This rat has been living large in our house for the past month or so. We’ve seen him, heard him, found the results of his forays into our food. He has banged at the window when he couldn’t get in, mastered the art of pushing open the doggie door, made a nest for himself by digging out dusty plaster and eaten his way through apples, lemons, bananas, bread and small sackful of organic flour. One night we heard gnawing sounds which I tracked to the sideboard, and found Ratty sitting underneath, with one of Jack’s chew toys in his hands, munching away.
His ingenuity was boundless: jumping, swinging, running up walls – to get where he wanted to go. He was as smart as hell too – he took some of Jack’s food pellets and ferried them across to his lair, storing them nearby. And I am pretty sure he was drinking from Jack’s water bowl – I heard delicate lapping sounds from the kitchen one evening, while I was working in my office.
I developed a grudging respect for this critter – but sofabrother wasn’t having any of it. “Soon as you are on holiday and Jack is out of the house”, he said, “I am putting Rattex down. He needs to go.”
True to his word he did so, keeping me updated as to the progress of Ratty’s interaction with the poison. That stuff is horrendous – it is basically big doses of a blood-thinner (Warfarin), mixed into a really nice tasting pellet. The animals die in agony – from internal bleeding. Which I saw, because when I came home, and helped move the washing machine so we could clean behind it – there he was. Lying in a puddle of his own blood. Gasping gently, bleeding from his mouth and anus, making little sounds – in terrible pain.
God knows how long he had been there – but, judging from the blood slick, it must have been a while. He had tried desperately to dig through stuffing I had put into the wall. Trying to get out of the house, to go where I can’t imagine – but he must have known he was in mortal danger. I watched him lying there and knew I had to do something. And the only thing I could think of was to drown him. Another godawful way to die – but one I could manage and one which, I hoped, would go pretty fast.
It didn’t. It was six long minutes of me holding this poor animal down with a hand brush in a bucket of water – watching as he tried to survive. His little paws twitching and reaching for help. His eyes opening and shutting as he tried to swim away. Delicate bubbles coming from his mouth and nose. Little wafts of blood in them. It was too terrible. I talked to him the whole time – apologising and promising we wouldn’t do anything like this ever again. Telling him I was trying to put him out of his pain. Eventually he stopped moving and his body curled into the foetal position.
I was shaken: “It had to be done”, my mother consoled me; “he was suffering.”
Thoreau once said “The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.” The impact of taking this creature’s life sat with me all evening. I still feel sad and low. Life is shit sometimes – all he ever did was be exactly what he was created to be: a rat. And still it killed him.
(Images are of urban artworks by Banksy, the brilliant British graffiti artist. I think they honour Ratty’s spirit.)