re like wildlife, always on the run from the next bump in rent.”
From the perspective of a native Oregonian, NE Portland today is unrecognizable as the neighborhood we knew. Instead of an endless parade of fancy coffee houses, bars, restaurants, and ergonomic office spaces (complete with yoga studios), there used to be small businesses in Portland that produced things. The Pearl and Water Ave used to be the industrial part of town. Alberta St. used to have an array of small businesses that weren’t only bars, coffee houses, and restaurants. Henry’s used to brew beer on Burnside St! in a huge beer factory that was amazing. Now it’s just a restaurant called Henry’s. Columbia sportswear used to have sewing factories in town before Girt sold out. And Columbia used to have competitors like White Stag and Foresters who also had factories in town. In fact, the now iconic Portland neon sign with the stag in it…was White Stag’s sign.
These days it’s not okay to hate groups of people, even home invading Californians. It’s not politically correct.
I suppose that makes sense, but America goes to war with other countries for invading and occupying the homes of innocent, freedom-loving peoples all the time. I also suppose it’s way, way too late for Oregon to go to war with California. That epic battle never happened. California and their fellow Home Investors from around the country won a long time ago. For the native Oregonian, Portland will forever be known for what it has become, “Little California.”
Whether or not you believe we’re horribly bigoted is beside the point. The reason why I told that story was, “conquest has its consequences.”
When we talk to customers we don’t call that story The Great Californian Invasion. We gave it a nice comfort-loving soft name. We call it, The Portland Makeover. And The Portland Makeover has made the rat catchers of Portland a lot of money over the last few decades.
The general storyline of The Portland Makeover reads like this: a) a Californian buys a home in an old redline district or up-and-coming poor part of town; b) they immediately begin to remodel it (like the remodel project that closed off my chimney hole!) and the home begins to grow strange add on living spaces like nurse logs grow new trees; c) like the pioneers who deforested The West, what they don’t do is take the history of the home into account, and c) instead of taking a long look at the way the creatures (human and animal alike) used the house in The Past, they reshape it in their own image.
The rats might have respected the new environmental territories produced by The Portland Makeover if the Californians had bothered to do the one thing I do everyday: inspect the Homefront, find where the rats are/were running and nesting, discover all the entry holes, and then secure them with heavy mesh or metal flashing. But that didn’t happen. Symptoms of The Portland Makeover include: large gaps between new roof sheathing and old gutter line, new add on crawlspaces with no access hatches, spray foam insulation installed in attics where the squirrel holes were left open (see our service story The Foam Cave), old uncapped chimneys that lead into the guts of the home, uncapped sewer drains in basements, attic spaces that were turned into living spaces without first securing entry holes (thus turning a routine exclusion into a difficult wall infestation), and of course our before mentioned uncapped rainwater drains.
It’s not that the folks who lived in NE Portland before The Portland Makeover did a better job of excluding entry holes. Our human worked with a lot of NE Portland customers before they were displaced by mural art. It was a poorer part of town, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have good pest control. Like farmers (not hobby farmers) who are also usually poor, rat catching was a normal part of their daily homemaking story. In fact, we met a talented rat catcher in NE Portland named Marvin (when our human was selling his story to Pioneer Pest Management) who gave us a few pointers we use now everyday like the importance of hooking the rats on our food source. Farmers are the same. They all have their own unique (usually highly entertaining) methods for keeping the rats away. In both cases, it’s not that farmers and poor people don’t have the time or money to invest in exclusion work. I blame the genocidal killing based method of rodent control on American culture (and English colonialism before that), especially strange notions of manhood. It’s like in every Marvel super hero you can watch on TV. “Death is the only thing that can stop The Bad Guys (and Pests), because they’re so Bad that no one can ever change their characters.” That of course is total nonsense…and I blame The Pest Control Industry in part for perpetuating that myth.
Anyway, I didn’t talk with the contractor in the kitchen long. Once I realized that my rat fishing hole had been capped because they were remodeling the upstairs unit, I contact Richard about the need to have somewhere to trap the rats in the walls. Throughout this adventure, Richard and I had been in communication about the elephant in the room. Where the hell are the rats getting in?
For some reason, Richard was hopeful that the capping of the chimney combined with some plumbing work he had done would put an end to the never ending wall infestation.
It was less than a week before the youthful transplants from Ohio contacted Richard with more reports of scratching in walls.
Richard asked me what he should do. I said, “Cut a hole in the wall, so I can trap them.”
And that’s exactly what he did:
That was my first set up. The good news is that it caught a rat.
CHAPTER 9 – This Story Goes from Bad to Worse
I should have seen this coming. In my defense, I’ve never had to open a wall in a home to trap rats before. The idea behind the expanded aluminum metal mesh you see in the photo above was my usual thing: do something to change the environment and force the rats into the traps. I have no illusions. Rats aren’t dumb. They know a trap is a trap. Good rat catchers all use what I euphemistically call “environmental pressure” to encourage, push, force, and starve the rats into trying their luck with a trap.
A week after Richard opened the wall, the Ohioans reported that they smelled something death-like. Once again, I put on my Goofy character on and walked in expecting to simply clear and reset my two wall traps.
I noticed that the metal had moved. What I didn’t notice was the bare electrical wire for the heater it was resting on.
“Gosh!” I said as I reached for the metal. “What’re these rats up to now?”
The moment I moved it, I saw a spark. Then I saw a flame burst and fade in a puff of black smoke before my eyes.
Luckily, the maidens I was there to rescue from the rats were there to save me.
“Huh,” Abby said. “Do you want me to turn the power off?”
“Yes please,” I said, still standing with the metal in my hand trying to figure out why I hadn’t been electrocuted. After I made a halfhearted attempt to save face, I peered into the hole in the wall. Sure enough, the wire had been worn bare by years of rats running over it.
Someone in Ohio must have raised these youths right, because the first question they asked was, “Are we in danger of a fire? I mean, are there other wires like that in the walls?”
As our hero borrowed some electrical tape from the maidens and wrapped the bare wire, I did my best not to play prophet and make any kind of dramatic statement about their safety in the future. I did write an email to Richard.
STORYSOLD: I checked in with the tenants on 8th street a few times (via phone) over the last few months. And they didn’t notice any activity until last week (soon after all the snow and rain…which indicates sewers again).
They said they only heard noises once, then it’s been quite ever since. I found 2 rats caught in traps in wall and one very old catch in a trap outside. So it seems I’m winning on the rat front.
But we also had some excitement today…
Soon after you opened the wall, I noticed that the heater wire had been scratched/chewed by the traveling of the rats through the wall. Worried I tried to protect it with some expanded aluminum. Today I saw that the rats had broke through my little blockade. Not thinking, I grabbed the metal to remove/reposition it. It sparked when it hit the wire. I wasn’t hurt, but it gave us all a scare.
Abby was vey helpful. She turned off the electricity for me and supplied me with some electrical tape.
I wrapped the wire, so no wires are exposed now, but my initial worry remains. If I catch a rat and it falls on a bare wire chewed by rats, there is a danger of an electrical fire. The rats already hollowed out the insulation in the wall, so there’s really nothing besides dead rats and traps as fuel, but I thought it would be a good idea to bring the possibility to your attention.
After that, I didn’t put anymore metal in the hole in the wall.
I felt like I was learning to trap rats all over again. After a few catches, I settled on this set up:
It worked like a Marvel hero story works. It killed the rats, but there was still no serious talk about finding the source of this wall infestation. I didn’t blame Richard. Like writing a novel, it’s labor intensive to go back and make edits after it’s been built. And my recommendation was (as usual), “We have to open those walls up and find the entry hole.”
CHAPTER 10 – The Dollars and Sense Value of Stories
Fall of 2022, Storysold: Pest Control was in crisis because our human host’s family was in crisis. There is no short short for that story. All I’ll say is, for the first time since childhood (when our host still believed Jesus would be popping out of the clouds at any moment) we believed The Apocalypse was on its way.
I had a month or two break after I’d cleared something like 10 rats from the hole in the wall. I didn’t trust the calm, so I contacted Abby to ask if I could swing by and take a look see in the wall.
She replied that she and her fellow Ohioans had found a new (rat free) rental in Portland.
I don’t know how that all went down. All I know is, next time I talked with Richard he said he couldn’t rent the unit again without disclosing the rat problem to the new tenants. After five years (maybe more) I wondered what he told his tenants before. In other words, for some reason he no longer felt (or could) rent the unit until he cleared out the rats.
I’m okay with not knowing some things. Embracing the mysteries of nature is a trait storytellers and rat catchers share.
At first, we spent an hour or so spitballing some ideas. Richard was convinced that a sewer scope would help. I didn’t disagree, but I pointed out that we would have seen a lot of reoccurring exit holes in the front lawn above the line if it was broken. And I hadn’t seen even one. I was open to any idea (mainly because I didn’t want to be blamed if it was wrong), but I generally pushed for opening the walls.
Richard did a sewer scope and found no breaks in the sewer line.
In the midst of one of The Family Crisis, Richard called to talk. I wasn’t able to talk. He wanted to know where I would open the wall if I was going to open the wall. This is what I texted him back: BASICALLY ALL I WOULD ADVISE IS TO START AT THE OPENING IN THE WALL AND FOLLOW THE RAT TRAIL TO THE RIGHT.
After listening to the many tenants reports of activity in the walls, the area to the right (like within 5 feet or so) of where Richard cut the hole in the wall was the area with the most reports.
A week later, I got a text from Richard. He’d found an uncapped old rainwater drain in the wall right where I said it would be.
In spite of all the heartache our human host was experiencing on his Homefront, that victory was sweet. We glowed about it for days. “Hell yeah I called that one!” we boasted to other customers. “I felt just like Babe Ruth calling my shot.”
When The Action settled down and the story presented itself, what had happened there was clear: The Portland Makeover had struck again. That wall had been extended out–beyond the original foundation, over the old uncapped drain–when they turned what was a classic NE Portland home into a rental duplex.
The traps in the wall caught one more before I arrived to set more traps in the unit. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my last rat. The End of an epic service story had finally come for the makeover rental duplex on NE 8th St.
Richard said when he opened this part of the wall (shown in photo below) he saw the last rat staring back at him.
In conclusion, “Don’t feed the rat catchers.” Make them to do their jobs and find the entry holes.