Toilet rats, bull-shy cops, and a prairie dog sweet tooth

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

 

WASHINGTON
If you thought finding a 6-inch-long rat (12, counting the tail) circling your toilet bowl was an urban legend, think again. Each year, the King County Public Health Department gets up to 80 complaints about toilet rats, reports The Seattle Times, and all too often, the humans sound close to panic. “Wife heard scrabbling noises in toilet,” said one man. “Lifted lid and saw rat. She screamed! Flushed three times and rat disappeared.” The couple did not stop there. They squirted dish soap, flushed repeatedly, and also poured bleach and boiling water down the kitchen sink. Another resident, who called in the middle of the night, sounded almost amused: “Heard a splashing noise at 1:30 a.m. in the toilet. Looked to see a rat doing laps. Within five minutes it had disappeared.” One desperate caller considered hand-to-paw combat with the trespasser: “Found a rat in my toilet bowl this evening. It is quite alive, and unhappy to be where it is. … I’ll try using dish soap and flushing. If that doesn’t work, I guess I’ll look for heavy gloves and see if I can remove it that way.” No word on what happened next. Rodent-control specialist Don Pace said he understands that finding a rat in the bathroom can be a jarring experience. “It does freak you out because you’re not expecting it.” He recommended dousing the toilet bowl with dish soap, which breaks the surface tension of the water and makes it harder for the animal to keep swimming. Rats are typically lured into plumbing when food has been poured down a kitchen drain; the animals quickly discover that toilets are an easy way to get into a house. “Toilet rats are egalitarian,” the Times concluded, as likely to pop up in a mansion as in a modest apartment. Pace said it helps to keep the drain of the kitchen sink clean, using a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar, and then rinsing with boiling water. Toilet rats aren’t that common, but the article ends with the slightly ominous question: “Will you still leave the toilet seat up?”

COLORADO
If a 2,200-pound bull got loose on the highway and went running wildly through traffic, most of us would run, too — in the opposite direction. But Erin Stadelman, a rancher’s wife, confronted the wayward bull, racing in flip-flops up her driveway outside Telluride, Colorado. She described the incident in the Ouray County Plaindealer, noting that a state patrolman had already arrived on the scene, but appeared in no hurry to come out from behind his patrol car. So “with the realization that I was on my own,” Stadelman picked up a stick, walked toward the animal — aptly named Red Bull — and threw it at him, striking him right between the eyes. That got the big guy’s attention. The officer pointed to an open gate, and Stadelman walked toward Red Bull, yelling, “Get in there!” Surprisingly, the animal followed orders and calmly entered the pasture. The Colorado State Patrol does a lot to keep people safe, Stadelman said, but “I guess it was best to let the woman with the stick handle that little traffic problem.”

MONTANA
It would have seemed like a true prairie miracle: Life-saving M&M chocolates dropping like pennies from heaven — but, alas, no candy will be involved. The rest of the story is true, however. Prairie dogs, a keystone species that endangered black-footed ferrets rely on for food, are threatened by sylvatic plague, which is spread by fleas. Although individual ferrets can be vaccinated by injection, the UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Montana is much too vast for rangers to cover on foot, strewing vaccine-coated pellets for the prairie dogs. So this September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to use drones that have been fitted out with a “glorified gumball machine,” reports the Guardian. Every 30 feet, and in three directions, the jerry-built drones will spit out specially made pellets suffused with vaccine. They might not be the M&Ms of rumor, but agency biologist Randy Machett says there’s no doubt prairie dogs will gobble them up like candy; lab tests showed that they found the bait “delicious.” Only 300 black-footed ferrets remain in the United States, all descended from seven ferrets that were bred in captivity in the early 1980s. 

THE WEST
This July, two transgender congressional candidates — both Democrats named Misty — won their primaries as well as a place in future history books. In Utah, Misty Snow, a 30-year-old cashier, is a long shot to unseat Republican Sen. Mike Lee, and in Colorado, Misty Plowright, a 33-year-old IT worker, is running in Colorado Springs against the very conservative Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn. Both women are concerned about progressive issues, including a national $15 minimum wage and booting big money out of politics.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write betsym@hcn.org or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.