By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 23, 2010
At first, the Hounsome family puzzled over the odd bumps in the night.
A thump in the walls. Scratching in the ceiling.
It’s an old house, they noted. Maybe it’s haunted.
“We were hearing noises,” said 40-year-old Tamara Hounsome. “It got to the point where the kids didn’t want to sleep in their room upstairs because we were hearing so many noises at night.”
Over time, the nocturnal knocks became more frequent.
“We’d sit up at night and freak each other out. We were sure there was a ghost in here.”
A hint to the mystery was offered one night by Toby the tabby. The family cat stared at the base of the dishwasher as though watching a particularly riveting episode of “Garfield and Friends.”
Soon after, Ms. Housome was doing the dishes when a critter skittered across the floor, over her feet (!), and away. All she saw was a pink tail and a whole mess of trouble.
“I felt horror and I felt sick,” she said.
A ghost would have been a welcome intruder compared to the freeloaders she now knew were squatting in her rental home on 105th Street in Nanaimo, two blocks north of the Island Highway.
She set a snap trap, baiting it with a generous dollop of Kraft peanut butter. Thwack!
She set more traps. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
“We were getting two or three a day. That’s when I knew I really had a problem.”
She bought out all 35 rat traps in stock at the local hardware store.
She called an exterminator. The estimate was $1,500. Her husband is a construction labourer. She worked in retail, though now is on a disability pension after receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The cost was more than a month’s rent. She remembers breaking into tears.
The landlord was not answering calls.
“After many anxiety attacks and many dead rats, I thought I needed some help.”
At wit’s end, she called a local newspaper. They did a story. Then, a television news crew followed up.
She thinks of it now as “a plea for help with my rats.”
The exterminator saw her on television. He was touched by her plight, offered his services this time as a gift. He closed entry portals in the roof and elsewhere in the drafty old house. An expert in the culinary preferences of the black rat, he advised using chocolate frosting. Rattus rattus has a sweet tooth.
“To date we’ve caught 32 rats,” she said. She hushed as she contemplated the number. “That’s a lot of rats.”
The media attention has made the 40-year-old mother something of a celebrity around town, though not for the best of reasons.
“I go out and people are looking at me as if they know me,” she said.
After staring for a moment, it hits them.
“I’ve become known in the city as the Rat Lady.”
She’s heard a few nasty comments about the quality of her housework, but insists her home is clean for her three sons and two stepdaughters, a brood ranging in age from 11 to 17.
A film crew recently spent four hours in the house of the Rat Lady. They set up lights in the living room so bright as to seem part of an interrogation scene.
A producer from England had spotted her story on the Internet and arrived to tape an episode of “Extreme Infestations,” a new documentary series to air on the cable channel Animal Planet.
London-based Darlow Smithson Productions are on the hunt for real-life pest problems involving “bedbugs, mice, cockroaches, spiders, termites, ants, bats, moles, bees, wasps, frogs, woodworm, snakes, birds, racoons, skunks, etc.”
Last month, a crew filmed a house in Rexburg, Idaho, under which a den of garter snakes had made home.
Garter snakes are cuddly pets compared to the possibility of having some flinty-eyed rodent popping up from the drain during a shower.
Now, her rat race is almost over. She has found new quarters for her family in the top floor of a home in which renovations have recently been completed.
“Hardwood flooring. Jetted tub,” she marveled. “It’ll be like royalty compared to this.”
She has also acquired three kitten companions for Toby.
“I ain’t gonna have no more rats. No way. My rat days are done.”
The Nanaimo episode is expected to air next year.
Let me tell you how it will be
Totals released by Elections BC on Friday showed strong support for the anti-HST initiative in all 14 Vancouver Island ridings.
An astounding 11,512 eligible voters in Saanich North and the Islands signed the petition opposing the harmonized sales tax. That’s a sliver less than 26 per cent of all voters in the riding, which includes a suburb north of Victoria, as well as the southernmost Gulf Islands.
Murray Coell, the Liberal incumbent who has since been named labour minister, took the seat by just 258 votes over the NDP’s Gary Holman in last year’s general election.
The poorest Vancouver Island showing came in the Nanaimo riding held by the NDP’s Leonard Krog, where the petition was still signed by 17.32 per cent of eligible voters.