I’m belly down in the crawl space, my spelunking flashlight cutting a small cone of bright white light through the murky dark. Ahead of me is the engineer in his coveralls, while behind me, the access door flaps shut in a stormy gust of wind. The soil beneath me is cool, but I’m still tacky with the sweat of my labors, having already dragged out decades of the owner’s accumulated debris to make way for our crawl.
Evidence of rats is all around. Droppings had showered from the disintegrating tarps and old blinds I’d excavated, and chewed shreds of urine-soaked insulation swing, ghostly, from the ductwork. Nothing else smells quite like fresh rat. Propping myself on my elbows, I train my light on the far foundation wall, where the engineer is now poking at a crack.
I hear a faint scritch-scritch but I ignore it – probably just some debris settling. A moment later, I hear it again, and this time, something brushes against my ankle. I have no clearance to move – if I leap up, I will brain myself on the floor joist above. I am paralyzed as something starts moving up my leg – something large.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to scream. I’ve encountered plenty of critters under houses before – raccoons, possums, skunks – but they always run away from me. Something doesn’t make sense about the animal now squeezing along my body, past my hip, then my shoulder. A small nose touches my cheek, and then…purring. I exhale. The furry thing crosses the beam of my flashlight, turns, and playfully head-bumps me, as I feel a second set of paws walking up my back.
I inch my way backward, kick open the access door, and squirm back into daylight — leapfrogged by two lean adolescent cats! I later learn they live next door, they’re named Hunter and Chase, and they are already avid ratters.
This season, the conditions are just right for massive rat invasions in the East Bay. All of my recent projects in the hills have included rodent abatement. The little critters love to nest in attic insulation, building pathways and nest condominiums. They also love to congregate in basements, having parties around furnaces and water heaters, where it stays warm and toasty. It’s reached the point where, before fully exploring any basement or crawlspace, I first poke my head in and sniff for the telling, ammonia-like odor of rat urine.
Rodent abatement is not cheap, especially once the attic and basement are contaminated with urine, feces, nesting materials, and frequently carcasses. The abatement company will seal off any opening larger than 1/4″, remove all signs of rodents, sanitize the area, replace insulation as needed, and possible install either a “rat slab” (concrete barrier installed over the surface of the soil under the house” or a “rat trench” (concrete barrier installed underground around the perimeter of the house.) I have had good success working with Got Rats and the Original Rodent Proofers.