Rats in the Barbie

Mickey MouseI’m a little high on caffeine as I write this. In fact, I’m so high on caffeine that my computer can’t keep up with the rate at which I’m typing (or at least it didn’t for that first line, now it’s apparently figured out that I’m hepped up on speed and it needs to put it in hyper-drive). I’m not supposed to drink coffee or caffeinated beverages of any type. They are too hard on my body, I am too sensitive to their effects, and my adrenal glands can’t keep up with caffeine’s adrenaline-induction demands. I tax my adrenals plenty with long surf sessions and an unnaturally high degree of self-induced stress and anxiousness.

So despite all that sensitivity and taxed adrenals, I’ve had two caffeinated beverages today. I’m allowing myself these normally forbidden drinks because I was up late last night. I stayed in town later than usual so that I could enjoy an incredible gourmet meal. I’d gone to town in the first place, to buy much needed groceries and to hit the hardware store where the following items were purchased: a rake, a brass hose bib, a large plastic rat trap, and three little sachets of red rat poison pellets. I find it interesting that unlike the brand I’m used to which is light blue, this rat poison is blood red. It’s like they are sadistically illustrating the fact that the little bugger is going to bleed out when he eats those things. I hate using poison. I know it is cruel beyond measure, but the reality is that I live in a place where the rats and mice will take over if you don’t keep them in check, especially after the rains we’ve had two summers in a row. All that rain means lots of grasses, grasses mean seeds, and seeds are the delectation of rodents.

Here’s the thing: for the second time in a period of less than two months, a rat has moved into the barbecue. It’s a big rat, measuring between six and eight inches long, head to butt, twice that measured head to tip of tail. It’s coat is the color of coal, its eyes jet black. I know this because it doesn’t run away when I open the lid to the barbecue. It scoots under the grill and lies there thinking I can’t see it. And I didn’t see it the first time I opened the grill. It’s almost exactly the same color as the char-encrusted grill under which it squeezes, but on closer inspection my eyes register what they are seeing and I invariably and instinctively jump back a bit and feel my heart clench in my chest.

I can’t have a rat living in the barbecue for so many reasons: Hantavirus, rabies, neither I nor my guests like the flavor roasted rat shit gives to meat, and the aesthetics of the situation, including the fact that the bugger is tearing up the barbecue cover to add to the nest s/he is building inside. Then there’s the whole potential for a family of rats to result from this single individual and the chaos they could wreak in a very short period of time. So no, no, we cannot have a rat living in the barbecue or anywhere else on the property for that matter. No matter how cute s/he is.

It’s worthy of note that not one of the dogs have taken matters into their own paws. They’ve done bupkis about this or the previous rat despite three of them being expert mousers. At the height of the mouse outbreak we had this spring, I found at least one mouse, dead, but intact, with fur soaked in slobber, left by the pantry door much as you would expect a cat to do. I think Millie was the most successful of the bunch, but I know she had help from Peanut and Friday corralling the little buggers. So with that in mind, I lifted Millie up to see the first rat that moved into the barbecue. I figured as soon as she smelled or saw it she’d go nuts and that she would hold vigil by the barbecue until that pesky rodent showed his face and she could bound in for the kill. It was only a matter of time, right? Well, she didn’t go nuts. She didn’t respond at all. It was like she had no idea what I was showing her and couldn’t smell it either. Like she had no experience whatsoever with anything bigger than a field mouse. That’s when I realized, with great disappointment, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

The first course of action was to borrow a live trap from a neighbor. I’d looked into that rat’s eyes and wasn’t comfortable killing her. I figured it was a her because she appeared to be making a nest and that is pre-natal behavior. Another neighbor, Dave, admonished me for referring to her as a “her.”

“How do you expect to kill it, if you assign it a sex? What next? Are you going to name it?”

He had a valid point, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d looked into her eyes and saw the soul within. She meant no harm. She was just doing what rats do. And she was kinda cute. Nothing like the sewer rats in the 70s horror movie Ben or the paper mill rats in a city near where I grew up that surely inspired Bowie’s Future Legend lyrics “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.”  I’m pretty sure that the image of Mickey Mouse was inspired by this particular species of rat, so cute are they with their big Mickeyesque ears.

The next time I checked on her, hoping beyond hope that she’d moved on, she rammed her head between the grill rungs trying to dive beneath, did her best to wriggle through the small space, but couldn’t. She backed off and tried diving under a couple more times before giving up. Then she just sat there and looked at me with those big black eyes. That’s when I realized she was getting too fat to fit below the grill and her death sentence was commuted.

Rather than kill her, I decided to relocate her. I hatched a plan that involved grabbing her with tongs and putting her in a bucket to be transported several miles down the road.

I got my tools together: leather gloves, a towel to throw over her, tongs to pick her up with, bucket with lid. The next morning I stood there tools at the ready, psyching myself up and visualizing how it was going to go down. Lift lid, throw towel, grab with tongs, plunge into bucket, place lid on bucket. I took a deep breath and opened the lid.

She wasn’t there.

Later that same day I went back and looked again. This time she was there and she didn’t even try to run away. She was lying on her side, panting.

The thought flashed through my head, Jesus, she’s in labor.

I pictured little rattlings falling out of her as I grasped her with the tongs. I shrugged, and picked her up anyway. To my great relief, no little pink, hairless rodents spewed forth from her nether regions. I placed her in the bucket and put the lid on.

Off we went for a ride on the ATV. I found a culvert and carefully dumped her inside, figuring that here she would at least have some protection from winged predators. I continued on down the road to surf, feeling a pulse of good karma wash over me.

On the way back from the surfbreak, I stopped to check on her and half expected to find her there, tending her brood. But I also had a sneaking suspicion she might be dead. I’d begun to wonder if perhaps her “labor” wasn’t in fact a sign that she’d found some of the poison I’d placed carefully around the property in places frequented by mice and rats. My conscience demanded that I determine the end result.

Nada. Nothing. No rat in sight. I figured she either crawled away to a hole somewhere to give birth or was eaten by a predator. Either way, she was no longer in my barbecue. I breathed a sign of relief and within a couple of days stopped torturing myself with the lyrics to that annoying UB40 song that goes, “There’s a rat in ma kitchen, what am I gonna do?”

Three weeks later, I had a group of people over to my house for an impromptu dinner party. A couple of the guys took a bunch of meat out to the barbie and out hopped another rat. I’m assuming it was another rat because I don’t think there are homing rats and I doubt whether one could find its way back from a little over two miles away. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) This one does, however, bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor.

I’ve been trying to extirpate the little bugger ever since. It’s been a couple of weeks. This time I’ve resorted to traps, figuring it’s the most humane killing method and allows me to feed the corpse to the local vulture or owl population. But it springs the trap without getting caught every time regardless of what I bait it with. I’m at a loss. How do I get rid of it without using poison? There’s got to be a solution. One friend suggested I pour myself a good shot of Don Julio Añejo and wait by the barbie with a BB gun. Based on my experience with Angeles’ cat, I’m not convinced a BB will do the job. And furthermore, how do I prevent this from becoming an ongoing issue? I can’t be exterminating rats with regularity. The karma’s too heavy. And UB40 playing over and over in my head is gonna drive me crazy. What can I do to prevent this from continuing dear readers? I need your help!

Mercy

Artword by Erika Ashley

The following is an excerpt from the memoir I am writing about my first three years living in Baja, Mexico.

It was a cool April evening in 2002 and I was visiting with Kani and Barry in their palapa-covered living room when the bell at the gate announced someone’s arrival. Out of the dark Angeles, the woman from the palapa restaurant on the beach, appeared, an anxious expression on her face.

Buenas noches,” she said, a little out of breath. “I am sorry to interrupt you,” she said making eye contact with me, and then to Kani said, “But do you have an injection I can give my cat?”
Kani and Barry looked from Angeles to each other and back again with confusion. “An injection?” Kani said, “what kind of injection?”
“You know, the kind that will put it out of its suffering. Juanito’s dog Chaquira got my cat and I think he’s broken his back. He’s suffering and I want to give him an injection to stop it.”
“Oh!” Kani said, understanding that she wanted to euthanize her cat, “oh no, we have nothing like that. It isn’t legal for us to have it.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment clearly written on her face, ”someone said you had it, from when your cat was bit by the snake.”
For some reason I interjected, “I can come and look at him for you if you like. Then we can decide if he can be saved or not.”
A look of hope flooded her face and she smiled, “Would you? Yes, please I would appreciate your help.”
Angeles and I walked back to the lot where her family’s house sat, unfinished grey concrete, the lot defined by a barbed wire fence with posts made from the branches of native trees. The moon was almost full that night and lit our way. When we entered the property Chaquira brought Juanito out of the house with her barking. He carried a flashlight and called to ask who was there, his eyes not yet adjusted to the semi-darkness. Angeles responded and he joined us next to a pile of old tires covered in tarps and some pieces of old carpeting. Angeles pulled back a tattered blanket to reveal her cat beneath it. Even in the poor light I could see he was very old. His bones were visible under his dull coat and he felt fragile like a baby bird when I reached out and touched him. I asked them to describe what the dog did and with some gentle prodding and manipulation I could feel where his spine had been broken two-thirds of the way down his back. He moaned a couple of times, the deep pathetic sound of an animal in great pain who can do nothing to retreat.
I asked Angeles if anyone in the village had a gun. While it is illegal to possess firearms in Mexico, there is an exception for ranchers who need them to protect their livestock from the ubiquitous coyotes and occasional cougar.
“Yes, my uncle – he has one.”
She wrapped the cat in the blanket taking great care as she lifted him into her arms and together we retraced the path we’d just covered a few minutes before.
At El Caballero Angeles called to her uncle and spoke to him in Spanish. Pelon, as he was known, or Baldy, had a coarse face with a crooked and hooked nose, presumably the result of run-ins with bulls, horses and perhaps, I thought, the occasional man. He wore blue jeans, a white collared shirt, cowboy boots and a belt with a shiny silver belt buckle. In one hand he held a can of beer and, I noticed as he came to the doorway from which Angeles had called him, he was not too steady on his legs using the door jam to steady himself. He regarded me suspiciously, with a look that I interpreted as, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my backyard?”
Angeles explained why we were there and he barked an order to a young tall boy in the restaurant, who scurried off and quickly returned with a rifle. We were soon joined by another man, with a greasy and pitted complexion and a soft chubby body visible under his ill-fitting white t-shirt and cotton pants. Pelon remained in the doorway appearing strangely aloof in his drunkenness and continued to bark orders at the two men and Angeles. I had no idea what he was saying.
It occurred to me that as the owner of the cat Angeles should not be present when the men killed her cat. It would be too traumatic and it suddenly occurred to me, what if they weren’t successful with the first shot? I suggested that she leave and promised I’d stay there until the deed was done and would return with the cat so she could bury him. Her face flooded with relief. She related the plan to her uncle, placed the cat in a curved depression on a broad tree trunk that was growing along the ground and left.
Pelon issued another order to the young man standing there in the semi-dark who now looked overwhelmed and intimidated by his charge. He held the gun out to the chubby man, who sat on the crooked tree trunk next to the semi-conscious cat. The chubby man shook his head drunkenly and dismissed this idea with his right hand. Then he said something that sounded like words of encouragement and pointed at the cats head.

The young man cocked the gun and pointed it gingerly at the cat’s head. The muzzle moved up and down uneasily. Pelon barked at him again and laughed. His laugh was a harsh and cutting sound. Bullied to proceed, the young man pushed the muzzle up against the side of the cat’s head. I steadied myself for the retort, stepped back in anticipation of the noise.  He pulled the trigger.

Pffflluut! came the flaccid sound of air pressure released. The cat moaned. This was not the loud bang of a rifle cartridge.

It was nothing but a pellet gun.

The realization horrified me, but before I could try to intervene, Pelon was issuing more commands. And by the way he was waving his arm toward the cat, he was telling the young man to shoot it again. The look on the young man’s face indicated he was as horrified as I, but Pelon persisted and the cat moaned again. Perhaps out of compassion for the cat, he hunched his shoulders and cocked the gun, pushed the muzzle against the cat’s head, and pulled the trigger. Another moan, this one slightly higher pitched – the cat was clearly in great pain and each attempt to put an end to it was only making matters worse. Pelon and the chubby man were now both egging the young man on to try again. I couldn’t let this continue and begged them to stop. “Alto! Alto!” I pleaded. They regarded me like a fly. The chubby man now stood and took the air gun, cocked, pointed it, and pulled the trigger, three times in quick succession. The cat moaned and then began to yowl a wail that pierced my heart. I was on the verge of tears. The poor animal was still not dead despite the five pellets sitting somewhere in its head. The men shrugged, Pelon turned, and with the chubby man in tow, walked back into the light of the restaurant. Only the young man remained, looking uneasy, but with a hint of compassion in his dark eyes. That’s when I knew I had to do something to put the poor animal out of its misery. How much more life can it have left in it? I thought.

As gently as I could, I took his skinny neck in my hands and squeezed. The young man regarded me curiously. I’d expected the cat to go limp in my hands, for the life to drain from him effortlessly, for his body to jerk slightly as he gasped for the breath I denied him. His neck felt so skinny, I could have used one hand. But I miscalculated. This cat, despite a broken back and head riddled with pieces of metal, still had life in it. He did not “go gently into that dark night.”

As I tightened my grip, his muscles contracted, and his neck seemed to expand against my hands. The cat sputtered. Had his body not been destroyed, it was clear he would have fought me, but he had no body to fight with. I knew I couldn’t stop. It had to be done. After what seemed like a very long time, the muscles in his neck relaxed and I felt him go completely limp. I didn’t release my hold on him right away. When a good minute had passed and it was clear he was truly gone, I finally let go, relief washing over me. My hands and fingers ached with the effort and I squeezed them closed and open again. As I did so, I looked up saw the young man looking at me with concern. He said something quietly that I interpreted to mean, “It’s done.” I nodded and proceeded to wrap the cat in the blanket. I stood and walked back into the darkness along the dimly moonlit path towards the road that would take me back to Angeles’ house.

I called to her out of the darkness when Chaquira’s barking made me stop short at the gate. In response to Angeles’ wrinkled brow, I told her it was done.

“Do you think he suffered?” she asked.

I lied. “No, it was fast. He didn’t feel any pain.”

It was a cool April evening in 2002 and I was visiting with Kani and Barry in their palapa-covered living room when the bell at the gate announced someone’s arrival. Out of the dark Angeles, the woman from the palapa restaurant on the beach, appeared, an anxious expression on her face.

Buenas noches,” she said, a little out of breath. “I am sorry to interrupt you,” she said making eye contact with me, and then to Kani said, “But do you have an injection I can give my cat?”
Kani and Barry looked from Angeles to each other and back again with confusion. “An injection?” Kani said, “what kind of injection?”
“You know, the kind that will put it out of its suffering. Juanito’s dog Chaquira got my cat and I think he’s broken his back. He’s suffering and I want to give him an injection to stop it.”
“Oh!” Kani said, understanding that she wanted to euthanize her cat, “oh no, we have nothing like that. It isn’t legal for us to have it.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment clearly written on her face, ”someone said you had it, from when your cat was bit by the snake.”
For some reason I interjected, “I can come and look at him for you if you like. Then we can decide if he can be saved or not.”
A look of hope flooded her face and she smiled, “Would you? Yes, please I would appreciate your help.”
Angeles and I walked back to the lot where her family’s house sat, unfinished grey concrete, the lot defined by a barbed wire fence with posts made from the branches of native trees. The moon was almost full that night and lit our way. When we entered the property Chaquira brought Juanito out of the house with her barking. He carried a flashlight and called to ask who was there, his eyes not yet adjusted to the semi-darkness. Angeles responded and he joined us next to a pile of old tires covered in tarps and some pieces of old carpeting. Angeles pulled back a tattered blanket to reveal her cat beneath it. Even in the poor light I could see he was very old. His bones were visible under his dull coat and he felt fragile like a baby bird when I reached out and touched him. I asked them to describe what the dog did and with some gentle prodding and manipulation I could feel where his spine had been broken two-thirds of the way down his back. He moaned a couple of times, the deep pathetic sound of an animal in great pain who can do nothing to retreat.
I asked Angeles if anyone in the village had a gun. While it is illegal to possess firearms in Mexico, there is an exception for ranchers who need them to protect their livestock from the ubiquitous coyotes and occasional cougar.
“Yes, my uncle – he has one.”
She wrapped the cat in the blanket taking great care as she lifted him into her arms and together we retraced the path we’d just covered a few minutes before.
At El Caballero Angeles called to her uncle and spoke to him in Spanish. Pelon, as he was known, or Baldy, had a coarse face with a crooked and hooked nose, presumably the result of run-ins with bulls, horses and perhaps, I thought, the occasional man. He wore blue jeans, a white collared shirt, cowboy boots and a belt with a shiny silver belt buckle. In one hand he held a can of beer and, I noticed as he came to the doorway from which Angeles had called him, he was not too steady on his legs using the door jam to steady himself. He regarded me suspiciously, with a look that I interpreted as, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my backyard?”
Angeles explained why we were there and he barked an order to a young tall boy in the restaurant, who scurried off and quickly returned with a rifle. We were soon joined by another man, with a greasy and pitted complexion and a soft chubby body visible under his ill-fitting white t-shirt and cotton pants. Pelon remained in the doorway appearing strangely aloof in his drunkenness and continued to bark orders at the two men and Angeles. I had no idea what he was saying.
It occurred to me that as the owner of the cat Angeles should not be present when the men killed her cat. It would be too traumatic and it suddenly occurred to me, what if they weren’t successful with the first shot? I suggested that she leave and promised I’d stay there until the deed was done and would return with the cat so she could bury him. Her face flooded with relief. She related the plan to her uncle, placed the cat in a curved depression on a broad tree trunk that was growing along the ground and left.
Pelon issued another order to the young man standing there in the semi-dark who now looked overwhelmed and intimidated by his charge. He held the gun out to the chubby man, who sat on the crooked tree trunk next to the semi-conscious cat. The chubby man shook his head drunkenly and dismissed this idea with his right hand. Then he said something that sounded like words of encouragement and pointed at the cats head.

The young man cocked the gun and pointed it gingerly at the cat’s head. The muzzle moved up and down uneasily. Pelon barked at him again and laughed. His laugh was a harsh and cutting sound. Bullied to proceed, the young man pushed the muzzle up against the side of the cat’s head. I steadied myself for the retort, stepped back in anticipation of the noise.  He pulled the trigger.

Pffflluut! came the flaccid sound of air pressure released. The cat moaned. This was not the loud bang of a rifle cartridge.

It was nothing but a pellet gun.

The realization horrified me, but before I could try to intervene, Pelon was issuing more commands. And by the way he was waving his arm toward the cat, he was telling the young man to shoot it again. The look on the young man’s face indicated he was as horrified as I, but Pelon persisted and the cat moaned again. Perhaps out of compassion for the cat, he hunched his shoulders and cocked the gun, pushed the muzzle against the cat’s head, and pulled the trigger. Another moan, this one slightly higher pitched – the cat was clearly in great pain and each attempt to put an end to it was only making matters worse. Pelon and the chubby man were now both egging the young man on to try again. I couldn’t let this continue and begged them to stop. “Alto! Alto!” I pleaded. They regarded me like a fly. The chubby man now stood and took the air gun, cocked, pointed it, and pulled the trigger, three times in quick succession. The cat moaned and then began to yowl a wail that pierced my heart. I was on the verge of tears. The poor animal was still not dead despite the five pellets sitting somewhere in its head. The men shrugged, Pelon turned, and with the chubby man in tow, walked back into the light of the restaurant. Only the young man remained, looking uneasy, but with a hint of compassion in his dark eyes. That’s when I knew I had to do something to put the poor animal out of its misery. How much more life can it have left in it? I thought.

As gently as I could, I took his skinny neck in my hands and squeezed. The young man regarded me curiously. I’d expected the cat to go limp in my hands, for the life to drain from him effortlessly, for his body to jerk slightly as he gasped for the breath I denied him. His neck felt so skinny, I could have used one hand. But I miscalculated. This cat, despite a broken back and head riddled with pieces of metal, still had life in it. He did not “go gently into that dark night.”

As I tightened my grip, his muscles contracted, and his neck seemed to expand against my hands. The cat sputtered. Had his body not been destroyed, it was clear he would have fought me, but he had no body to fight with. I knew I couldn’t stop. It had to be done. After what seemed like a very long time, the muscles in his neck relaxed and I felt him go completely limp. I didn’t release my hold on him right away. When a good minute had passed and it was clear he was truly gone, I finally let go, relief washing over me. My hands and fingers ached with the effort and I squeezed them closed and open again. As I did so, I looked up saw the young man looking at me with concern. He said something quietly that I interpreted to mean, “It’s done.” I nodded and proceeded to wrap the cat in the blanket. I stood and walked back into the darkness along the dimly moonlit path towards the road that would take me back to Angeles’ house.

I called to her out of the darkness when Chaquira’s barking made me stop short at the gate. In response to Angeles’ wrinkled brow, I told her it was done.

“Do you think he suffered?” she asked.

I lied. “No, it was fast. He didn’t feel any pain.”