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Friday, October 2, 2009

Rat Virus? Maybe, maybe not, read on.

I recently came across a question that read, “Is there such a thing as Rat Virus ?”

This made me curious as I did not know the answer, so me being me I googled it. There it was in black and white. It was quite a fascinating and scary story to say the least. It was the story of a store clerk who was sent to clean up the storeroom and came across a lot of mouse & rat droppings. Several days after cleaning it up, he came down with flu like symptoms and subsequently died. The article went on to warn people that they should always wipe down boxes and cans of food they purchased from a store as none were exempt from this hazard.

The very thought that humans could get sick or even die from inhaling the dust left behind from rat and mouse droppings is a scary thought and it brought into mind my mother, who grew up in the great depression and had always washed the cans in which she bought from the grocery store.

One day I asked her why she did this because I thought it might  have had something to do with the depression and how mice or rats would be crawling on those cans in the storeroom that no one had  money to buy. Makes sense right? No money, items don’t get sold and they sit around in some storeroom for months.

I also remember her saying how she used to scoop boll weevils out of her flour in order to use the flour for cooking, so that’s where my train of thought was going.

When I asked her why she washed the cans she proceeded with a plain and simple answer. One day when my Aunt Evie was walking to her car after a day's shopping with three children in tow, she saw several pallets of canned vegetables, soup, and the like piled up at a door behind the grocery store. In the near distance, she also spotted a dog and be damned if that dog did not go up and pee on every one of those pallets!

So the can washing had nothing to do with rats, or mice, or boll weevils during the great depression, but rather one lone dog causing havoc doing what dogs do best, marking! That image always stuck in my mother’s mind and so to this day at age 90, my mother still washes her cans! By the way, the story of the dying store clerk turned out to be a hoax but mouse and rat droppings can cause serious illness and I have included a site below for you to read regarding that.

However, the discussion of rats brought back a different memory for me because I do have a story to tell and anyone who has ever gone into a large pet feed store for dog food needs very much to know what to look for.

I was in a local farm store looking to buy my usual 120 lbs of dog food for the week. There were only two 40 lb bags left which laid not on a shelf but on the floor, and as I went to pick one up I saw what I thought was a baby mouse scramble across my shoe and as I lifted the bag a little further, four more mice ran for cover. I quickly dropped the bag and stepped back. I was in a dilemma as I was totally out of dog food and the food I used could only be purchased in this farm store.

So I stood back and stared at the bags and the floor intensely, looking for the slightest movement. My heart pounding from fear at the thought that any moment a mouse would leap from a shelf and go right for my neck sinking its teeth into my jugular! (Too many Stephen King movies!) Never the less, I tapped one of the bags with my foot and stepped back. Nothing.
 Tap, tap, tap, my foot said again against the bag. Still nothing. So with arms stretched, feet back and ready to sprint, heart pounding, I quickly examined the bags for any damage such as holes, and seeing none I picked them up and placed them onto the cart and ran like hell to the counter to pay for them, then loaded them into my van and drove home. Whew, I was free!

When I got home I inspected the bags again for any holes or chewed parts I may have missed but they were sealed and looked fine so I dropped them on the living room floor and laid the bag of biscuits I had also purchased on the couch. All were scheduled to be put away later into plastic bins by one of the male members of the house, but like every household in America with men, these things rarely get done until the bags are just about empty and one can do it without help!
Come dinner time that night for the dogs, I opened the bag with scissors and fed the brood.

The next morning I saw little pieces of the dog food bag scattered on the floor and saw Cody, my old Cocker Spaniel, sucking down the biscuits I had left on the couch. It looked like he helped himself to 3/4 of the bag and his belly looked a bit more extended than normal so I promptly put him outside, for I  thought surely he would eventually bring 2/3 of those biscuits back up!

A week or two went by, the old dog food was long gone and new food was brought in and all seemed to be right with the world. Well, at least until one night when I was bringing in Crazy Benny and he bolted toward the living room couch going nuts jumping and pushing the couch aside like he was trying to get to something underneath, and in a split second out of the corner of my eye I saw a rat run under the table then under my wood burning stove!

Sorry folks, no way to make this long story short!

“Peter” I yelled. “There’s a rat! Bentley’s found a rat!”

Peter surprisingly came running into the living room as I stood on top of the table with the fireplace poker in hand. Now for those of you who do not know Peter, he is not the type to be so brave around things like rats, mice, or snakes so this action was out of the ordinary to say the least. He probably thought I was pulling yet another joke on him and he was not going to fall for it.

“Get the broom!” I shouted. “It ran under the wood stove, we’ll flush him out and let Bentley kill him.”

Peter ran to get the broom and again surprisingly started to swipe it under the stove. Nothing! The rat was gone!

While still standing atop the table I noticed that when Bentley moved the couch with his body trying to get the rat, he also moved the couch cushion exposing the back of the couch and right there lay a half of a biscuit and the chewed up innards of my sofa!

“He lived in there!” I shouted to Peter as I pointed to the couch.
The couch was only about three feet from where I had laid the bags of dog food that I purchased from the farm store on that ominous day.

Peter picked up the couch and turned it on its side and as he did we heard plrrrt, plrrrt, plrrrt ,plrrrt, and I thought that there were baby rats falling to the floor hitting the wooden frame as they tumbled down the length of the sofa. I was ready to run, but what came out were the biscuits that I thought Cody had eaten weeks before along with many, many rat droppings! Ugh, just the thought is nauseating.
A few days later in my basement, I saw a part of my wall chewed by that damn rat and so I laid down a rat trap. Snap! We got that bugger! Thankfully it was not a pregnant rat!

So what happened? How did that rat get into my house?

 I checked the bags before buying them, albeit quickly at first, but once home I inspected them again for any tears or holes and there was nothing!

The dog food bags seemed to be well sealed, but they were not. In fact in many other bags I have since inspected before purchasing, I found almost 30 % of them had little, unseen to the naked eye, openings at the bottom. If you pick up the bag from the bottom where it meets each side you can in many instances put your fingers right into the bag of food touching the nibblets! This is how mice or baby rats can easily get into the bag without chewing through it.
This also explains how many, many, years earlier, when my children were tots and in car seats, how a rat got into the interior of my car and lived there for months! Now that was a freaky experience!

So the next time you pick up a bag of dog food, at least one of the 40 to 50 lb bags, check the seal on the bottom by sticking a couple of fingers through the sides to see if you can feel the food inside. I placed a picture of a dog food bag with an arrow showing where to put your fingers. The dog food in the picture does not represent the brand that I purchased that day; it is a random picture from the internet. So, happy shopping!

CDC information

my couch where the rat lived!

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