Rats!

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2015

They love the City of Gardens too.

It’s great to live in the City of Gardens, especially in spring when the landscape is effortlessly lush and bursting with colour. Living in Canada’s Rat Capital, however, is not nearly as enamouring. Over the years I’ve seen more rats in my Victoria back yard than I ever saw on the farm where I grew up. Rats creep me out, with their giant-worm tails, conniving eyes and pink, humanoid feet. My guy likes them even less, his phobia spawned by an old family story that involved him, his crib, his baby bottle and a rat.

What we have locally is a huge population of rattus norvegicus, a non-native species originally from northern China yet commonly known as the Norway rat (go figure). They like the low life, typically living in burrows or beneath sheds and woodpiles.

Like most Victorians we keep our yard reasonably tidy. We compost properly, don’t feed the birds, and keep the garbage well contained. The shrubs are regularly pruned, especially along the fence line to discourage safe cover. The food is picked as soon as it’s ripe. 

In other words, move along, Norvegicus, there’s nothing to see here.

Then again, there have been lackadaisical times too. A few years ago we figured rats were wintering in the kids’ old playhouse but we were both too chicken to take appropriate action. Instead, we meekly opened the door to let in the neighbourhood cats.

Here’s the scoop on urban cats. With their tummies full of kibble they’ll come over to kill all the birds just for fun and poop in your garden but they’re far too content to wrestle with a rat. Some folks might say that’s nature’s way, but these folks would be wrong. In the natural order cats would be hungry night-time hunters and the nocturnal rat would be a species on the run.

Last summer, after a week away, I startled a rat basking in the flower bed. That did it; we hired a pest control expert. Oh yes, he killed quite a few with his strategically placed bait station, but it made little difference and eventually he gave up. “I don’t know where they’re coming from but you’ve got a serious problem here,” he declared over his shoulder in retreat.

There’s an abandoned house in the nearby woods that will soon make way for six new homes. According to our neighbourhood Saanich councillor— whose own truck had the wiring eaten out of it a few months ago—our local police force wanted to simulate a takedown there before its demise. Unexpectedly for them, when they threw in a couple of well-aimed smoke bombs it was rats that poured out in all directions. (Shaken witnesses didn’t specify whether they came out with their little hands up.)

In our yard Diesel the Dog scooped one up on its frantic relocation journey. “Drop it,” we screamed, which he dutifully did, but then we had to put it out of its misery with the garden shovel, a trauma that drove us all into the house, Diesel the Dog included.

We went to Buckerfields and bought our own bait station. It works. Yesterday another rat ground to a halt just five feet away from where I was gardening. I froze, then realized it wasn’t moving either. Already a few blowflies were delivering maggots. I gagged. I cursed the developer for passing on his problem instead of dealing with it himself. Surely he knew what was up the first time he laid eyes on the place.

And don’t get me started on Roof Rats—Rattus rattus. (Who dreams up this nomenclature?) Yes, Victoria, they live with us too. They’re lean, agile climbers that like the high life. Years ago I came face to face with one filling his cheeks up in the pear tree. I screamed and we both fled. Five minutes later I felt brave enough to return and lo, so did he. I’m a nervous fruit picker now.

In the City of Gardens we have plenty of company. What’s nice for the people is, unfortunately, also nice for the rats.

Last winter Trudy wrapped the old playhouse in steel mesh and triumphantly reclaimed it for her garden tools. So far the rats have acquiesced.