So, in the last few weeks there has been some excitement and concern with an unwelcome visitor. We are about a street away from a large primary school which itself backs onto a disused railway line. As well as the people and bird life that use that right of way inevitably there are rats. In fact, this year I’ve seen them extremely regularly as they seem to have developed a sense of boldness that I would have said came from the lack of human traffic during the pandemic lockdowns, had it not been that the footfall on this track had been so high with daily exercise takers that the Lovely Wife had largely avoided it for the best part of two years in the interests of social distancing. Anyway, there is plenty of cover for these rodents and ample food, as even if people did not litter as much as they do, I expect around the primary school bins there are plenty of picking, and the main risk might be to end up as lunch from the urban foxes (although I suspect they are also keener to scavenge as it is a lot less effort).
But normally we do not see rats in gardens or in out street. Usually, the only grey furry pest we have are the squirrels (and their insistence on digging up any bulbs I try and plant in the garden, but that is a moan for another day). But, as anyone who has read any of these rambles will know, we’re avid bird feeders, and this means that non intended guest might decide to partake at the table. There has only been a problem once in the twenty-so years we have been here when a pair of rats nested under a neighbors decking – which itself was not a problem until they were joined by their multiple offspring. In the end, our neighbors at the time had the pest control out and the rats were poisoned with warfarin. The next day I found one of the adults in the garden, still alive but obviously in some suffering. Naively I assumed it would be dead soon and left it, intending to clear it into a bin later. When, two hours later I returned to find it still (just) alive I realised just how unpleasant a death this was and finished it off with a shovel. Anybody who knows me will realize that even as a mercy, I did not find this easy.
So, when a large rat started appearing recently and eating under the bird feeders, I could see history repeating itself. Indeed, when startled the rat vanished exactly where its forbears had some years ago. But right from the start I was a little suspicious. Although it was a large rat, it did not look in the best of condition – almost mangy in appearance. And I am used to rats heading for cover with assurance and at pace – and this one seemed slow and almost uncertain about where cover was.
Over the next few days, the rat was seen in several gardens and one of our neighbors indicated they were calling in the pest control. I had flashbacks to the previous occasion’s horror and was not looking forward to a repeat performance.
The weather was very cold last week with some snow and sleet, and I did not see the rat much. Then the day when the pest control was due to visit arrived. The next day, the weather had improved, and the snow gone so with some trepidation and a feeling that history was going to repeat itself I scoured the garden. The dead rat – for this time it was definitely dead – was easy enough to find and was duly escorted in its impromptu shroud (an old Dixons bag – remember them?) to the refuse bin.
I was glad I’d not had to deliver the coup de grâce this time, but still felt a little sad. Most wild animals we seem able to tolerate in our local vicinity, but the poor old rat is always going to be exterminated if it gets too close. Even people who normally would be extremely tolerant and generous towards wildlife feel the need to draw the line at this particular rodent. And I do not think this will ever change. And to be clear, I am not judging others here as I think I’d also probably get the pest control in like everyone else, while feeling bad about it at the same time.
But this time there was a twist. I found out a few days later that the pest control folks had not come out after all, because of the harsh weather. So, the rat had come to die in our garden, and died of natural causes – disease, old age or both, most likely. Suddenly my earlier suspicions on its condition made sense and while I do not want to advertise my garden as a place old rats can come to have a final meal and wait for the Death of Rats* to pick them up, this one made me feel just a little bit better that at least this one left the word peacefully.
*Fellow Terry Pratchett lovers will of course know him also as ‘The Grim Squeaker’