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Saved by a whisker! There's a rat in Chris Kelsey's garden - but how does he explain to his gerbil-loving children it's not as welcome?

WALT Disney's empire may have started with a mouse. My weekend started with a rat.

It's my father I blame. If he hadn't inculcated in me a love of bird life when I was a child we would never have had vermin in our garden.

Every morning, come rain, wind or snow, my father would be out there scattering bread crumbs on the lawn and tying bits of old bacon rind onto the apple tree.

These were the days before you could walk into any garden centre and buy Bill Oddie's Hienergy Dried Fruit, Hazelnut and Mealworm Muesli, for tits, robins and finches.

No, our birds had to make do with the scraps from our table, however unsuitable, and small birds would fly hopefully into our garden, peck once or twice at the bacon, and fly off never to be seen again.

Six months later, as we pushed ladders against the trees to pick the apples, the rinds would still be there, black and stinking, ready to hit an unsuspecting child's head as it pushed up through the branches.

Still, at least the breadcrumbs and seeds my father threw onto the lawn attracted some wildlife.


Actually, our house was very popular with all sorts of small rodents.

House mice were common, causing my brother to develop meningitis after he ate their poop. And the rarer field mice and voles used to take refuge in our cellar when the river flooded the bottom of the garden.

But it was when the rats came that my father decided to take action.

He bought a .22 rifle, put out some bait, made himself comfortable in a cunningly concealed position, and waited.

Eight stiffening hours later he gave up.

It was poison that did for the rats in the end. My dad decided his children were old enough not to eat the white sherbet-like powder he scattered around the shed, and one small corner of an Essex village became for a while rat free.

Fast forward 40 years, and my own efforts to keep the local birds alive through the freezing winter weather began to attract a fourlegged interloper.

Times have changed since the 60s. I didn't think South Wales Police would be impressed if I said I needed a rifle to shoot a rat.

So I wandered down to Cardiff Market at lunchtime to see what methods of mammalian murder were on offer.

I bought a brutal looking oldfashioned rat trap and took it back to the office. Then I got a phone call from my wife.

"Hi, I'm in the pet shop with the children and they've each chosen a lovely, cute gerbil that they want to buy. That's all right, isn't it?" Now of course, I didn't want to be the father who wouldn't let them have the cute gerbils they'd already given names to.

So when I got home there was one nasty brown rat in the garden and three cute desert rats in the house.

Suddenly I felt our rodent problem had become morally complicated. Could I kill the rat in the garden while teaching the boys to cherish their gerbils upstairs? So I ordered a humane rat trap from Amazon, baited it and waited. After a couple of mistrials, I looked out one morning to see a brown shape moving about inside the cage.

A pair of crows were walking around the trap, planning the axes of advance for a pincer attack on its frantic occupant.

"Boys, do you want to see a rat?" I called.

Our boys are not the sort to resist such an invitation, and they crowded around the trap as I picked it up to carry it through the house.

"What's that on the floor?" asked my wife, pointing to an unmistakable brown smudge on the laminate.

Too late, I remembered that the trap was after all just a cage with a mesh bottom.

What would you do if you were caught, Gulliver-like, and surrounded by huge creatures staring at you and making incomprehensible, but very loud noises? Well, that was exactly what the rat had done.

Risking the car's suspension, I weaved my way through the potholes on the St Mellons Road to find a place suitably far from habitation to release my prisoner.

As I opened the boot and carried the trap up a path, the rat stopped gnawing at the bars and seemed to settle down with the gentle swaying of the cage.

Before leaving the house one of the twins asked if we could keep this rat as a pet.

I explained that it hadn't been born in captivity like our gerbils, but was a wild animal and would never be happy in a cage.

And I spared him the details of some of the very unpleasant diseases it might be carrying.

Now I looked at it and saw that it was just as attractive an animal as the gerbils.

I found a tangled patch of undergrowth under a hedge and pulled up the cage door.

Surprisingly slowly, the animal crept out and worked its way between the stems.

I was glad I hadn't killed it, even if I had only exported our problem to someone else.

As for the rat, it would simply have to take its chances, as all wild animals must.


UNWANTED GUEST: Rat 0, the Kelsey family 1
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 16, 2010
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