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First Blindfold the Pack Rat

pack rat invasionI’ve been remarkably smug about the ease with which fruits and veggies flourish in my Tucson garden. Early on I had trouble with marauding javelinas but a sturdy fence took care of that problem. My veggie plot and pots are nestled in a walled-in area and safe, or so I thought, from peril - and then came the attack of the pack rats!

The scourge of desert dwellers these cute (really they are cute to look at) members of the rodent family are indeed pack rats. They love to gather accessories for their messy nests. They are especially fond of the inner wiring of cars, washing machines and air conditioning units. They will get into any dark space and pretty soon fill it up with snippets from carpet, electrical wiring, laundry…anything they can get their teeth into.

Early this year I had a major invasion into my house! My cat, she’s 18 and somewhat eccentric, woke me several nights in a row with psychotic yowling and much thumping as she raced across the wooden floors…I put it down to senior “fun”. In short order I discovered my new washing machine was not working; next came the inexplicable total destruction of an ostrich feather duster and then I moved a couch and found the fringe of the carpet missing! Hmm. The service man unlocked the mystery. The motor of the washer was stuffed full of carpet scraps, feathers, cat food and a pair of socks. “Pack Rat” he announced!

And now they are back in my garden chomping on eggplant and nibbling delicately on emerging rows of cabbage and micro greens. Time to call in the troops and bait the Have a Heart traps with peanut butter smeared apple slices.  They are fairly easy to entice into the traps but then the problem of re-location arises.  I too was skeptical of the stories I heard about their remarkable ability to return from whence they came and the need for an elaborate plan to fool them as you took them away. Really, and this is the truth, you have to blind-fold them and drive them, by a circuitous route, a minimum distance of six miles from your house. Obviously you don’t have to fashion tiny masks and cover their eyes but you do have to drape the trap with a dark fabric before setting out, preferably before dawn …there’s something mildly cloak and dagger about releasing your rat near someone else’s house…in order to release them at sufficient distance to thwart their return. It’s not uncommon to see a car parked in a remote desert spot, engine running, and a hooded figure sureptitiously removing a wrapped object from the trunk of their car - chances are they are releasing the catch of the day.  I’m up to five catch and release sorties now and still the nightly raids on the garden persist.

I have learned the following really works in deterring these pesky critters from taking up residence with you.  When leaving your car for any length of time either crack the hood open or run a string of rope lights under the vehicle. Make sure the seals to garage doors are a snug fit and stuff any likely looking entry holes with scrunched up steel wool.  Encase external wiring in mesh tubing. Clear areas around your house of garden debris…they are especially fond of prickly pear plants.

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