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For the Rat Lady of Nanaimo, an unwelcome sort of fame Add to ...

At first, the Hounsome family puzzled over the odd bumps in the night.

A thump in the walls. Scratching in the ceiling.

It's an old house, they noted. Maybe it's haunted.

"We were hearing noises," said 40-year-old Tamara Hounsome. "It got to the point where the kids didn't want to sleep in their room upstairs because we were hearing so many noises at night."

Over time, the nocturnal knocks became more frequent.

"We'd sit up at night and freak each other out. We were sure there was a ghost in here."

A hint to the mystery was offered one night by Toby the tabby. The family cat stared at the base of the dishwasher.

Soon after, Ms. Hounsome was doing the dishes when a critter skittered across the floor, over her feet (!), and away. All she saw was a pink tail and a whole mess of trouble.

"I felt horror and I felt sick," she said.

A ghost would have been a welcome intruder compared to the freeloaders she now knew were squatting in her rental home on 105th Street in Nanaimo, two blocks north of the Island Highway.

She set a snap trap, baiting it with a generous dollop of Kraft peanut butter. Thwack!

She set more traps. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

She bought out all 35 rat traps in stock at the local hardware store.

She called an exterminator. The estimate was $1,500. Her husband is a construction labourer. She is on a disability pension after receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The cost was more than a month's rent. She remembers breaking into tears.

The landlord was not answering calls.

"After many anxiety attacks and many dead rats, I thought I needed some help."

At wit's end, she called a local newspaper. They did a story. Then, a television news crew followed up.

She thinks of it now as "a plea for help with my rats."

The exterminator saw her on television. He was touched by her plight, offered his services this time as a gift. He closed entry portals in the roof of the drafty old house. An expert in the culinary preferences of the black rat, he advised using chocolate frosting. Rattus rattushas a sweet tooth.

Intervention worked.

"To date we've caught 32 rats," she said. "That's a lot of rats."

The media attention has made Ms. Hounsome something of a celebrity around town, though not for the best of reasons.

"I go out and people are looking at me as if they know me," she said.

After staring for a moment, it hits them.

"I've become known in the city as the Rat Lady."

She's heard a few nasty comments about the quality of her housework, but insists her home is clean for her three sons and two stepdaughters, a brood ranging in age from 11 to 17.

A film crew recently spent four hours in the house of the Rat Lady. A producer from England had spotted her story on the Internet and arrived to tape an episode of Extreme Infestations, a new documentary series to air on the cable channel Animal Planet.



Ms. Hounsome's rat race is almost over. She has found new quarters for her family in the top floor of a home in which renovations have recently been completed.

"Hardwood flooring. Jetted tub," she marvelled. "It'll be like royalty compared to this."

She has also acquired three kitten companions for Toby.

"I ain't gonna have no more rats. No way. My rat days are done."

The episode is expected to air next year.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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