Who will bell the rat?


I was, to say the least, very disappointed in them -especially since I hired them for a job. I did it mostly on instinct, I suppose, but I was naïve. Inexperienced. You should never hire anybody on their looks. Never hire anybody you might like to cuddle, even if they come highly recommended.

But, let’s face it, it’s hard to resist a sweet face, and to this day I know that I am still susceptible to nuzzles, or little rubs. And yet, I never would have thought the nuzzlers capable of wanton deception. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I mean, the business world runs on trust, eh? A handshake should be enough. Thinking back on it, however, we didn’t even do that. I hired them sans shake. Sans contract. I am a fool: I hired them after a glance into their eyes and a brief touch -well, more of a caress, really. I’m so gullible -although ‘ashamed’ describes it better, perhaps.

Still, I suppose these things happen. And they’ve both got pretty good personalities, despite fooling me about their qualifications, so I guess I can’t really fault them. I should have known you can’t hire youngsters for a grownup’s job, however.

But don’t you think there are some things you’re better off not knowing? Especially if you live in the country? Especially if you have cleverly leaned an untidy, albeit fragrant woodpile against a house wall in the garage so you don’t have to go out in the rain and snow? Still, I’ve suspected a flaw in the system for some time now. Not the wood, mind you -I figure the garage was a smart move- but sometimes I think there could be even more than one flaw; I think there could be quite a few of them, actually. Quiet flaws: silent flaws that only move when you’re not looking -or maybe, worse, when you’re not even there. Flaws you wouldn’t know about if you didn’t see the little dark things scattered about, and were pretty sure they weren’t bark flakes, or whatever.

Of course, I have to confess that I don’t usually go looking for small, dark anythings in case they have little legs. I have a thing about legs. And anyway, I’m the kind of person who avoids rolling over rotting logs, and assiduously resists any temptation to explore dark and dusty top shelves when I’m searching for something. I mean, you don’t lose things in places you don’t go, eh?

Far better, my friends told me, to enlist helpers to find and eliminate the problems at source -helpers who chase shadows, and eat flaws -it’s win-win, they said, without specifically mentioning rats. They did, however, start talking about cats, how quiet they were, and how little attention they required. According to them, you didn’t even have to bother naming them because they didn’t really care -wave a bit of food around and they’d come. Sometimes they’d even leave presents at the door just like little kids bringing home their art work from school to tape on the fridge door. What could be better than that?

I’ve never been a cat person, though -I only had a dog when I was a kid growing up in Winnipeg. My mother was allergic to both she said, and although she compromised and winterized a dog house for Dostoyevski (I didn’t name him and always called him Dusty), cats were beyond useless to her. I think she figured everybody in the neighbourhood would think we had rats if they saw a cat sleeping in the front window. Vermin were a sign of poor housekeeping in those days, so I never told her about the dead one I found in the coal chute, because I wasn’t supposed to play in there.

Anyway, at the urging of my friends, I hired a couple of large, muscular cats from the Cat Shelter and put their food bowl on the woodpile so they would patrol it, or whatever. I began to worry after a week or so, though -they didn’t seem to be putting on any weight, however much food I put in the bowl. In fact, after a few days, they even began avoiding the bowl and I eventually decided to feed them inside.

I had no idea whether they were taking care of business in the woodpile -shadows still scattered silently when I turned on the light unexpectedly in the garage. And when I was lucky enough to receive a present at the door, it usually contained feathers, or, on one memorable occasion, scales -nothing that rats would wear, at any rate. But the cats, now only nominally bimodular, seemed quite content to spend the day sleeping in the window, and the night prowling around looking for a way back into the house.

I began to wonder if that was the reason they’d been confined to a cage at the local SPCA. Of course, rescue cats don’t come with papers, or any guarantees -just expectations- so I suspect I acquired them without recourse, or whatever the term is. But anyway, I got duds, not mercenaries. I mean, they’re nice enough: they both enjoy a little cuddle on my lap while they rid themselves of any loose fur and, of course, all of the burrs they acquired after a night avoiding vermin. And they quickly regained the weight they lost.  Still, I suspected there was something missing: like they’d never known their mother, or at least, had dropped out of home-schooling early to pursue a life of lallygagging.

Only when I found an article about cats in the Smithsonian magazine by Meilan Solly, did I realize what was going on: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cats-are-surprisingly-ineffective-keeping-urban-rat-populations-check-180970428 To wit, ‘feral cats are embarrassingly ineffective when it comes to catching the prey most commonly associated with their urban jaunts: rats… A potential explanation for the felines’ unexpectedly low kill rate is the size and ferocity of city rats.’ Sadly, woodpile rats were not even mentioned, but I put that down to typical urban hubris. Still, ‘Given the choice between attacking a monstrous rat, a 15-gram bird and a 30-gram mouse, cats tend to opt for the less challenging prey.’ That made sense -especially since ‘rats sensing an increasing feline presence also change their behavior, scurrying inside and largely keeping out of sight.’ Things were falling into place.

Personally, I haven’t seen any rats either, and to tell the truth, I’m beginning to suspect there is something else in the garage as well -under the furnace oil tank, though, not in the woodpile. Last year I saw a small animal waddling up the driveway at dusk, so who knows? Maybe Futz and Putz (I figured I’d better name them) realized they were outclassed in the garage.

And anyway, nobody’s messing with the wood, so what am I worried about? I do try to wear thick gloves when I go down for logs, though -I figure the cats probably know something.



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