Oh Rats!

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By: Tom Fletcher, CFP®

When I was a kid I read Leiningen Versus the Ants, a short story that was so vivid to me that I couldn’t ever forget the plot. Briefly it was a tale about a landowner surrounded by rainforest. One day a gigantic colony of enormous and hungry ants left the forest and decided to attack Leiningen’s plantation; literally eating everything in sight. Leiningen had designed elaborate lines of defense to thwart such an invasion including canals and gasoline, but the ants were more clever and eventually Leiningen had to abdicate his property as the ants through teamwork and ingenuity eventually overtook the plantation.

I can’t say I’m in a similar position, thank goodness, but recently we’ve had a spate of rat sightings due to some heavy construction taking place on our street. Unfortunately it happens in the city. Let’s call them urban coyotes. Somehow the construction must have unleashed several of these hideous critters because we started spotting them regularly. It first began when my wife, who likes to garden, was admiring her work from our kitchen window. I heard a shriek, and then the dreaded “Tom, get down here! There’s a rat in our courtyard!” Surer than a shingle, in broad daylight a huge Norway rat in no particular hurry was casually munching on one of her plants in the courtyard corner. Needless to say, I was horrified- especially because we don’t have a source of food for them. Other than through the house, the only way to access the courtyard from the street is through a passageway that is fortified with a metal mesh door.  Clearly this door wasn’t a deterrent, and I wasn’t planning on standing idly by and have those creatures overrun our property. It was time to take action - much like Leiningen! After giving it some serious thought, I marched down to the local hardware store and bought some hardware cloth, bricks, wood, pipe insulation and a couple of very large rat traps. Sorry if I’m offending, but I wasn’t interested in a catch and release program here. 

After spending at least four hours constructing this crazy rat defense system, I was feeling pretty good about my chances of A) catching a rat in my peanut butter baited traps and B) eliminating the incursion threat. Regarding A), I caught an awful lot of ants, but not one dirty rat. And B), it worked about 2 days before that sucker chewed through the pipe insulation and clearly got back into our courtyard. Now I was frantic. These rats had become worthy opponents. That theme from the short story kept haunting me.

It was off to Home Depot to fortify my defenses. Repurposing can be a beautiful thing. After wandering the warehouse in a daze I finally found a possible solution on what seemed like isle #168 - I found some mesh gutter guards. Combining those with the bricks, wood, and hardware cloth I think I’ve put an end to the incursions. Additionally since the construction stopped, I haven’t seen any rats since.