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Rodent Code Red—Could It Be Karma?

September 7, 2017
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One of my jobs at CUE Haven is pest control, which entails stocking poison bait stations and maintaining traps to keep invasive possums, weasels and rats from killing both our plantings and the native birds we are trying to bring back.  Just last week I gleefully updated our running totals of pests caught and a few days ago gave a presentation to some high school students on the benefits of whacking introduced baddies.

Somewhere in the rat world, they decided it was time to extract a little vengeance.

As a result of this merciless campaign, among other things, we’ve learned what dead rat smells like and that’s why I was alarmed when we got home the other day and my wife said, “Do you smell a dead rat?”

“Indeed I do,” I responded.

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about our living conditions, but this has happened before.  We have lots of bush around the house and a crawl space underneath and every couple of years we get a whiff of something that’s not quite right but at the same time not horrendous.  I’ve been able to deal with it by spraying some stuff a guy gave me that he claims is used to deodorize cars and hotel rooms that have been smoked in and crime scenes.  And it’s always worked.

Not this time, however.  The stench just got stronger and it seemed to be coming from everywhere.  I kept spritzing until the bottle ran dry and the look on my face was probably how Bruce Willis would have looked if he’d ever run out of bullets in Die Hard.  He probably would have said something similar to my utterances, too.

There was only one thing to do.  Actually two–a sane person would have called in professional help.  But I decided it was time to gird my loins and go down into the crawl space to see if I could find the source of the problem and (the horror) deal with it.

Over three days, I went down twice but was unable to find anything—it didn’t even smell down there.  But the odor was becoming localized in the downstairs bathroom which shares two walls with the crawl space.  That spawned a new theory of where the creature was and a plan for extraction.

Because I didn’t have one of these

I went to plan B, the homemade version

It was hard for my wife to get a clear picture because she was laughing too hard to hold the camera steady.  But she wasn’t the one who was going into the hole!  I, for one, wasn’t laughing.

Even with the greater confidence that my protective gear afforded, I was unable to see any evidence of a rodent incursion.  The insulation was intact, nothing was chewed or disturbed and there were no body parts in evidence.

I gave up the search, but we were truly getting alarmed at the quality and intensity of the smell.  I had inspected every inch of the bathroom where the scent was the strongest but found no possible source.  For some reason it seemed strongest in the shower.  There was no way it could be coming from the drainpipe.  I’d even knelt down and checked.  I looked around for a possible source and that’s when I saw the recessed light fixture.  Please, no!

Getting up on a ladder confirmed my suspicions and my worst fear.  These recessed lights sit in the ceiling cavity.  What if the rat had been walking along and got zapped?  Would it catch on fire?  I was forced to act and the only thing to do was to pull the fixture out of the ceiling.  But what if the rat fell out when I did that?  With maggots on it? There wasn’t enough digitalis in the Southern Hemisphere to bring me back from that experience!

Ascending the ladder and making sure I wasn’t positioned directly underneath,  I took out the light bulb.  I tugged at the fixture while holding a bucket underneath.  The fixture slid out easily and there was nothing there!

Except a lot more stink!

I examined the cavity with a flashlight and didn’t see anything.  I wasn’t sure if I was happy about that or not.  Emboldened by not having had a decomposing rat flop out of the ceiling I took a closer look.  I saw something that looked like a wire where no wires were supposed to be.  Using some kitchen tongs that will never be used again I gave it a tug.

OMG

Of course, the thing didn’t have the decency to pull out easily.  Which somehow made it even scarier.  How could it have gotten wedged between the light bracket and the insulation?  Shouldn’t it have shrunk?

My new primal fear became having the thing come flying out at me when I finally dislodged it, but after a bit of breathless (literally) work, it plopped obligingly into the bucket.

Open windows and a lot of incense are getting things back to normal odor wise.  My blood pressure will take a little longer!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2017 8:31 pm

    You are such smart “smeller” Thomas;…”ratererfact you are the best….

  2. September 8, 2017 11:07 am

    So are you now the go to guy for rat infestation? Luckily we don’t have the problem but many years ago when we first moved to Wellington (where it’s cold) we installed an off peak heater. Very efficient, warmed the house but after a couple of weeks/months, there was a ghastly smell. Yes, it was a dead mouse and we had to get the exterminator man in to fix our problem. Never occurred again but we didn’t care. All was restored.

    • September 8, 2017 9:14 pm

      Yes I’ve had mice too–amazing how such a small creature can create such a big stink!

  3. September 8, 2017 4:27 pm

    Aggh! Your olfactory unguent wasn’t by any chance “Anti-icky-poo?” I bought that for cat pee catastrophes and the package insert said it was suitable for extirpating the aroma of feces, vomit, DEAD BODY… I hope the tongs got an honorable funeral.

    • September 8, 2017 9:12 pm

      This stuff didn’t have a name but vaguely smelled like Murphy’s Oil Soap. Yes the tongs got a much less ignominious sendoff than the rat did.

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