Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story’s about the time I teamed up with our customers to explore and discover if a no kill rat exclusion service was possible…
I met Jesse and Sandra at Full Cellar Farm’s annual Potato Dig. Turns out they had rats in their home. A few months later, they hired me to help.
After a few moments of meet and greet, I performed the standard intro for my Old Fashioned Rodent Trapping and Exclusion Service minus the part where I set traps. When I was done, I gave the Weegs my first read of their service story.
STORYSOLD: When I popped into the crawlspace I saw two good sized Norway rats! One of which paused to watch me for a second before they disappeared into the add on crawlspace in back.
I was excited because I’m in crawlspaces with rats all the time, but I don’t often see them.
THE WEEGS: What does that mean?
STORYSOLD: It means you probably have a lot of rats down there.
After a nice long chat about rats and The Rats of NIYM and the difference between the two, Jesse and Sandra asked if I could exclude and secure their Homefront without killing any rats.
Historically my character is called a rat catcher. That’s because, during The Pre Industrial Age. our kind would catch rats live. They would literally catch, not trap rats. That wasn’t because humans loved rats more back then (and asked their rat catchers to release the rats they caught in city parks), they caught the rats live to sell them to dog people who would use the rats in a blood sport known as “ratting.” All that’s to say is, the idea of catching and releasing rats (or evicting and excluding them from Homefronts) is a new one.
It would be easy to dismiss the Weegs sentiment as weird or abnormal, but it’s not. I run across humans all the time who either claim to love wild rats, or simply can’t bear the idea of killing anything. They’re often the same folks who feed The Urban Wilderness with bird feeders and wildlife feeding station. I spoke with a nice couple in NE Portland just the other day who called the rats who fed on the fallen seeds under their bird feeder, “long tailed goldfinches.”
Personally I was intrigued by the Weegs request. Until then, I had successfully evicted and excluded rats from soffits and smaller spaces, but I had not ever cleared a sizable infestation without trapping and killing the rats who weren’t smart enough to flee my customers’ Homefronts when I found and marked their entry holes.
After a very collaborative and enjoyable conversation, I agreed to give it a go on the condition that Jesse and Sandra agreed to participate in the process. Live catching rats (or any wild creature for that matter) would be costly and time consuming if I had to drive from Boring to NE Portland each time a rat was caught. Aside from their willingness to join the hunt, the other factor that made this experiment possible was the fact that I’d recently “joined the Gentry” (like the old ratters) and now owned a farm and property where I could release rats for my pack of coyotes to hunt. And I’m only half joking about that. We hear the coyotes howling at night at least once a week. Plus our fifteen acre farm has an amazing lineup of other predators who’d be happy for a warm meal.
In other words, I’m not that company (you know the ones) who have pictures of babies and puppies on their trucks and advertise using words like “bio-friendly” or “eco-friendly” or “organic” or “green” or blah, blah, blah. I make a point to be honest. I won’t tell you I’m doing something “green” to save the squirrels, rats, or whatever, then turn around and kill the creature, or release it at a city park, the moment I leave my customers’ homes. My favorite super green organic service is the one where the company sells humans on the idea of using humane/environmentally friendly bait poison. I mean, come on! Is there really a kind way to poison, or kill, anything? I suppose cutting off a rats head is quicker than, let’s say, killing a rat with environmentally friendly poison bait that causes the rat to bleed internally, sometimes for days, until it finally dies. In The End, killing is still killing. It’s natural to kill to eat and mark our territories. All earth creatures kill in one way or another, even the humans who feed the long tailed goldfinches. Killing is the part that happens when we’re hungry, sometime in the milieu of the day-to-day of domesticating our predatory food supplies.
In any case, at the conclusion of my first service our no kill rat exclusion theme (Jesse, Sandra, and STORYSOLD: Pest Control) settled on an action plan. I was excited. It felt like we’d just assembled The A-Team: a) Jesse was going to begin the trapping process using the live catch traps I set up in crawlspaces; b) I was going to return in a week or so to do the exclusion work, which included two new crawlspace covers I was going to build; c) we were going to sit at the edge of our seats and wait for the rats of NE Portland to produce their action-packed replies to our calls for clearer boundaries and new actions for Jesse and Sandra’s Homefront…
From there the Weeg’s text reports of The Action began to roll in…
THE WEEGS: Hey Jake [yeah that’s our human’s name]! We caught another rat this morning. I didn’t have time to take it anywhere, so I double checked [the exclusion work] all of the vents were blocked and released it in our backyard. I followed it for a bit, but lost it behind our cabinet (the one under the dryer vent hole). Ended up finding some droppings in the cabinet, they had been eating the grass seed, so I’ll clean that up and block the opening on the back.
Here’s the photo he attached:
STORYSOLD: So cute! I’m pretty sure he’ll be back inside by Tuesday. No matter, I have an exciting new twist to the exclusion plan.
Which wasn’t too exciting. It was just adding a one way door to the new crawlspace hatch covers I’d build, but it was a first. And I like new ideas.
THE WEEGS: Another little cutie this morning. We don’t have it in us to take it somewhere while it’s snowing…so we are releasing them in the yard. Looking forward to chatting tomorrow about whether there’s a possibility to mass catch and release instead of one by one…
THE WEEGS: Hey Jake! No action on the door or traps (checked this morning). However, I’ve been hearing some scratching under our floor in the office (north side of the house, near that small vent off of the garage). I was hearing it for a good portion of the day yesterday and then in the night as well. Around midnight, I looked in the crawlspace and couldn’t see anything, but the sound stopped for the rest of the night. Hearing it again today in the hallway, a little south of where I was hearing it last night. Any thoughts? Sharing a recording of it.
STORYSOLD: That’s one of the hangout spots I saw when I was under there. Just means you still have rats in crawl. It’d give it another 24 hours to see if they take to the traps, then if you’re still hearing scratching I’d wire the one way door open or just open the hatch for a night or two.
THE WEEGS: Sounds good. Are they possibly scratching around more, because their entires in and out have been closed up?
STORYSOLD: My guess is that I closed off their route to garage, which was meaningful in some way. But yes, overall they’re trapped inside unless they take the door or get caught in traps.
As a side note, I know humans believe it’s the best brand of trap or the best brand of peanut butter that catches rats, but that’s so not true. The key is applying the right amount of environmental pressure (controlling food supplies and shelter) to trigger the flight or fight response. That’s what makes traps work. Any rat who survives their youth anywhere near humans knows what a trap is.
The next day we received the following text…
THE WEEGS: Just checked the traps. We caught two rats on the south side of the house!
STORYSOLD: Whoop, whoop!
THE WEEGS: Hey Jake! Sooo…the two that we caught we planned to take them somewhere to drop off. I didn’t want to be carrying two rat traps, so we tried to move them into a 5-gallon bucket. The first one went in okay, but as soon as the second one landed in the bucket, they both started jumping. We quickly tried to put on the lid, but one of them got out successfully and darted into our cluttered garage. We had a small window to take the rats somewhere and with all of the antics, we ran out of time and ended up just releasing them into the backyard. Back to the garage rat, we took the two traps that we had just caught them in and set those back up along the walls around where I think they went. Checked them late last night and we caught them! Just got back from releasing them this morning.
STORYSOLD: Oh wow! That’s a proper rat catching adventure for sure! I should have warned you about trying to transfer them. They’re so quick.
THE WEEGS: Those traps are no joke. I had placed them on our backyard patio. I heard a commotion and our dog was jumping around because a squirrel had gotten trapped inside haha.
And the texts continued to roll in…
THE WEEGS (about a week after the last catches): Rat update: I re-baited both of the traps (looked like one had been eaten) with peanut butter and pumpkin seeds yesterday. Checked the trap just now and we caught one! Gonna relocate them today after work.
STORYSOLD: This is going well! How many is that now?
THE WEEGS: This is 6, including the dead we found in the attic.
STORYSOLD: Is the newest one an adult?
THE WEEGS: Juvenile maybe?
STORYSOLD: Oh wow that’s another “teen.”
THE WEEGS: Damn those teens [ 🤣 ]
A week later I received the next update…
THE WEEGS: Update: Traps caught one rat on the south side of crawlspace entrance. Looks to be another teen, maybe juvenile? I’ll get a photo when I pull them out and take them somewhere.
STORYSOLD: Hopefully that guy is The End…
THE WEEGS: It was actually a two-fer. That one on the right looks familiar, I wonder if it’s one we let of in the yard last week.
STORYSOLD: They’re so cute.
THE WEEGS (a few days later): Do you think that the little black rat must have gotten back in the same day we released them (12/4) since you came to button up all the potential entryways the next day? We are curious if this is The End!
STORYSOLD: Honestly I’m not sure. Rats that are all from the same litter can look very similar. As for The End, only time will tell. If you don’t hear any more scratching or noises inside and the traps remain untouched for like a week or so, then you will know for certain that you’ve reached The End.
Two week later we wrote the following text…
STORYSOLD: HAPPY NEW YEAR 🐀 Hi Sandra and Jesse. Just checking in. Did we win? Or are you still experiencing activity inside?
THE WEEGS: Morning Jake! Happy new year! I put out the traps about 2 days ago and nothing so far. I thought I heard a little scratching or something the other night, but could’ve been our in her litter box. We’ll keep checking the traps and keep you updated. Thanks!
Five days later…
THE WEEGS: No action in the traps all this week. Thinking I’ll bait the traps with fresh food this weekend and see if that does anything. If we get nothing all next week, do you think we are in the clear?
STORYSOLD: For sure! Sounds like The End is nigh!
THE WEEGS: Update on our end. Still no action on the traps. I’ll leave it in your court to say when the coast is clear and come get the traps. I’m excited to wrap this up and hear you tell our story!
From there, the scratching at night didn’t end. The traps were quiet, and I knew the rat(s) were still inside, but I was at a loss for a clear storyline to explain why.
THE WEEGS: Hi Jake, it’s officially not over! My dad is staying with us and heard lost of activity in that “popular area” in the crawlspace near the garage all throughout the night, so much so he couldn’t sleep! He found a hole in the garage between the water heater and the washing machine on the sole plate of the framing that leads to the crawlspace. Jesse went into the the crawl space and saw lots of poop in that area, along with two other holes [all interior]. We are closing the garage hole (that we had access to) with a piece from a metal can and Jesse moved traps to that area in the crawl space and in the garage near the hole. We also came across a large burrow underneath the foundation (first photo), was that there when you were under the house? The rest of the images are of various holes (the last three are of the larger hole that we patched). What is your availability this week to come check on things and patch up those holes? Or depending on timing, we may patch up the holes from inside the crawlspace. They are behind the drywall in the garage. Let us know what you are thinking!
And The Action to find the plausible entry hole ensued. After many services (spread out over a month or two) in which I blocked off a potential tunnel and excluded a few interior entry holes and continued to freshen attractant in traps and placed more bags of rat mix in crawl as feelers, I discovered two possible undiscovered exterior entry holes: a) one in corner of roofline in back patio; b) a dime sized gap under the new crawlspace door I had built. Both of which were suspect.
Yet the scratching at night continued after I blocked off both. Then the scratching continued for longer than I considered normal for a rat to survive without food and water, especially water. A rat can go, on average, four days without a water source.
THE WEEGS: Morning Jake! So far no scratching since we put the plastic in that gap of the crawl door. And no action on the traps. I did notice a dead rat in the small crawl on Tuesday when I was under there. Did you see that? Hopefully blocking that gap on the crawlspace door is the answer.
STORYSOLD: No I didn’t see the rat. Must have died after I left. My guess is that it was using that route through the wall to access the garage.
Five days after I did the final exclusion work (replacing the plastic bag markers I put in the entry holes with metal flashing) I received this text…
THE WEEGS: These rats are craving a sequel. We heard them scratching last night. Checked the crawl door and it looks like more dirt has been dug under the wire fence [the original door which I built a cover for. It’s now part of the interior]. No clue how they are getting in elsewhere?
At that point I became convinced that, unless there was a very sneaky entry hole we hadn’t discovered somewhere, the last rat(s) had become “house rats.” Meaning they were foraging at night from nest in crawl space, through walls where the scratching was hear, into the attic, where they could easily pop down into the garage where they were somehow getting food and water…and never leaving the Weeg’s Homefront. That theory also was supported by the fact that they were avoiding the traps.
STORYSOLD: If you want me to take over the trapping process let me know.
THE WEEGS: Good morning Jake! Yes, we think it’s time to have you take over the trapping. What does that look like in comparison to what we’ve been doing? Feel free to call us or we can talk about it when you’re able to come. We moved rooms to sleep in last night due to the rat noises so we are feeling pretty desperate. The scratching starts as soon as we lay down and happens throughout the night.
STORYSOLD: The difference is I have been attempting and failing to coach you through the trapping process in the spirit of our original plan. Now that the front of the main crawl entrance is secured, I believe the story is more likely “house rats” which have learned to survive in the house. I suggest I do a classic lethal trap set up.
THE WEEGS: Thanks Jake! I think that’s a good plan for moving forward. We had a good run with the trapping, but sounds like this last one needs a different approach. When is your availability?
Two days later I set my lethal traps. About a week later the scratching stopped. Two weeks later I cleared the last rat from my trap. Three months later, after no reports of new activity, I wrote this service story which began roughly on November 30 and ended roughly on March 27.
Officially the characters of STORYSOLD: Pest Control agree that four months is a long time to clear and secure a Homefront like the Weeg’s. Honestly we felt a little disappointed with our performance, but that was based mostly on our expectation that, if successful, we might be able to offer a No Kill Rat Trapping and Exclusion Service which used an eviction system and live catch traps to secure Homefronts and mark appropriate territorial boundaries for humans and wildlife alike.
So yeah I was disappointed, but I’m a wilder human character. Deep down I know that it’s unnatural to expect our wilder Homefronts to be like castles with walls that sever our homes from the wild side of The Earth Show. It’s weird to think that the goal of pest control is to transform our city and its thousands of home into an earthbound moon colony. We should have operational control of our Homefronts, but we shouldn’t segregate ourselves from our wild creature friends. We are them and they are us. And the rats of NE Portland did a damn good job of showing the us where the weaknesses were in the Weeg’s Homefront. On a purely pragmatic (dollars and sense) level, there’s a benefit to allowing the rats to live during the exclusion process. If I killed them all, I might not have found that dime sized gap/wood warp under the crawlspace door until the next rat hoard migrated into the neighborhood. The constant testing made this service story a lot more intense, but it also forced us to make the Homefront stronger…
With that in mind, why wouldn’t humans want to surround their Homefronts with rich ecosystems of edible gardens, compost, birds, rats, raccoons, and other wildlife? The richer The Action of the surrounding urban wilderness, the more the Homefront will be tested…and the more a Homefront is tested and breached and its borders are redrawn and rebuilt, the stronger it will be.
Another good way to say that is, the more action-packed your human Homefronts are: the better your stories will be. Conflicts and relationships are what makes our parts in The Earth Show great, not attempting to turn our homes into boring old earthbound moon castles.
I, for one, will remember the Weeg’s service story with pride for a long time. Rare are the humans who say they love rats and then do something to show that. Most humans don’t want to feel responsible for producing the death of the domesticated Disney creatures in their backyard, which isn’t the same thing as engaging our wild creature friends in a wild call and response relationship. That’s what makes you humans more wild than domesticate, and I’d like to thank Jesse and Sandra for showing me that wilder humans can and do exist in Portland’s Earth Show.