Some months back, I was in the living room when I heard my daughters screaming, “Daga! Daga!”
I ran into my room, where they were playing, and found them jumping up and down on the bed and pointing here, there and everywhere, each one with her own version of where they saw the daga. My biology training and my being a teacher tempted me to ask them to describe what they saw so I could explain that “daga” is a generic term that refers to rats and mice.
But my anthropology training took over and I practically whispered: “You should call them ‘kaibigan’ or ‘kapatid’ (friend or brother/sister) so you won’t get them too upset.” This “Brother Rat, Sister Mouse” thing is common in the Philippines, a tacit recognition that these tiny creatures are quite clever and will wreak revenge if you speak ill of them or, worse, plan on getting rid of them.
I did realize I was maybe getting too used to our “friends” in the house assigned to me by UP. It sits on a half-hectare lot that’s an ecosystem in itself, home to assorted wildlife from birds that serve as my morning wake-up call, to the night’s crickets and frogs, including the ones that sound like cows.
The house itself is old, full of cracks and crevices that allow assorted animals—semi-domesticated cats and wilder species—to invite themselves in. The house has many other problems because of its age and its not having been used regularly. Two electrical appliances conked out during my first month there, and I nearly got killed when I tried to use a newly installed water heater which angrily hissed, sparked, and then exploded. The caretakers shook their heads and attributed the troubles to ghosts, suggesting that I talk to and appease them.
Instead, I brought in an electrician who was shocked at how inadequate the breaker system was. A new one was installed, and I haven’t had problems since then with electrical appliances. And hey, as old houses go, that meant 110- and 220-volt gadgets.
Back to the other guests. I did find myself waking up in the middle of the night because of sounds in the night. I never realized that nibbling could be so noisy, and would imagine a scene from the movie “Ratatouille”—the “friends” having a party of sorts, or maybe a friendly athletic match.
I tried everything with food storage, but rats and mice will gnaw their way through anything, or get you on your carelessness, like not being tight enough with the cover on a tin can, or the lid on a bottle. The ultimate one was luggage: If you don’t zip them shut completely, they’ll get to the pasalubong you got for kith and kin, sometimes on the night you arrive!
I guess because I wasn’t doing anything to our friends, word must have spread that there was this soft-hearted human willing to live with them. I’d work on my Inquirer column and find one or two staring at me from behind some books. I’d say hello and they’d scamper off, then return almost as if to ask if I was almost done.
But I finally decided I had to do something because they’d leave their feces and urine around. No, I couldn’t risk the health of the kids, who visit on weekends.
Poison or trap?
Now the dilemma. As a vet, I’ve seen the agony of pets that accidentally ingested rat poison. These poisons are barbaric. Once poisoned, the animals become sensitive to light and crawl into some dark place as the poison works on the liver, on the blood system. After several days, they die of internal hemorrhage. It’s cruel, and messy. (Some Chinese rat poisons involve another type of substance that is faster acting but still painful, releasing acid to generate a toxic gas in the digestive system.)
My housekeeper whispered: traps—you know, the ones that snap them dead. No, I said, also cruel.
Then she suggested glue traps. I agreed. The glue traps have built-in bait, flavored with peanut butter. The friends come by and get stuck and you can bring them to some grassy area a distance away from your house (I hope not your neighbor’s yard).
I put the trap on my work desk one night before bedtime. At around 4 a.m., when I woke up to work, I saw the victim struggling to get out of the glue trap. I felt I had betrayed one of my Inquirer friends.
I took the glue trap out into the garden and tried, unsuccessfully, to free the friend. It squeaked some more, reminding me of that horror movie “The Fly,” where a mad scientist ended up a fly with a human head. Toward the end of the movie, as a spider comes to get it, you hear it calling out: “Help me, help me!”
I rushed back into the house and did what we all do in times of crisis: google. This is silly and futile, I thought: Free mice caught in glue traps.
Aba, the screen filled up with links, including YouTube videos. Several were from animal rights groups that almost seemed to berate me for being so heartless, describing how the trapped mouse or rat will struggle for hours, even days, adrenaline rushing through its tiny body, heartbeat and respiration racing like crazy. Slowly, the body system crashes and the dehydrated creature dies.
The animal rights groups also warned: Don’t even try to free it because you’d crush it, or tear off its limbs. And don’t believe the vegetable oil thing because it’ll just drown.
Vegetable oil? There were dozens of sites showing how to use it, with assurances that it’s safe and painless. The oil softens the glue, allowing the trapped mouse to free itself. I rushed to the kitchen, feeling the clock ticking, and grabbed a bottle of olive oil. No, too expensive, so I got Baguio Oil instead.
I’m running out of space so let me just say it worked, with a bit of drama. The security guard came to check on me, wondering what I was doing out in the garden so early in the morning. After I explained what had transpired, he said that earlier in the day they had caught one in a trap and he simply pulled it off and released it in the garage. I was aghast, not so much because I was imagining severed limbs as because the garage houses several cats.
I’m now using another gadget which entices our friends into a cage, where it’s trapped, and you can release them still alive.
All this I will now package into a lesson: rat ethics in a tough world. How far do we go with living with wildlife friends? Are there humane ways to control them? Was it right to use Baguio Oil instead of olive oil?
And I’m missing my Inquirer friends.
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