Friday, February 23, 2018

Smelling a rat


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If you "smell a rat" it may not be a real rodent but merely that you suspect something is wrong. Sometimes it can be a combination of the two, both literal and figurative, as in a recent article in Forbes, the financial magazine. The headline was, "Scientists smell a rat in fraudulent genetic engineering study" and the first paragraph stated, "Last week French microbiologist Gilles-Eric Séralini and several colleagues released the results of a long-term study in which rats were fed genetically engineered (AKA, genetically modified, or "GM") corn that contains enhanced resistance to insects and/or the herbicide glyphosate... they then announced that their long-term studies found that the rats in experimental groups developed tumours at an alarming rate." Forbes claimed the investigators intended to get a spurious result and used a strain of rats that were bred to develop tumours as they aged.

I have a dog here in Antigua who is better than Forbes and their scientists at smelling rats. His name is Bunji and while he may not be as dogged as Forbes, his sense of smell is especially good when it comes to rats. Even though I complain it is the only sense he has, Bunji constantly proves his worth through his olfactory omniscience. This is a useful gift and Bunji is worth all the meals and love my wife lavishes on him because here in Antigua it is not the corn that is genetically engineered, but the rats. If you park your car too long in the driveway, a rat will inevitably take it over.

Rats here are field dwellers who sneak around, trying to scrounge whatever they could. Among their favourite meals is wire-mesh which they eat as an appetiser so that they can get into your house, where they find their main courses and shelter that is not as hazardous as a car engine. The rats are also growing bigger and bigger.

The reason is that dog ownership here is increasing. Whether because of the rise in crime or dog-fighting, more people have dogs, especially pit-bulls, which must be fed with expensive store-bought "chow". The rats are brave and desperate enough to eat the dog rations and the additional protein is like steroids to them—in fact, they run as fast as Ben Johnson and one, looking like Lance Armstrong, jumped on my children's bike recently. It is only very quick work that kept him from riding away with it.

The Antiguan rats remind me of a calypso by Lord Blakie, the deceased Trinidad calypsonian, about a rat which climbed up on the stove, removed the cover from a meat dish, ate its fill, and then put back the cover before departing. Ours are smarter—they will remove the pot and even the stove to use the oven as a nest.

Bunji was out for his pre-bedtime walk when he started nosing around the car. My wife knows Bunji's behaviour well enough to realise a rat was in the engine compartment, probably searching for the spare key to unlock the door, drive the small Matrix into the bushes, strip it and sell the parts to buy dog food. Whatever its intentions, we will never know, as I unlocked the door, started the engine to scare the rat away and opened the hood to show it I meant business. The rat escaped through its access point under the vehicle and took off, not so much scared as annoyed, perhaps even going to gather its friends for a showdown with us.

Bunji may or may not have seen the rat. Possibly, smelling the rat was enough for him and, considering his duty done, he expected one of the other three dogs to do the rest. Or it might be that the rat was almost as big as Bunji (or so claimed my wife). Whatever the reason, the rat escaped unmolested and untroubled. It holed up in the pump room, a small shed outside the house that is redolent of rodent, most likely preparing for a prolonged game of hide and squeak with us.

The other three dogs are hopeless. Sheba, the youngest, is a speedy, black mixed-breed female who can run and who hunts the tarantula spiders that cover the yard at night. However, she is scared of her own shadow. Missy is an ancient female and Crix can find cricket balls in the bush but not anything else.

Faced with their inadequacy, I decided to take severe steps to ensure the safety of my car, home, family and dogs. I figured desperate times called for desperate measures. I had tried glue traps, but the rats got high on the glue and held races with the traps, using them like moccasins on their feet. The winner got to eat the glue and the plastic case. I tried rat "cake" and one of the sagacious rats, instead of consuming it, left it where the dogs would find and eat it. We almost lost Crix that way. So I bought a metal rat trap and, baiting it with cheddar, sneakily opened the pump room door and slid the trap in, hoping the rat would not smell a rat.

Early the next morning, I went to see whether the trap had worked and to remove it if the rat had not tripped it since I did not want any of the dogs to be injured. That was more than a week ago. Up to today, I cannot find the trap anywhere. I strongly suspect the rat has gone to the local pawn shop, "Cash Whiz", to see how much money it could get from selling the trap so it could buy some Purina or, worse, it might have headed for the US looking for Lance Armstrong's supplier.

• Tony Deyal was last seen saying

he is worried the rat might have reset

the trap using a bone as bait to catch Bunji.

Or maybe it was a "Mickey Mouse" trap.