The rule is . . .

The rule is this: “Never shoot a rat with a shotgun in the kitchen.”

A rule like that probably deserves a bit of explantation. First of all, it must be understood that I was not present for the incident that resulted in the rule. I’ve only heard stories about it. I knew the person to whom the action was attributed. Secondly, the offending rodent wasn’t what most people think of when they hear the word rat. This wasn’t an urban rat, but its rather smaller cousin, a bushy-tailed woodrat, that we called pack rats. They’re nesters and they love to have shiny objects in their nests. They’ll collect items like nuts and bolts and even a piece of silverware to put into their nests. Actually I never saw a pack rat in the place where the incident was alleged to take place. I think it is possible that a chipmunk or squirrel was mistaken for the other rodent, but I have no evidence to prove or disprove my opinion. Thirdly the kitchen wasn’t in a home, but rather the food preparation area of a camp dining hall that itself was a temporary structure and not up to modern health codes. There were rough floorboards with enough space between them to sweep the dust between the boards and the tops of tin cans nailed around the knot holes to limit the intrusion of unwanted rodents. Flour and other items were stored in metal garbage cans to keep the rodents from getting at them.The story of using a shotgun to control the population of rodents was part of the folk lore of the place, handed down by storytellers prone to exaggeration.

Nonetheless, it seems like a good rule and it is one that I personally have never violated. I would probably stretch the rule a bit to say that it is never a good idea to discharge a shotgun indoors. I once heard a 30-06 fired in the cab of a pickup truck, a noise that was louder than one ought to endure. No persons were injured in the creation of the story, but it was a frightening moment nonetheless. Damage to the vehicle was limited to a single small bullet hole through the floorboard.

I was thinking of that rule last night as I was speaking with my brother on the telephone. He was calling to check up on my wife’s health and to see how things are going for us. The conversation somehow shifted to pets. He owns a poodle, whom he has dubbed the rockstar of the dog park. The animal is quite proud of its beautiful coat and quite aware that it is a good looking dog. It does, however, have the unsettling habit of picking up and trying to bring home all sorts of carrion that it can find. They live in a city where the creatures who meet their fate on the streets tend to be pigeons and rats. My brother’s wife is opposed to the bringing of dead rats into their home. It is behavior that she believes is definitely beneath the character of such a handsome dog.

It seems in general that bringing rats into the house is not an approved behavior in the circles in which I run. Almost everyone I talk to is opposed to the idea, whether the creature be a rather diminutive wood rat or a larger urban rat.

But every rule has its exception and the execution in our family has to do with the passion of my sister-in-law who rehabilitates injured birds. She works in conjunction with the Rowena Wildlife Center in here home state of Oregon and takes injured birds into her home while they recover with the goal of releasing them back into the wilds as soon as they are able to care for themselves. While living with her some of the raptors, including owls, are fed diets as close to what they might find in the wild as possible. In order to support her work, she keeps a few lab mice in her freezer. When needed, she takes a creature from the freezer, uses a knife to chop off its head and feeds the remains to the hungry bird. It is a rather bold move for this gentle woman who would not be suspected of keeping dead rodents in her freezer. Her father used to speculate about what his mother would have to say about the practice, but fortunately there was never a confrontation between grandmother and granddaughter over the subject of frozen mice.

Not being an expert in the field, I’m not sure that I know the difference between a mouse and a lab rat. I know that rats come in a variety of sizes and the creatures that are fed to the owls are much smaller than the rats my brother’s poodle tries to bring home. I suspect, however, that in the mind of the poodle there is little difference between the two practices.

The home in which we live seems to be very tight, with no places for rodents to enter. The closest we’ve had to one in the house of which we are aware is that once, years ago, an unwary mouse slipped into our garage, probably through an open door. It was quickly dispatched by the family cat. Our previous home, however, did have an occasional mouse that caused me to bring out a trip to deal with the problem. Once, however, a squirrel managed to fall down the chimney in that house into the fireplace. Our daughter noticed the animal and alerted us. The door on the fireplace was opened, the squirrel bolted into the room, where it was immediately treed in the Christmas tree by the cat. Fragile decorations were removed from the tree. Heavy gloves were donned, and eventually I managed to grab the squirrel and carry it to the door and release it outdoors, but not before breaking off a portion of the animal’s tail. For weeks afterward a rather short-tailed squirrel would scold me each time I stepped out of the house. It never tried to repeat the exploration of the chimney.

So I’m sticking by the rule. Shotguns and rodents in the kitchen aren’t a good idea.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!