Slaughter of the innocents

I live in the woods. I expect the pitter-patter of tiny feet, four at a time, and the occasional rattle -thump when those four-footed nocturnal visitors fossick through the pots for grubs. I only object when they move into the house, although even then, if they’re polite and don’t actually run across my feet or fill the place with poison gas, my general inclination is live and let live.

But something has been eating my mother’s plants (my mother lives in a house at the far end of our deck.) She’d like to think the culprit is some cute and fluffy scalawag, some misled squirrel or chipmunk that soon will see the error of its ways and move on. I, however, am pretty sure it’s not cute, not unless your heartstrings are tugged by scaly tails, yellow teeth, and pointy noses.

Still, even rats have a right to do their thing, and once I’d hacked back the overhanging trees and they stopped doing the samba across the roof at night, they weren’t bothering me too much. I did wish they would find something to eat other than my orange and lemon trees, which they denuded back to the trunks so that my deck has a lot of weird, modernistic sculptures sticking out of it, and I really wished they’d leave my mother’s treasures the hell alone, but even that only made me buy sprays and powders guaranteed to slow them down at least five percent.

However, we now have reached the point where the Cycle of Nature is beginning to enter the equation. And since the way we humans live these days isn’t exactly natural, this takes some adjustment—normally, as I say, on my part, but the time has come to ask Nature to nudge back a bit.

It was the bobcat that did it. Or rather, the two bobcats, one small (probably female) but one the size of a coyote, and neither of them in the least shy. They stroll across the lawn (in broad daylight, nothing nocturnal about these cats), they stare at you when you clap your hands at them, they only mosey off when you begin to throw things in their direction.

They’re not going to attack anything as big as a human, these aren’t mountain lions—and if they felt cornered or had their young threatened, well, even a cute and fluffy squirrel could be forgiven for attacking under those circumstances.

But they’re here during the day, and our cats (which we already lock up at night, for fear of providing the coyotes with dinner) might begin to look juicy to them.

Now, before you get all het up, I’m not proposing to trap, poison, shoot or otherwise harm a bobcat. They’re gorgeous, and they have the right to live in the woods.

But I can discourage them from hanging around. Which means make them nervous about being here, and take away their food supply.

The first of those is a thing called a scarecrow motion activated sprinkler, which you put on the end of a hose and, when it senses motion, lets off a burst of noisy water on any deer, dog, cat, or unsuspecting human who passes in front of it. Great fun.

But the second is wholesale slaughter, cold-blooded murder, vicious entrapment.

In other words, I’m killing the rats. If there’s no prey for the bobcats, and if every time they wander through this thing jumps out at them and flaps and shoots out water, pretty soon they’ll begin to stay down at their end of the hill, hunting mice in the neighbor’s vineyard, and my own cats will again venture outside.

That’s the theory. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(And now when you see me at an event or a conference, you’ll think to yourself, Gee, that King woman doesn’t look like a vicious killer….)

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  1. Elisa on March 20, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    So much for the abiss between romance (the pitter patter of little feet) and reality (stripped trees and predators stalking your cats). Let me know what works. I’ve had sew rats for years and haven’t succeeded in driving them out yet.

  2. WDI on March 20, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I’ve killed far too many small mammals in the name of research to ever point fingers or cast stones elsewhere. I do hope you’ll let us know how the experiment proceeds. I’m especially curious to find out whether or not your bobcats will stick around and switch to eating squirrels, birds, etc. rather than moving down the hill to easier prey (if the vineyard mice are, indeed, easier prey).

    I also envy you the pleasure of watching these magnificent animals in daylight. The closest I’ve ever come was seeing eyeshine in a palo verde tree one night in Mexico . . .

  3. Roxanne on March 20, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    It certainly sounds like you have done your research. Getting rid of the suspected rats will be a help. Here is a link to a supposedly safe rat repellent: Shake Away Critter Repellent

    Unfortunately, there is no known bobcat repellent. Here is a link to another kind of deterrent: Phantom Pest Wildlife Deterrents

    Hope these are helpful. Good luck. The bobcats are so beautiful, it is too bad they are dangerous to your domestic friends.

  4. corgimom on March 20, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    I, for one, have always thought you looked like a vicious killer, so no problem there! Seriously, nature adapts much more quickly and clinically than do humans. Good luck with your current quandry.

  5. Anonymous on March 20, 2007 at 5:24 pm


    Killing rats?!

    That response is just so …



  6. themadlibrarian on March 20, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Won’t anything annoying enough to make the bobcats move on (shame, that) also play hob with your cats’ ramblings? As a corollary, how come your cats aren’t making the rats’ lives a merry hell? Sleeping on the job, them!

  7. tamborina93345 on March 20, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    My neighbor has one of the motion activated sprinklers. Needless to say, they are quite fun to surprise people with.

  8. Anonymous on March 20, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    The feral cats I feed ignore the roof rats, as far as I can tell …. Maybe I should stop feeding them.

    On an entirely different topic, I just looked at the latest issue of Bancroftiana, the publication of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. It includes an article about mysteries set in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and, hurrah, mentioned Locked Rooms. To read the article — basically, plot summaries, go to, click on the left on a list that includes publications, then click on Bancroftiana, then on spring issue. It’s on p. 10, I think.

  9. Anonymous on March 20, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Oh wow, cats, rats, bats, rattle snakes, mice, chip monks, ravens, rabbits, bears, bees, coyotes and foxes…

    these we had when on our mesa we lived here in New Mexico.

    Since moving to New Mexico thirteen years ago we have have had seven cats. We lost two to domestic dogs, and three to, well wildlife and have two survivors who came down off the mesa with us to town.

    We also have had in the same period of time three dogs. One died at a wonderful old age of natural causes, one from rattle snake bite and one lives and sleeps at my feet as I write.

    The surviving cats are both voracious hunters. All of them we kept (or attempt to keep in at night).

    The bees we lost to the bear,(one hive and sadly the other to lack of food since the folks in the valley below have slowly stopped farming).

    the chipmonks moved on because of the cats (the chips I miss the most but oh they do and will eat anything, anywhere, anytime),

    the rats were driven off by the cats as were the rattle snakes from our immediate surround…some sort of arch typical knowledge that a cat scratch will do them in.

    Well, all but one super sized rattler who used to stretch across our gate and wouldn’t let us drive in, who we moved via garabage can to another stock tank a mile off.

    the rabbits denuded our new wildlife planting until we put out sweet feed and now that the plantings are shrubs the rabbits prune them just right.

    the ravens came in great family groupings to eat the sweet feed and since stopping spreading it come not at all but fly majestically on the mesa edge thermals.

    The foxes used to visit with the cats at a respectful distance and then proceed to bark for their mates. We were pretty excited by their appearance as they had been totally hunted out of our region.

    the bats fly every summer night still, undisturbed by anyone.

    All these beings bothered us one way or another, don’t get me started on the mosquitoes, and still as the years passed moved on our out or righted some imbalance.

    Nuisance or not, terrifying (as the bear was grazing on my spring clover lawn after awakening from his slumbers), and heart stopping when a rattler approached, and rending when the kitties just didn’t come home in the morning or were’nt there when we got back from being away, and beyond belief as my dog died in my arms…

    I’d not change it. What an education in being here now all together.

    Very rare anymore and oh yes to watch bob cats in the day.

    But finally we all must do what we must to make our lives work. And very inventive are we. No criticism as wdi said.

    And clever that, the couger sound machine.


  10. Carlina on March 21, 2007 at 3:05 am

    Killing rats! Well that is justified in my opinion. You could always give them straight strychnine, provided you know your cats won’t have access to the poison. That should do the rats off nicely and the bobcats too (although poisoning bobcats may be a federal or state offense nowadays with all the wildlife laws). As for the vicious killer part, I don’t buy it. I don’t envision you chasing rats with a sharp knife and doing a Jack Nicholson impression, saying “Heeerrreee’sss Laurie!”

    I am wondering how big your rats are? If they are the size of city rats, you may need more than mouse traps and might want to consider raccoon traps. At least they could be donated to the nearest research university. That way no one can complain about killing the “poor innocent disease carrying rats.” I call it rodent recycling.

    Hope you get your pest problem solved! Happy hunting and/or murdering. Do keep us posted.

  11. Nikki on March 21, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Since you live in a rural area, those are probably wood rats. They are not only disease-carrying and annoying little things. They are also quite destructive.

    I live on a cattle farm, smack in the middle of 50 acres of trees. Wood rats are no strangers here. About 10 years ago, my husband fell asleep in the livingroom floor. He kept hearing scratching sounds, but thought it was only a squirrel, raccoon, or ‘possum trying to make a nest under the house. This is not a rare occurence. The next thing I knew, he’s reaching into the gunrack for the .22. I asked why he doesn’t just grab the pellet gun. He said, “There’s a rat as big as a small dog out there, and it just ate a hole through our floor and is running around _in_ the house. I don’t want to scare it. I want to kill it.”

    Happy hunting!

  12. WDI on March 21, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    If I may be permitted a geek moment . . .If Laurie’s rats have scaly tails, they’re not woodrats (aka packrats, members of the genus Neotoma), which have relatively short, well-furred tails. They’re also adorable 🙂 Her scaly-tailed nemeses are more than likely plain old Rattus (Norway, black, or roof rats).

    M. Diane – where did/do you live in New Mexico? I went to grad school at UNM in Albuquerque and am finally getting a visit this summer. I can hardly wait!

  13. corgimom on March 21, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    WDI–Corgimom here, also an ABQ resident in Nob Hill area, and willing tour guide for any and all visitors! Glad you’re getting back out her.

  14. Anonymous on March 21, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Please make haste and get rid of the rodents! Their feces are considered a hazardous material. I work in the Real estate industry and you should see the exterminators and those who retrieve the dead carcuses suited up with breathing equipment and suits. I live adjacent to 5000 acre park in No Ca so we get quite a variety of squatters under the house. So, couple times a year, the pest co is called to inspect for rats and then we go thru the trapping routine. But well worth it to protect our health. My advise? Hire a professional.

  15. Nikki on March 21, 2007 at 7:46 pm


    I just came back from ABQ. My sister lives in a community called Paa Ko, near Cedar Crest in the east mountains.


    >They’re also adorable 🙂< If something is chewing a hole in my floor, I’m generally hard pressed to call it adorable. I guess I’m just funny like that.

  16. WDI on March 21, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I lived not far from there when I was in grad school (Columbia SW). Maybe we can get together for lunch or something when I’m out?

    I’m a mammalogist by training, in large part because I find most rodents to be cute — but woodrats are especially so. I have not, however, had one chew through my floor 🙂

  17. Carlina on March 22, 2007 at 12:04 am

    WDI: I don’t know about rats being cute…but California mice (Peromyscus californicus) are adorable! Some great research was done here at IU with males and parental investment. They are quite interesting!

    You know it is amazing. Laurie get’s mice and this becomes the most active blog of the month. I wonder what would happen if Holmes and Russell got mice? I can see Holmes trying to catch the things for experiments, Ms. Hudson screaming, and Russell fleeing to Oxford over the whole thing.

  18. corgimom on March 22, 2007 at 1:19 am

    WDI (and Nikki) (and thanks Laurie for the forum)–I’d love to have lunch, so follow my link to my blog and leave your e-mail? Nikki, you too for next time you’re out this way. I ride my motorcycle past Paa Ko all the time and am envious of those, rats or otherwise, who get to live there!

  19. corgimom on March 22, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Well, that didn’t work. My site (which is totally boring unless you’re related to me and my kid) (so PLEASE know this isn’t a plug of any kind)is

  20. corgimom on March 22, 2007 at 1:26 am

    Well, that didn’t work. My site (which is totally boring unless you’re related to me and my kid) (so PLEASE know this isn’t a plug of any kind)is

  21. Nikki on March 22, 2007 at 5:50 am


    The older I get, the more I come to understand my outlook on life is not the same as Other People. If I had the choice, I’d much prefer living in a tent and being penniless (as long as I had a library card and a Coleman lantern to read by at night)than taking on the stress involved in making enough money to own a house in Paa Ko. Motorcycles, however, do sound great. We plan to get them again after the kids are out of the house (within the next 5 years or so).

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but ABQ holds only bad memories for me. My dad died when I was 9 and my mom stuck me on a plane bound for ABQ every summer to spend time with my sister (she was 20 when I was born). I keep thinking that if I go back there I can make good memories. No luck with that so far.

    I did have a very nice day taking my 14 y.o. son to Santa Fe this trip. I’m a woman of simple tastes–a stroll through Santa Fe and lunch at Tia Sofia’s make for a great day.

    Thanks for the invitation. I’ll take you up on that if I’m forced to go to ABQ again in the near future.

  22. Mousie on March 22, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    At camp this past summer, they told us to keep the girlies away from rodents and the rodents out of living spaces as the rodents possibly carry hanta(sp?) virus. Rats bred for pets are one thing, wild ones that may carry icky diseases are quite another.

  23. Carlina on March 22, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Yes roof rats and Norway rats, such as those Laurie may have, are carriers of hantavirus and a strain of hemorrhagic fever, along with rat bite fever and other illnesses. A complete list can be found on the CDC website:

    Pesty little things. Hope you get your problem solved Laurie.

    Lovely that LR was mentioned in Bancroftiana. I will check that out.

    Anyone seen Russell’s latest blog?

  24. Becky Levine on March 23, 2007 at 12:03 am

    I wish those squirty things would work on the rodents themselves. I don’t mind them at all in my garage, although I do keep the washing machine lid down at all times, for fear of one falling in from the rafters and…well, I won’t describe the visualization! I would even be willing to share the kitchen food, if it weren’t for the leavings they share in turn with us.

    It’s the noise at night. I swear, they’re tap-dancing in the walls; it’s the only thing I can think of that would make just that sound. They can have a party, but I wish they’d shut down when we want to sleep!

  25. Roxanne on March 23, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    But Becky–the nocturnal ratty tap-dancing and partying sounds are so entertaining for the house cats …

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