Wolf and Wildlife Studies

Pack Rats:  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

“They’re skurge of the earth,” a local resident explained to me one day.  “They’re the spawn of Satan as far as I’m concerned,” replied a neighbor during one of our occasional discussions in the driveway.  Even an ardent Christian woman wondered out loud to me why God had created such an evil creature.  Such are the sentiments towards pack rats in our neck of the woods, and from what I gather, most of Lincoln County and the world.  I prefer to think of them as God’s little joke on the rest of us.  Nevertheless, the frustration and anger they can produce in many human beings is akin to trying to put toothpaste back into its tube.  They just seem impossible to deal with sometimes.  Personally, I like the little hoodlums. 

Also known as the bushy-tailed wood rat, you have to admit these bold little gremlins are fairly impressive.  Put aside for a moment that they hoard, steal, mutilate, and poop and pee on most everything in their path.  They’re smart, fast, and can climb everything except air with lightning speed.  In short, I find them amazing.  On one occasion when I drove home late at night and pulled into my driveway, I saw a pack rat arching across the lawn in leaps and bounds through the truck’s high beams toward the cabin.  Its final vault sent it smacking into the side of the cabin where it stuck as if on fly paper about halfway to the roof.  It turned its head and watched as I got out of the truck and approached.  When I had apparently gotten too close, it leapt to the underside of the roof’s overhang and sprinted upside down along the roof edge and out of view around the corner of the cabin.  They apparently defy gravity as well.

This is not to say that I haven’t had my share of problems with these creatures.  Several years ago when I started up my ATV, I heard a crunching sound coming from the clutch.  Fortunately for me it wasn’t the clutch.  Unfortunately for the rat that had squeezed its way through the air ducts into the moving parts of the engine  - well, you can only imagine.  My four-wheeler temporarily had become a Kawasaki blender.

It was during my summer wolf classes that these creatures really came to life.  Their persistent forays into everyone’s vehicles was a new experience for most students.  Wherever we camped the hoods of all the vehicles had to be up at night to help prevent rats from shopping in our cars and trucks.  Of course most of our naive students forgot to do this.  They often crawled out of their tents in the morning to see Timber, my dog at the time, standing next to their car.  Her ability to sniff out a pack rat in motor vehicles had become legendary.  As far as I could tell, she had never been wrong.  She would stand next to the wheel well, engine, trunk, or wherever she had found the rat, and stare.  People dreaded it when they saw her standing next to their vehicle.

On one occasion, a wolf class was camped and parked in my yard at the cabin.  Scott, my assistant for this class, saw Timber standing next to the left front tire of his truck looking up into the wheel well.  We looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Pack rat.”  Scott pulled a long open-ended wrench from his tool box and proceeded to try and poke the stubborn animal out of his truck.  Instead, the rat acted as if it was thinking, I could use one of these, and grabbed the end of the wrench with both front paws.  For about fifteen seconds, Scott had a tug-o-war with a rat.  I laughed so hard I almost fell over, until I saw Timber standing next to my truck. 
At the end of another summer class, my assistant drove home all the way to Santa Cruz, California, only to find that a pack rat had hitched a ride with her.  As she explained this to me on the phone, the rat decided to jump from her vehicle and run into the garage.  Our conversation ended with her chasing after it with a nine-iron. 

Here at home, the rats and I have settled on a truce.  I’ve found numerous ways to avoid problems with them, including the use of a live trap.  Once caught, I drive them into the forest and away from anyone else’s home.  Some neighbors think this is strange, because these evil creatures are to be shown no quarter and are viewed as the devil’s seed.  One person has called this process my catch and release program.  His method  is to kill as many rats as possible, rather than release them elsewhere to continue their destructive ways – as if the rat would actually come back to terrorize his vehicle.  Despite all his killing, I have by far fewer problems with pack rats than he does.  Hhhmmmm, may be there’s a lesson there.  Keep this in mind for the next installment of Critter Corner when we look at where animals fit into our social and ethical view of the world.



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