After a year-long battle to humanely remove rodents, I both feel like an expert and a complete failure in regards to humane rodent removal.
I worked for a veterinary hospital, and despite boarding all manner of rodent-killing animals, rats took up residence in the back end of the hospital, including the kennel and storage rooms. It was rat paradise: the kenneled dogs tipped their bowls several times a day, dropping food and water into grates and hard-to-reach areas, and the rats ate like furry kings. The store room held at least 500 square feet of high-end and prescription pet food and treats. Were there an award for the healthiest rat infestation, we’d have won.
A veterinary clinic is full of people who don’t want to kill animals, and good animal stewards that we were, we set out to catch and release the rats.
Our live traps caught a few, but for every rat we caught, a dozen more were breeding and ripping open $50 bags of food formulated for cats in renal failure. In a matter of weeks we went from seeing one or two rats to walking into a store room swarming with bodies. We knew we had to step up our game.
Even in the face of peppermint and other smelly fogs, rats comforted themselves by opening a box of Greenies and breeding some more.
We bought a beeping device that was supposed to make rats want to give up certified-organic cat treats for a quieter home. The key words there are “supposed to.” We moved on to oils and other smell-based products; we even walked our in-house cat through the storage room, hoping his smell would scare the rats from the store room. Even in the face of peppermint and other smelly fogs, rats comforted themselves by opening a box of Greenies and breeding some more.
When I say we tried everything, I mean everything; every day someone in the office had a new trick to try but nothing worked. When we came in to find a post-operation dog caught a rat, it was clear that our clinic couldn’t keep dealing with the rats humanely. They had to go.
We ended up using snap traps. It sucked. We hated it. Written words don’t do that phrase justice — we fucking hated it. We checked the traps every few minutes with a needle ready for euthanasia, because it was the last tool we could use to cause the rats as little pain as possible. I still feel ill when I think of finding a rat in a trap. I had rats as pets in high school and I wasn’t going to try to emotionally divide these animals; the difference between these rats and mine was simply circumstance.
But we couldn’t assure our clients their animals were safe and healthy in our care if rats overtook the clinic every time the lights went out. With the use of the snap traps, the population was in sharp decline by the time I left to have a baby.
So here we are: after battling rats for a year, I still don’t know how to get rid of them humanely. The best thing I can suggest is to protect your place before you have a problem: filling in holes under your building and in walls is a good place to start.
I’ve developed a real obsession with avoiding rodent problems, for obvious reasons. I will always keep a live trap in my house with all manner of bells inside, just inside the crawl space under my bed. My hope is that I would catch any stray rodent before it sets up shop and creates a full blown infestation, and I would be able to hear it down there so I could release it in the woods. But it feels like a shot in the dark, and I am constantly worrying over finding “evidence.”
Which brings me back to the beginning: if you’ve got a way to get rid of a couple hundred rodents humanely, I’m all ears… as is a little animal clinic in the Deep South.