Thursday, April 5, 2012

Steve Vs. Pests

Amy and I moved into the house in January.  Judging from the range of noises in the walls, it became obvious early on that we had a mouse problem.  So I began to take care of it to the best of my ability.  I caught a few, likely poisoned some others, but found that the scritching and scratching heard nightly didn't seem to change much.  Because of this, my landlord hired an exterminator.

The exterminator was a snide little fellow who cut me off every time I tried to talk, contradicted me at every turn, and was here for about twenty minutes, the first fifteen of which he spent criticizing me for how our furniture was laid out, with the remaining five spent haphazardly throwing poison blocks around the attic.  Both his attempts at insulting me and at exterminating pests failed.  The noises continued.

So I started to look around the house to see if I could find a point of entry and maybe at least cut down on any traffic in and out of the place.  Amy and I spent an afternoon filling holes as best we could in hopes that we might get some sleep.  That's when I noticed the holes in the ground along the fence.  Now, I'm not the kind of guy who can identify the species of animal just by looking at the hole they make.  All I knew is that they were big enough for me to put my entire hand inside, so it couldn't be mice or chipmunks.  I also noticed there was an awful lot of garbage in my backyard, and not my garbage, either.  Tin foil, peanut butter jars, pudding cups.  My neighbor, upon seeing me puzzling over this new detritus quietly came clean.  My neighborhood had a bit of a rat problem.

Now, I don't want you thinking that I'm living in some third world hovel.  I live amongst the bridge and tunnel crowd — the kind of people who could afford to live in Manhattan, but chose not to.  It's extremely suburban and to say that the yards around here are immaculate would be an understatement. 

If all that's the case, how the heck did rats make this area their home?  No one's certain.  What is certain is that there's been a lot of construction in the area.  Three houses within a two block radius have had overflowing dumpsters parked out front for months at a time as additions have been put on and remodeling has occurred.  The rats could have taken a free ride in one of the dumpsters and found themselves smack in the middle of our 'hood, or they could simply have been attracted by the lunch leftovers the construction workers have lackadaisically tossed into the dumpsters each day.  Whatever the cause, they're here.  Add a mild winter into the mix, and you've got yourself a problem.

As soon as I told my landlord about the rats, she called in a new exterminator who quickly went to work the very next day.  This new exterminator was a woman who took her time to listen to everything I had to say, was willing to get dirty, and had nothing to say about our decor.  Within seven days of her first visit, Amy and I were busing dead rats out of our backyard.  And over the next couple weeks, the rat holes became increasingly decrepit and are now clearly abandoned.  Progress has been made.  While our own property seems to be rat free, it's wise to remain vigilant as many other homes have been affected.  Each time the same thing happens.  So worried about the stigma of having rats, people end up keeping the problem from their neighbors until it's too late.  It's unfortunately already had a negative affect on some neighborly relations in the area, and could also lead to their return.

All the while, the noises continued in the walls at night in one form or another.  Over time, they've stopped in all but one location: a small section of the wall immediately behind the headboard of our bed.  Like clockwork, the rustling begins just as we are trying to fall asleep.  Unless, of course, it's warm out.  Should the temperature stay above forty degrees or so, it's largely silent throughout the place.  So it would seem that our mystery critter has been coming in and huddling next to the heating duct for warmth.  Mind you, the basement and attic have been inspected very thoroughly by myself and three different exterminator techs.  While we never found any sign of rats inside, there was once clear signs of mice, but no more.  The smell of uneaten peanut butter from all the various traps fills my attic, and still nothing.  No animals caught in months, and whenever it's cold outside the noise continues.

So, if it's not rats and it's not mice, then what's keeping us up at night?  The finger next pointed to squirrels.  I honestly didn't see how this could possibly be the case as squirrels supposedly do a lot of damage and leave behind very pungent odors, and we have neither of these and no hole.  Like I said, I've spent a lot of time searching for entry points into the house, and I've never seen anything that pointed to squirrels.  Well, except that gaping hole the size of a fist in the side of the place that I completely missed after two months of looking.  It took five minutes of the animal control expert from the extermination company to see it, and I felt like a pretty big idiot.  Obviously he didn't want to close the hole up straight away, just in case something was inside at the time.  What he decided to do, instead was to stuff some steel wool in the hole and see what happens.  The steel wool plug is in there nice and loose, and he figured that if they were inside they'd push it out.  If outside, they'd push it in.  Point being, we'd see some evidence of the comings or goings, and after getting this new evidence, a one-way tunnel would be affixed to the house so they could get out, but not back in.  A week after this visit and the steel wool remains untouched.  The noise continues.

As of right now, no one is sure what's in the wall.  My landlord is game for opening the wall up as a last resort, and I feel like we're getting to that point.  In the meantime, one other action has been taken.  When we moved in, three pine trees lived in front of the house.  Each was taller than the house itself, which is two stories, and one was situated a mere eighteen inches from the facade.  My landlord felt the critters what live in our wall might be climbing those trees to get to the second floor, where the noise is located.  And obviously she was also worried about the house's foundation and such.  Two days ago the trees were cut down.  While our tree free front yard resulted in more light in the studio, thus far it hasn't affected the noise.

Between earplugs and sheer exhaustion, I've learned to sleep through the racket.  Our cupboards remain pest free, the living space continues un-invaded, the attic and basement still show no sign of visitors.  At this point I'm willing to call it a draw.  Since the trees were felled, I have not seen a squirrel anywhere on our property.  I periodically see a chipmunk or two (their burrows are on the opposite side of the property from those of the rats), an occasional rabbit or two stops by in the evening, and all kinds of birds frolic in what trees remain.  Those at least have left me alone.

Except, of course, for the chickadee that I saw fly out of a hole just above one of my studio windows yesterday.



  1. You need to watch an episode of "Infested." You will feel clean in comparison.

    Anyway, we had mice since our house had been vacant for 3 years. Holly and I had to work hard to secure all the entry points, lotsa steel wool. Then the bait, it is all outside, so they never come in, they snack and die later.

    Not a sound now :) ~CJ

    1. I've seen that show. It's pretty messed up, to be sure. I'm going to have another go at things as soon as it's consistently warm. They're more likely to be out than in at that point. At least I hope so.


  2. Oh man I've been there! The rusting in our place came just from behind the headboard of our bed. After several attempts to figure out what it was from the landlord's maintenance guys they decided to open up the wall and get the critter. It ended up being 3 huge black birds that had gotten in from some hole in the roof and had some how managed to weasel into the wall. Of course the maintenance guy didn't expect three birds so as the wall game down the birds came out and flew all over the bedroom. Twas gross.


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