I have a rat problem.
There's one loose in the house. The catch is that it's a pet, my daughter's, and she's coming back this weekend from a two-week trip to her grandparents'.
Let me explain how I got into this mess.
My 13-year-old had been a lobbying for a small rodent for some time. I resisted because we have a dog and she has fish. Still I couldn't get her off her rodent fixation.
Buying her the white rat last month was a victory of sorts, as I'd talked her down from a chinchilla. (Ever price one of those little Andean squirrels? ¡Ay, caramba!)
So, a few weeks ago, we took a ride down to Vermin R Us on McKnight Road. That's not the store's actual name, of course, but it's one of those big places that moves pets like canned goods.
Anyway, we went straight to the rodent aisle. There were little rats and medium-sized rats. The smaller the rat the better -- that's one of my core beliefs. The little ones also cost less, and if you can't save on rats, what's left?
I asked a clerk a few questions, trying to find out the difference. She delicately explained that most of these rats aren't sold as pets, and thus the smaller ones are cheaper.
Ah, yes. I flashed back to my college days. A guy in my fraternity house had a boa constrictor, Larry Boa, if I recall correctly. This snake swallowed maybe a mouse a week, and I once ran an errand to the pet store to get my buddy's cuddly reptile his little furry nosh.
I discovered that day that if you wanted a mouse for a pet, it was a buck, but if you wanted one as snake food, it was 50 cents. Either way, your mouse was lifted from the same cage and, either way, it was placed in a little cardboard box with a side photo of two cute little kids and their mouse with this caption: "I finally found a home ... Somebody really loves me."
Larry Boa loved those mice all right. I felt good that our rat would have a better life.
Cage, wheel, water bottle -- I thought we covered everything. I drove the whole shebang home and my girl set the rat up in her room. Then, a couple of weeks ago, she, her big sister and their mom flew off to grandma's house in Wisconsin's Northwoods. I was left to rat-sit.
About three nights in, I walked into the room to find the rat out of its cage and burrowing into a pile of clothes. It hit me too late that I should have gotten either a smaller cage or a larger rat. My daughter had duct-taped the bottom of the cage, but the rat must have pulled the ol' climb-atop-the-water-bottle-to-get-above-the-duct-tape trick.
I grabbed the little pink-eyed sneak and put her back in solitary. When I later called my daughter to tell of the escape, she instructed me to duct-tape around the water bottle.
That certainly beat buying an electric fence.
I taped the cage until the spool ran out. When I came back the next day, though, the rat had vanished. There was no sign of it. I'd have called its name but I couldn't remember it.
I contemplated buying a second, larger rat and telling my daughter upon her return that it had a growth spurt. Then I decided to leave the cage door open with food in a dish outside it, and to keep the bedroom door shut, to see if it was still in the room.
Sure enough, there was less food in the dish the next day. I know some animal is in there, too, because when I brought in our dog, his nose twitched like Al Pacino's in the final scenes of "Scarface."
I never bothered looking for the rat. The potential hiding places are endless. My daughter, like her father, is no neatnik. If you saw her room, you'd wonder why we didn't name her Katrina.
So maybe I don't have a rat problem. When my daughter returns home this weekend, her only hope of finding her rat will be by putting her clothes away and otherwise tidying up her room.
Could it be I've stumbled upon a household hint that Heloise never considered? If your teenager won't clean her room, buy a small rat and a big cage, mix -- and wait. Nature should do the rest.
Brian O'Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947. First Published August 4, 2013 4:00 AM