“YEEP!” I text my oldest daughter at college.
“What? I'm in class.”
“The rat exterminator — the one who thought all rats were girls — just called to ask me out! AACH!!”
A few weeks earlier, I'd noticed the peaches in the fruit bowl had been inhumanly gnawed. I saw droppings on the counter.
I clean, sanitize, feel violated and toss the fruit bowl. Next day, the nut bowl is empty, but not by us. I call our pest control service.
That afternoon, Marissa sees the rat run under the door into the garage.
Next morning, the Rat Man arrives. I show him where I'd found evidence. “She might be getting in here,” he says looking at the holes around the sink pipes.
“How do you know it's a she?” I ask.“All rats are shes,” he says.
He sets out three sticky traps the size of shoe box lids. As he's leaving, I ask what I'm supposed to do when the rat gets caught.
“We just set the traps,” he says. “Have your husband take it out.”
I say something about my husband only being here weekends. He says he'll check back in a couple days.
That evening, Marissa and I come home to the trapped rat. We scream. I call my best friend. She says I need to show my daughter how to handle this. I look out onto my street, and see a young couple on an evening stroll. I dash out, extend my hand, and say, “Maybe you can help me.”
Valiantly, the tall, strong man armed with nothing more than two paper towels, picks up the trap, and swiftly disposes of it all.
Next day Rat Man calls. I share the good news. He says he should come over and do a thorough inspection to see if he can find where the rat had been getting in.
“No need. I'm pretty sure it was under the door to the garage. I'll get that weatherstripped.”
A few days later, he calls again. “I'm not having any more critter problems, thank you,” I say, and hang up.
He calls again. “Are you busy?” he asks.
“Yes. Thank you. All my critter problems are solved.” Click.
He calls right back. “I was just wondering if you would like to have coffee some time?”
“Well, I can't.” Click.
Rats are creepy enough, but what they drag with them is worse. “Rats carry diseases, which they can spread through bites, feces and urine. If they get in your food, they'll contaminate it,” says Stoy Hedges, an entomologist for Terminix, the world's largest pest control provider.
Big storms, like Sandy, which hit the East Coast last month, often displace rats, and cause them to look for new homes, Hedges said. “Rats are born survivors and will readily move to better conditions to find food and a place to live. In cities, that's provided by homes and businesses.”
To keep pests from taking up residence in your home or business, Terminix offers these tips:
Look for and seal gaps around pipes, especially under sinks. Cover openings with duct tape.
Weatherstrip doors and windows.
Keep food put away, and lids on trash cans.
Line all attic and foundation vents with tightfitting, quarter-inch hardware cloth. A regular insect screen will not deter rodents.
Move piles of debris away from your home. These provide welcome shelter for critters.
Keep tree branches trimmed so they stay six feet away from roofs and walls. Rodents are great climbers and acrobats.
If you see or suspect a rat, clean and disinfect. Throw away all food that may have come into contact with the rat. Use strong cleaners to sanitize.
Call a professional pest control service and ask if they handle rodents.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.