Sometimes I wonder if I’d be Snow White if I lived in the woods instead of the city… It may be part of the reason I don’t like to go camping.
My life, my entire life, has been filled with odd and remarkable animal encounters. Most of them not entirely positive. It started at young age, mind you. Snakes climbing through my window. A boar chasing me through reclaimed swamp land. My cat leaving kangaroo rats at the foot of my bed. A squirrel climbing into my lap to steal my ramen noodles as I was eating them. And there are those times every year that a murder of crows will follow me on my neighborhood walk.
Plus I have a way with cats. And my neighbor’s new puppy? Pretty much seems to want to devour me with love every time he sees me. I’m the test case to see if they’ve finally broken him from jumping on people. In my case, they have not.
I often think the title of my book would be something like Bourbon and Plants: the Cami Kaos story. But what if I’m wrong. What if it’s really Martinis and Urban Animal Instances: the Cami Kaos story?
Those of you who are long suffering readers or steadfast figures in my life may recall my, ahem, mild fear of opossums.
Or the time I thought there was a raccoon in my kitchen.
Or the time there really was a rat that climbed out of my toilet (thus undoing all the years of hard work I had done overcoming my “irrational fear” of rats and snakes coming up through the plumbing.
Then there are all the neighborhood cats that follow me around on my walks. And the wrens who have taken up residence in my giant shrub (which is the reason I don’t want to get rid of it). And all the other countless probably totally normal city wildlife situations I find myself in that are probably totally normal that I, because I’m me, blow out of proportion to make myself feel special.
Well this story… this is not one of those. This should be a story about rats… But instead it is a story of something much bigger.
I live in the city, but very near a creek. And also lots of new construction. The creek itself often brings lots of urban wildlife into play just a block away. Ducks, geese, nutria, squirrels, heron, and rats. Also. City. Sewer. Rats. There have been a couple of instances here, including the time a rat climbed up from beneath the house and chewed through my dryer hose to make a nest of old mop parts behind my dryer. And also that afore mentioned rat climbing OUT OF THE SEWER THING.
Yes that. Yuck.
Because of this my landlady has become super vigilant about pest control. She regularly calls the city to remind them to bait the sewers (that’s a thing and I totally didn’t know it’s a normal urban thing) and hiring a pest control company to secure the duplex and get rid of any pests that might have found their way in before it was made secure.
You know, like mice and rats. And ants. Ants are assholes. Okay, they’re not assholes, they’re just trying to live their best life, but they like to eat my plants so I find them annoying.
Anyway, pest control. My landlady hired an extermination company. At the time I wasn’t seeing any activity from rodents but I was still happy to have the foundation and crawlspace secured. No problem having bait and traps under the house in the crawlspace. Yay! No pests.
And every couple of weeks or so two absolutely lovely humans, one very tall woman (M) and one short man (E) would come out to my house, crawl around beneath, come back up and pet my cats, and tell me there are no rats beneath my house before leaving and letting me know they’d be back to check again in a couple of weeks.
I don’t know if you can imagine the peace of mind of having exterminators tell you that there are no pests in your home… unless of course you also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and a lifelong history of run -ins with animals that make you between slightly uncomfortable and overwhelmingly panicky.
Just after their next to last visit when the very lovely very tall woman told me that there was no activity and so they would probably be back in a month to do their final check and pull the empty traps, we started having problems with our dryer.
My daughter had been doing her wash and when she reached into the dryer to pull some kitchen towels out she gagged. Loudly. It was a Saturday evening and my partner and I were sitting on the couch watching a cooking show and I rolled my eyes at him and sighed. She’s a teenager, and dramatic. And I’m kind of an asshole sometimes. She shouted from the kitchen that the towels in the dryer smelled rotten and I, with a healthy dose of annoyance, got up to check. I sniffed and to my surprise they smelled BAD. Like gross. I had thought I washed them just that morning but maybe I washed them earlier in the week and they got funky waiting to go in the dryer? I asked her to run them through the wash again and thought nothing of it. Until the next morning when it happened again.
I advised her not to use the dryer and said I’d talk to the landlady. But in my mind I had decided that the exterminators missed something and that a rat had crawled up into the dryer tube and made a home and then died… because you know, poison bate. And that’s a warm place. And of course that was the ONLY ANSWER.
No, I had no idea what a rotting dead animal smelled like. But I totally assumed that was it. A few days later the very tall exterminator came out. And in what I can only describe as weird, I asked her to sniff my dryer and tell me if it smelled like rotting rat.
I don’t ask just ANYONE that question, she was a professional. Don’t make it weird.
And as it turns out, it did in fact smell like rotting rat. This smell coincided with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having, but at the moment that didn’t really occur to me. She went back under the house and checked everything. She went outside and checked everything. She pulled the dryer out and undid the hose and checked everything. There was nothing anywhere except that heavy dead rotting smell. What’s worse is that once she detached the hose nothing could make that smell of putrid rot go away. Not reattaching the hose. Not peppermint oil. Not the nag champa oil I ran pretty much 24 hours a day in essential oil diffusers making my home smell like some hippie crystal, candle, and book shop.
I’d never run into anything like this, but I’m just me. The weird thing is that neither had she. She called into the office and it was suggested that the very real possibility was that a rat had climbed into the back of my dryer to die. And being an exterminator and not a dryer repair person, she couldn’t take apart the dryer to check.
She did note though that there was one space under the house that she had never really been able to get a solid view of. One place that she couldn’t contort her tall frame in such a way that she could access it. And it did happen to be back in the general area the rancid stench was heaviest.
She promised to call my landlady and to bring out her more compact coworker next week to check it out. A week later my dryer had still not been disassembled and the odor was still there. We were hanging clothes to dry in the bathroom or backyard because we’re not heathens but I really didn’t want to go to the laundromat.
Then it happened. I was in the shower talking to myself like I do. I knew there was something I was supposed to remember about that day, a Tuesday, but I couldn’t for the life of me recall. My kid knocked on the bathroom door and I became immediately territorial and defensive. I’m sure most folks who have ever parented a young child will understand how much effort it takes to teach them not to bug you while you’re in the bathroom. It’s the one place that should be held as sacred. I was on the verge of thinking I had not yet succeeded at that lesson when she told me there was someone at the door.
She doesn’t like to answer the door. I can’t blame her, neither do I.
Standing there soaking wet water still pouring down I remembered that the exterminators were coming. I rant to put on a robe, I couldn’t find my glasses, ran to the door, breathless and soaked in a lumberjack plaid robe and apologized. I let them in, and then soaked and robed and unable to see anything except blurry shapes I began to unload the closet where they gain under-house access. I was soaked. I felt guilty for not having cleared the space. But they were so nice and helped me move stuff out and totally made me set aside my guilt complex and frazzled nerves. I dressed and found my glasses and moved out to the living room to drink my coffee and poke at my computer to keep myself busy as the much shorter exterminator crawled under the house. He communicated that the stench was alive and well and they were in constant voice contact as E made his way to the previously un-seen corner beneath the laundry.
I was trying to mind my own business assuming this would be like every other visit and nothing would be found. Until I heard a scream. A very definite scream coming from E who had finally made it to the area in question and discovered to his absolute horror that there was a very large dead raccoon beneath the house tucked back in a corner that M had been too tall to get to.
Well that explains everything. Maybe there really had been a raccoon in my kitchen all those years ago when I thought I was just anxious and crazy? And somehow it had managed to get down through the floor with no one ever noticing and it had lived a long happy life down there until it recently died of old age reflecting on its happy memories and passed away in the home it had enjoyed for years.
Yeah, I like to finesse my feelings. But I also knew that was nothing like the truth.
E came out and he and M had a discussion. M called the office and chatted with their boss. This was weird, even for them. E, who strangely for exterminators, has a bit of a fear of raccoons was just happy not to be under the house I think listened in to the call. Discussion was had, plans and implementation were discussed. This was a whole thing. It turns out that exterminators are not dead raccoon specialists. And while this was not a service they provide, M had been in this with me for the long haul and she offered to have her and E remove the offending animal corpse. I can think of few times that I’ve been more grateful or relieved.
More decisions were made. A plan of attack was discussed. They cut a sheet of aluminum from the supplies in M’s truck. I gave them a wad of scented trash bags (because they lock in the kitchen odors, obviously) and M gave E an amazing pep-talk as he prepared to climb back under the house and execute on the extraction.
I sat in my chair, no longer pretending to work or mind my own business. I was fully present. My kid who had been hiding in her room this entire time was texting me for additional details. She was listening intently. E made his way back toward the corner and hesitated. He knew the raccoon was dead… but you know how irrational fears work. What if it wasn’t. M suggested he throw something at it to make himself feel better. I offered to send cat toys down to throw (no I don’t know why I offered cat toys). E found a rock and tossed it. It was dead.
At this point there were just a lot of noises. Grunting. Yelling. Confused sounds. Guttural yelling as he tried to manage to scoop the animal carcass onto the aluminum sheeting. At some point they needed something long to reach with so I brought them my shovel which M wrapped in a plastic bag to keep free of the animal funk.
More yelling and grunting. M was shouting encouragement texted in by coworkers. My kid was texting encouragement and awe. I was laughing and shouting “YOU’VE GOT THIS” while queuing up “We are the Champions” to play on the house sound system when he emerged.
It was around this point that E realized it was not a raccoon. He had managed to drag it out just enough that M could shine a light to look at it and began talking through what she was seeing. E continued to pull on the carcass trying to extract it while scrunched up in the tiny under-house crawl space. At some point I’m pretty sure while tugging a leg he accidentally tugged the leg off. It was horrific. It was disgusting. It was also spellbinding and weird and interesting. Animal types were bandied about. Badger was among them. But they knew it wasn’t a badger.
I heard words like brindled, spotted, and ear tufts.
We were still cheering. My kid was still texting. And at some point M asked me if I wanted to see this thing. E had managed to get it close to the opening in the floor of the house and despite every rational part of me reminding me that I probably didn’t want to see it I blurted out “yes” because I did in fact want to see the thing. The thing that was not a rat. And was not a raccoon. And that no one was 100% certain of what it was but we were all beginning to think it was in fact a bobcat.
Yes. That’s right. A bobcat. That cutie is not the bobcat in question. But it is the type of bobcat in question.
I walked to the closet entrance and M stood out of my way so I could look. I leaned over to look under the trap floor and saw a rat’s tail and scream-shrieked one word “JESUS” and jumped back.
Everyone immediately started laughing hysterically. My kid emerged from her room to see what was happening.
I had been prepared to see a bobcat. Or even a raccoon. I’d even mentally prepared myself for the unlikely possibility that there was the biggest opossum ever under there. I wasn’t prepared to see the little rat corpse next to whatever the big animal was and that was all I had seen. I caught my breath. I calmed my nerves. I went back in for a second look while everyone was still laughing and saw the much flattened, very large, short tailed, body of what I’m almost completely certain was a bobcat.
Now this seriously explains a lot of things. Why my cats have been so on edge for months being among them.
Because there was a bobcat trapped under my house probably living on any other pests that may have been down there before the foundation was secured to keep things out.
As E emerged victorious from beneath the house I did play “We Are the Champions” for him. I offered him a lovely houseplant that I had grown from a start as a cutting of one of my houseplants as a thank you. He thought he’d kill it but luckily M was excited to have it. I thanked them more times than I can count. We laughed. They cleaned up after themselves. We cheered. And they left.
I will never again think I’m going crazy when I fear some weird animal is in, behind, or under my home. 42 years of life and countless weird animal instances has shown me that this particular anxiety of mine is completely founded. Or at the very least not completely unfounded.
Also my dryer smells great again…