Dave writes: Have you ever had the experience of lying awake in a hotel room trying to sleep while someone’s unattended children run up and down the hall outside your room? The noise keeps you up, and then when there isn’t any noise you remain awake with the anticipation of the next bout of noise. The cycle continues until you struggle out of bed in the morning unrested and annoyed. If it hasn’t happened to you before, can you imagine the frustration? Now imagine that those kids are in the basement of your house. Not in a creepy Silence of the Lambs way, but similar intervals of footprint noise and expectation of more noise.
About a week ago, TC was awoken from sleep by repetitive scurrying/chewing sounds emanating from the basement ceiling below her side of the bed. Nighttime scurrying is a common thing around here, but a brief investigation showed our two cats sleeping soundly on top of the covers and the dogs snoring on their beds. Our 90-year-old house is founded on a stone foundation and insulated with exposed batts of mineral wool insulation in the ceiling of the basement. It is not uncommon to have mice find their way through the rock foundation into the warm(er) interior of the basement, but these noises were pretty obviously something furry and uninvited working on making a winter habitat. We scheduled project RodentAway for the next day – a day that happened to have me with the day off and TC having to go in to the office.
After seeing TC off and donning some long sleeves, safety eyewear, hat, gloves, and dust mask I ventured into our dirt-floored basement in a manly fashion to assess the situation. Once I scrounged around to find additional light for the suspect corner of the basement, I began to remove the nearly century-old insulation from the ceiling. It became immediately apparent that there was indeed an animal nest above the stone-and-concrete walls along the sill of the first floor ledger. As I stood delicately (but in a manly way) balanced atop a 5-gallon pail and began to remove this tangle of dried branches and bundles of insulation, a much-larger-than-expected brown streak shot out of the nest, down the rock wall of the foundation, across the dirt crawlspace, and out of sight in the darker regions of the basement. This was no field mouse – from what I could see of it and based on the contents of the nest, this was a variety of packrat. I managed to barely maintain balance and composure by madly swinging my arms about and probably squealing a little bit out loud in a less-than-manly-manner. I was also fully convinced that this nest needed to go so that our faster than the speed of light furry friend would relocate elsewhere.
Five huge contractor trash bags and one very dirty dust mask later, I had removed all of the itchy old batts of insulation, some mysterious bits of ribbon, two buttons, five pencils, several shampoo lids, a pair of underwear that didn’t belong to anyone in this house, a missing sock of TC’s, piles of pebbles, and an impressive network of nests and food stashes. The nests looked like cozy dens of insulation wrapped in twigs and dried mint from our garden, which actually smelled pretty pleasant considering the activity in work. The nest filled the sixteen inch void between floor joists and the eight to ten inch depth of the foundation wall. The food stashes contained POUNDS of acorns collected from our nearby scrub oak bushes and sunflower seeds and peanuts our neighbor leaves for the birds.
I wielded the shopvac like a medieval sword, waving the end about in a flurry of motion to catch the acorns rolling off the top of the foundation wall before they worked their way behind a shelving unit full of paint and automotive supplies. The acorns that made it past the shop vac suckhole sounded like the old Plinko game of balls dropping across various nails on a torturous path to the bottom. I had removed all signs of the packrat habitat and considered it a successful day of cleanup. Once TC got home from work, we found several places in the stone foundation where the creature was getting through and plugged it with some handy wood blocks.
Lying in bed that night, tired from the day’s activity, we were about to fall asleep when the scurrying footprint noises from the basement recommenced. This time, perhaps without the insulation and nest to deaden the noise, the sounds were even louder; as if the animal were purposely banging on the furnace ducts below our bedroom. It’s hard to sleep when one’s eye is twitching in frustration. I tried to run to the basement a few times though the night, which involves going outside to the basement entrance, but each time I entered the basement and turned on the light, there was no packrat in sight. Exhausted, we dragged ourselves out of bed in the morning to take the dogs for some fall training.
Returning to the house in the afternoon, we could see a large new nest already rebuilt in one of the joist voids; in one night this packrat had created an impressive warm safehouse in our basement! The fist-sized burrow under the foundation was also reopened for business, as the wood blocks had been pulled out of the space and moved several inches away from the wall. I shop-vacced up this new nest (happily unoccupied this time) and we searched the foundation perimeter for entry signs to eliminate where this critter was getting into our house. This confirmed hole and two other possible tunnels were filled with 80 pounds of anti-rat-diggable concrete.
Feeling accomplished that we had now eliminated both the rat’s nest and its way into the basement, we climbed into bed excited about the prospect of a night of uninterrupted sleep. Within 15 minutes, we apathetically looked at each other while below us came the sounds of scurrying feet. TC went to try and sleep in the back room while I lay in bed listening to the mocking nest-making noises. We had apparently walled the rat INSIDE the basement.
In case packrat removal was not enough fun for one weekend, we also spent much of Sunday removing the drywall in the upstairs dog porch to eliminate some mouse nests there as well. Six full heavy contractor bags later that task was complete, but the basement rat continued to be a problem. I picked up a live-cage style trap at the hardware store and TC set it with an apple core for bait. At one point in the evening, I sat quietly in the dark of the basement, flashlight in hand to track the rat’s movements. It was like a bad remake of Blair Witch Project (oh wait, that already happened), trying to sit still and not imagine a large, scratchy packrat dropping down onto the back of one’s neck. Another night of noisy chewing and footsteps and I was convinced that the rat was making giant nests in our furnace ducting, ready to ignite into a nasty fire the next time we turned on the furnace. I sat listening to the rat running through the ducts (or at least it sounded like that), anticipating the unscheduled expense of another duct cleaning. I checked the trap and the apple core had some bites out of it, but a thorough inspection of the small cage verified it was indeed packratless.
On Monday, after describing the weekend’s rat rodeo actives, a co-worker asked TC if she had named the rat (surprisingly not yet). TC asked what the rat’s name should be. The young woman immediately scrunched her face and with a tone of bitterness and disdain slowly said, “Jeffrey.” Three syllables – “Jeff-fur-ry”. (I am not sure what some prior Jeffrey did to this nice woman, but it must have been bad to warrant such an ill-spoken legacy.) And so it was – a packrat named Jeffurry (said in the same manner of Jerry Seinfeld saying “Newman”).
TC got home and decided to introduce the cats into the mixture as incentive to convince Jeffurry to relocate. After putting the two cats in the basement and locking the door, she washed dishes while listening to the resulting yowls and crashing noises from below. After it had quieted down for a while, she went to retrieve the cats… and found them looking fluffed up and tormented with one angry packrat sitting on the shelving unit unphased by their presence.
That evening, I replaced the chewed apple core with some peanut butter smeared onto the trigger plate of the trap and TC threw some nesting material in the far back of the trap. We tried watching TV, but our eyes constantly looked at each other and then down at the basement, waiting for the inevitable scurry noises to recommence. TC retreated to the back room for sleep, and as I laid down in our bed and closed my eyes, I heard the angelic noise of the metal trap door sliding shut! We both slept hard and contentedly that night.
The next morning, there was indeed a large packrat (covered in peanut butter with nesting fluff stuck all over his fur) in the trap. He was not a happy rat, and quite sticky. No matter – we covered the trap with a rag and set off for the next county. Jeffurry was released near a grassy bend in the creek, miles away from any human residences as we didn’t want to share this experience with someone else. With him calmly in the trap, we measured him to be about 6” of rat body and 5” of furry rat tail and a really cute face and four feet with noisy scurrying claws. I have no doubt that Jeffurry will find a suitable place to make a nest and obtain a new stash of acorns for the coming winter. Given his productivity in the basement, the nest was probably complete by the time I drove away. Enjoy your new digs Jeffurry, and sleep well through the fall nights. I know we will.