The Honeymoon is Over When a Packrat Eats Your Floor

Pack rats look like hamsters’ big adorable cousins, but they wreak havoc on a trailer house. (Image from animacenter.org)

The following tale is a western adventure involving a cat, a couple of pack rats, my favorite kitchen utensils, and ends with a crescent wrench. This is a true story. I will not tell you, however, that none of the animals were harmed in the creation of this tale.

Everyone with a little bit of cowboy in them dreams of living on the wide open plains of Montana. Wild, windswept prairie, endless views, buttes rising up in the distance, antelope grazing in your backyard, and empty land…we actually lived that dream. In 2003, my husband took over his grandparent’s 30-year-old scale and feed cart business, and we moved into our first owned home: a single wide trailer set on top of a wide open rise on his grandparent’s land in Broadview, Montana.

We also lived in reality, where drought and well pump problems meant no running water for the first four weeks. Rattlesnakes, mice, and pack rats were our first “pets.” Pack rats are Montana varmints about the size of a big pocket gopher, but unlike gophers, pack rats enjoy entering homes. We quickly enlisted a stray cat as the family exterminator. Pack rats are formidable enough, though, that our cat was afraid of a dead pack rat on her first encounter, until she ate it.

Our cat had a late night roaming habit. In the evening before we went to bed, she went outside and prowled the land. And being a clever kitty, she learned how to get herself let in as she pleased in the morning. Our bedroom was in the back of the trailer, with our bed was against the back wall just below a window.

On the outside of the house, just below that window was a decomposing particle board shelf, installed to hold an air conditioner that we did not own. Our cat discovered, though, that by straining to the limits of her vertical jumping abilities, and after several attempts, she could snag the shelf with a claw or two, slide down and create a raucous, repeat the scenario a few times, and eventually perch on top of the shelf where she would scratch at the window until she got let in.

Every morning just before dawn, her scritchity scratching woke us up, and we squeezed the two window tabs, pushed up the window and the cat crawled in, walked across our bed, and then hopped to the floor. After this became a normal morning ritual, I could elbow my husband, we’d each push a tab and let the cat saunter in and we could be back sleeping before our heads hit the pillow and our kitty’s feet landed on the floor in our room.

One morning, however, after conducting our usual scratch-open-sleep routine, our sleep got interrupted by an unfamiliar crunching sound. After it became too persistent to ignore, I climbed over my husband to see our cat with her head tilted in concentration and her jaw opening wide to gnaw on a pack rat. On the floor, in our bedroom.

As disturbing as it was to see our cat eating a pack rat on our new white berber carpet, it was even more disturbing to realize that she entered through the window with said treasure, and then dragged that dead pack rat past our heads on our pillows, and across our fluffy down comforter before taking her little delicacy to the soft, clean carpet to savor and enjoy.

Reason and logic would suggest that a person, and most definitely two people, would notice a large pack rat in the mouth of a cat sitting on a window ledge at face level directly in front of them.

Sometimes, however, we defy both reason and logic. We had no clue that a dead varmint entered our premises until we heard crunching.

I don’t know what the honorable or dignified solution is when you find yourself in the awkward position of hearing your cat enjoying a pack rat on your carpet, but we opted for no intervention. Neither one of us wanted to pick up a partially consumed pack rat and dispose of it properly. (What is the proper disposal method for a pack rat these days? Are they hazardous waste? Can they be recycled?)

Instead, we just let the cat clean up the mess herself. In the quiet of the early morning, we laid there in bed listening for an extraordinarily long time to the grinding crunch of pack rat bones in our cat’s mouth. Finally, the crunching stopped and she commenced licking her fur, and we snoozed for a few more minutes, assuming it was all over.

We discovered, however, that not all parts of a pack rat are edible. After laying in a bed defiled by a dead pack rat, a shower seemed like the proper thing. Jarred climbed out of bed to head to the shower, and his foot came in contact with not soft carpet, but a wet, squishy thing. I don’t know what the dark green organ is on a pack rat, but I do know that it definitely does not taste good. The cat was kind enough to leave it in the exact foot path of those first groggy steps out of bed.

The golf ball-sized green organ thingy smashed on a foot really just leaves a dirty feeling that no soap can wash away.

No need to worry, though, about the loss of life, pack rats are among the more prolific of God’s creatures, and they continued to grace our lives that first year in our trailer. On the domestic front, you might enjoy knowing that while Pampered Chef spatulas are heat-resistant, they are pack rat-irresistable. As newlyweds, many of our possessions were second hand cast-offs acquired during our college years. That made my fancy, expensive spatula a particular treasure. Discovering deep gnaw marks defacing the smooth tip made my blood boil.

The kitchen utensil carnage continued for several days. Each morning I pulled open the drawer to discover wooden spoons and more spatulas falling victim to the gnawing ways of some blasted pack rat. At one point he chewed a hole all the way up through the subfloor and living room carpet, a hole large enough to plug with a tennis ball. This is true.

If that wasn’t bad enough, in the evenings, the varmint made enough packrat racket in our bathroom that it sounded like someone was doing a bathroom remodel under our tub. Every night we heard scraping of wood that could be heard all the way down the hallway in our living room, with the tv on at normal volume.

I started envisioning a little pack rat with a construction hat and a tool belt conducting his own little This Old Trailer House episode right under our tub. In a pack rat New England accent he’d say, “Now, we need to remove a little excess wood from this arear ovah heah.” (gnaw, gnaw, gnaw…)

Finally, though, that pack rat became the Saturday Night Main Event. One night in bed, we heard the gnawing again in the bathroom. Jarred sprang into action, and removed the access panel to the tub. He managed to get the varmint cornered between the tub, wall, and an Igloo cooler (as per standard pest control protocol).

What happened next is best described as vigilante justice. In Saudi Arabia, the punishment for theft is losing one’s hand. In Montana, the punishment for consumption of Pampered Chef spatulas, my wooden spoons, and our house studs and subfloor is, well…you get the picture. A large crescent wrench is in fact all one needs to control a pest infestation. A few thuds and a triumphant yell later, we drifted off to sleep under the quiet of our starry prairie skies. And of course, we lived happily ever after.

 © 2012

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