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"Denial" and "rat" are two words you might not think have any relationship with each other, except for the fact they share the letter "a" and space in the dictionary.

Truth be told, if I were rewriting the definition of "rat" in the Oxford English Dictionary, I would crosslink the two words, along with the word "bravado" and the phrases "I told you so" and "don't use poison."

I didn't believe we had a rat, despite all the signs that we did. So I tried to handle it myself. I was in denial.

I'm not particularly handy around the house. But I have my strong points.

For example, I'm an excellent mouser. I say this with no shame or embarrassment whatsoever. It's a big house. It's a bigger world. I admit that mice have sometimes found a way to squeak into my house, usually when it's cold and wet outside but toasty and warm inside.

Their end is not a pretty sight, but in the battle between them and me, I choose me. I always get my mouse.

Rebuilding Vancouver and its suburbs in time for the Olympics hasn't led to an increase in the mouse population that I can see. But it's had a direct bearing on that despicable cousin of the mouse, the rat.

Dig out a new SkyTrain line or build an Olympic venue and you get an influx of these conniving rodents searching for new real estate in Canada's most expensive city. If you inadvertently leave a window open, or you're renovating, you might find one that's moved in with you. And after a few weeks, you might even find more, because they breed like, well, rats.

I've learned a thing or two about rats. Put aside all that business about disease, pestilence, bubonic plague and the other bad PR they've received over the centuries. They are smart devils, which is why they're the first to leave sinking ships and why psychologists study their brains.

Normally I use peanut butter on mousetraps.

But perhaps West Coast rats have developed healthier dining habits by rejecting the trans fats. In our house, they opted for the fruit bowl.

Their gnawings on an apple should have revealed to me the presence of something smarter than the average mouse. But being an excellent mouser, I set mousetraps. I was in denial.

The mousetraps were triggered, but they were too small. There may have been a snap, but there was no crackle, no pop and no rat.

I tried the sticky paper they're supposed to get stuck on. That didn't work. It stuck to me.

So I used the poison that's supposed to drive the rats outside for a drink of water and a convenient outdoor death. But our rats didn't leave. Or die.

Instead, they went back to the fruit bowl for healthier food choices. And if I were a forensic dentist, I'd swear from gnawings on the bananas that their teeth were getting larger.

They. Clearly, I was in deep trouble. Stronger measures were required.

There is another product that is supposed to kill rats. There is no representation that the rats won't die. There is no "limitation of liability" clause on the package saying the manufacturer isn't legally responsible if the product doesn't work. The product will work. The rats will die.

What the package doesn't say is that the rats will always die somewhere inside your house, somewhere safe and warm. Not near the door, so you can prod the body away with a broom handle once the rat has snuffed it. Not a chance.

A rat on the eve of its expiry date will find some hidden and obscure spot between the drywall and the electrical panel to meet its maker. And when it does ascend to rat heaven, you will discover your house smells slowly and horrifyingly like rat hell.

There is nothing quite like a dead rat or two in your walls. Nothing in the book of home ownership can prepare you for it, and there is no training video called "Smells That Mean Trouble" distributed by real-estate agents with the house keys. You might think you're smelling a sewer backup, but you will be in denial.

When the contractors finally left, their faces green with something that had nothing to do with envy, there were three holes in the ceiling and a demolished bathroom wall where I - all right, they - had laboriously traced the smells. And did I mention we had to pay them lots of money? Lots of it?

I suppose if I were revising the definition of the word "rat" for the Oxford English Dictionary, I might also link it to the wise words my wife spoke before my bravado got the best of me: "Shouldn't you call an exterminator?"

This is why women are smarter than men.

Tony Wilson lives in New Westminster, B.C.

Illustration by Henrik Drescher.

 

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