Written by: LAURIE DAMRON
When I first moved to St. John in 2002, I was excited to get to know the local fauna. The mongoose were adorable, the iguanas were great to take photos of, and my first donkey sighting felt like just about the coolest thing ever. I could deal with the occasional pig showing up in my yard and even once nursed a baby piglet back to health. But no one ever warned me about the rats.
I spotted my first rat, silhouetted in the glow of sunset, creeping along a tree branch outside my window. In shock/horror, I immediately called my island friend who just laughed. “Oh, not to worry. They’re only fruit rats. They live off of the fruit trees. Nothing creepy or scary or dirty about them.”
As though that was supposed to comfort me.
Having lived in New York City for a good part of my life, I have always seen rats for what they are: gross, dirty, nasty things that scurry around the bowels of Manhattan in the middle of the night by the hundreds looking for things to prey upon. But in my early island days, I was told repeatedly that the island rats are nothing like that. So I did my best to forget about the rat I saw, deciding that as long as they stayed Out There and I stayed In Here, perhaps we could form a peaceable agreement.
And so we did… until that day. The day that is still just as vivid to me over a decade later.
I had been living here for only a few months at the time and was still getting accustomed to everything. My husband had not been able to leave the states yet, so I was learning the ropes of island life all on my own. I got up one morning and went into the kitchen, noticing a strange noise coming from the dishwasher. The dishwasher! What was this house doing with a dishwasher anyway? I never intended to use it from the start, as the mere thought brought to mind an image of my cistern draining out like the flushing of a toilet. Seeing no other purpose for the water-sucking appliance, I started using it for storage. Mostly, it was full of all the Duffy’s Love Shack glasses I’d managed to collect since I’d arrived. You know the ones – every time you went to Duffy’s Love Shack you could either order a normal drink or a drink in a very fun-looking, overpriced island-y glass. Being a rock life newbie, I always paid for the fun glass: tiki-looking ones, parrot ones, palm tree ones, and the occasional one that looked like a fruit bowl (and doubled as an ashtray). The following morning, their novelty always wore off, and thus they lived in the dishwasher.
Turns out, my kitschy mugs were not alone in there. I opened the dishwasher to investigate and nearly had a heart attack when I saw at least 9 small rats curled up inside, sleeping as though it was their own tiki-themed boudoir. I slammed the door shut, ran back to my bed, and hid under the covers for lack of a better plan.
I laid there shaking with disgust. The apartments in the city that are infested with rats are always that way because they’re filthy… had that become my life? I consider myself a clean person, and yet, there I was with a family of rats living in my dishwasher. And more importantly, what the hell was I supposed to do about it? With a sudden wave of resolve, I decided to put on my big girl panties and deal with it (not that I had any choice).
So what does one do in a situation like this? Have the dishwasher removed, of course! I drove to town, found the guy who had helped me clean my cisterns recently, and begged him to come over right away to remove my dishwasher ASAP. He obliged, but when we got to my house, the rats were gone. This was getting worse by the minute. Where were they hiding now? I shuddered.
He suggested I get myself some rat zappers: little boxes that will quickly extinguish the critters with no mess and blood. All you have to do is hold it over the garbage when you get one and they just slide out. The final selling point: your fingers have no contact at all. I agreed to go get one, but insisted the dishwasher still be hauled away while he was there.
Dishwasher evicted and newly purchased $50 rat zapper in hand, I began the battle to search and destroy my nine visitors. I read the directions at least 3 times and set my zapper in the big empty space where the dishwasher used to be. Within an hour, it was blinking, indicating that there may be one less rat in the world. I will admit that it was sort of bittersweet. I am an avid animal lover and wasn’t thrilled about all this killing, but the dreadful thought of sharing my home with vermin won out. I held it over the trash and out came my first rat. I put some more food in it, ready to try again for the rest of the gang. Before bed that night, I was able to nab six. A victory, to be sure, but that meant there were some still out there, so I slept with one eye open all night. By morning, one more was down, and I started to feel victorious and more than a little proud that I was handling this nasty problem all by myself.
Word must have spread in the rat community – the Zapper stayed empty for the next few days. Not ready to give up, I checked daily until one morning, I finally caught The Big One. He was so huge that most of his tail was sticking out the end of the trap. Worried he might only be sleeping, I picked up the box with much trepidation and went to empty it. Nothing happened. I shook it a little harder. Still nothing came tumbling out. I groaned.
Until this point, I had avoided looking inside the trap, not wanting to see the bodies. Now I was forced to and saw that he was so big that he was actually stuck in there. I have a 5 lb Chihuahua and in that moment, I could have sworn they were the same size. Having no idea what to do, I called my husband in a panic. His advice? Put on some gloves, pull it by the tail, and yank it out. Thanks, honey, but NOT IN A MILLION, TRILLION YEARS!
I threw the entire $50 rat zapper away and went and bought a new one like any self-respecting person would do. I have never justified $100 in purchases so quickly that were not dog-related.
As with anything in rock life, over time we learn to adjust. My rat zapper has become one of my most loyal friends, and I actually look forward to checking it every morning for the blinking light, letting me know I have won yet another battle while I sleep. I adopted a cat for back up, and together we make a great team.
Almost 12 years later, I’m happy to report that these critters don’t even bother me anymore. At the first sign of their presence, the zapper comes back out, the cat comes in, and we handle it. I never thought I would say this, but now I actually find the mosquitoes more annoying and much harder to live with. Though to this day, I still cannot bring myself to drink out of a Duffy’s Love Shack glass. Good thing they’re all at the bottom of the dump in a dishwasher.