When I examine the curled-up body, the softt, golden fur and bloodied front feet, I still feel upset.  Ten inches across- a tail taking up half its length, its hind feet designed for leaping, like a kangaroo in miniature.  I wish it didn't have to die.

Our saga began October 4th, after my husband Harry and I returned from an eight-day trip.  Our new Prius had been parked in the garage, and when we backed out, we noticed a curious collection of objects on the floor below the engine area.  Screws, ball point pens, a vacuum cleaner brush, a heel cup and chunks of stuffing. On the work bench a foil pouch filled with dog treats had been chewed through, the contents emptied.  I discovered dozens of scat pieces on a high shelf in the closet where I had stored a rug, the fibers gnawed through to the other side.  I scrubbed away brown, hardened pools of urine. 

The black droppings were tubular, about a half inch in length.  We heard noises at night in the attic, like something scurrying across the rafters.  Did this intruder enter through the crawl space and work its way up inside the walls?  In days that followed, more objects appeared below our Prius--a lid, clumpbs of foam rubber and inserts from hiking bookts.  I thought "packrat," and online, I found a number of varieties, zeroing in on woodrats, described as agile climbers and nest builders. 

According to the University of California's Department of Wildlire, eight specieis of woodrats occur in North America from low, hot, dry deserts to cold, rocky slopes above timberline.  Also called packrats, they gather things such as jewelry, utensils and can tabs.  They shred upholstered furniture and mattresses for lining nests and take up residence in parked vehicles.

We lifted the hood to check for clues, staring in disbelief at an elaborate nest draped over the manifold--fibers woven together (my rug!), white cottony stuffing and a black mesh fabric worked into one side. I thought only birds wove found objects into nests.  This industrious animal spent hours chewing, hauling and constructing.  I noticed the bottom of the nest smashed down, as if something had been lying inside.  Attempting to hibernate?  About to give birth? Harry captured the masterpiece in photos.

We sought adivice from a hardware store and bought rat traps and rodent poison.  We baited the traps with cheese, bacon and peanut butter, but the clever creature ate the food without springing any mechanisms.  The boxes of poison pellets, however, bore evidence of nibbling.  Maybe it was hauling tidbits into the engine to store for later consumption.

On October 18, we stayed overnight in Denver after attending our grandson's high school play.  We never dreamed our invader would ride along, but as we cruised I-25, I heard rustling in the lower glove box.  Afraid of what I'd discover, I didn't dare open it.  That night it rained, turning bitterly cold with snow the next morning.  We hoped our hitchiker would exit the parked car in search of warmth. No such luck.  I heard more noises going home, and I could smell musky urine and feces.

Back home the next day, we parked in the driveway, lifted the hood and there it was!  Big ears and black eyes, it stared in surprise and darted to the left under the engine.  Another, smaller nest, with yellowish stuffing and pieces of foam lay across the manifold.  Knowing what it looked like, I went back to the Internet and confirmed this was a woodrat.  With fine, light brown fur and white underside, it appeared in a number of photos.

I found droppings a light brown color instead of the black I discovered earlier.  Maybe the poison was taking effect, but enough already---time to try another strategy.  A professional exterminator warned his services could cost $3,000, so we opted to continue tackling the job ourselves.

Harry put out more boxes of rodent poison and we no long found "collections" on the garage floor.  We parked in the driveway still hoping our woodrate would leave.  Killinhg fost had wilted the peturnias and leaves fell freely from the trees.

On October 24, Harry lifted the hood and discovered the dead rodent curled on top of the oil pan, blood on its mouth and saturating its left front paw.  He laid it on a paper towel, a seven inch ruler at the edge and took more photos.

I'm not proud of what happened next.  In a plastic sack tied with double knots, we dumped the woodrat into the trash.  My pangs of guilt--wishing I'd honored its life and hard-working nature--are tempered by anger at the harm it did.

At the Toyota dealer, repairs took 11 days, costing $3700, including the air conditioner, heating system, air bags, and insulation across the inside.  The service manager didn't know about dead babies, but reported urine and feces throughout.

Where did this critter come from, and why us?  We live near Garden of the Gods and acres of open space.  Down the alley, an elderly widow occupies her home but no longer dirve,s using her garage for storage.  Several blocks away, an empty house has been for sale for years.  Both structures could breed woodrats.

We've sealed openings into our home, even those smaller than an inch.  The next trip we take, especially in the fall, we'll leave the Prius parked at the airport.  And no more dog treats in the garage.  I never want to be invated again.

Caroline Vulgamore (719) 520-5365  chvulgamore@comcast.net 



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