It started small. We only wanted to find a place we could buy, just a little building. Structurally sound, a place we could live and have a home, a place we could garden and kids could play on grass.
But so much was so expensive. Even a little apartment building could go for more than a million dollars. We didn’t have more than a million dollars. We had carefully built nest eggs and a yen to have a home that wasn’t in suburbia. Near green space. Not too much to ask, was it? Well, there was nothing that was perfect. Or nothing perfect was for sale, anyhow.
But there was Pendrell Place. Vaulted ceilings, huge apartments. Wooden floors. A building that was built to be a building. To stand. We approached the owner, but he laughed us off. “This place is worth six mil at least,” he crowed. Then he chased the kids off the grass.
We talked that night after the kids were asleep, top and bottom bunk occupied. August breathed down our necks, leaving us punchy and damp. Across the street at the hospital, rats gambolled on the sidewalk, wrestling over Subway wrappers and old Tim Hortons bags.
We bought the rats the next day. Twelve young ones, paid cash, at a store just out of Chinatown. They were brown and untraceable, otherwise destined rather more certainly as snake food than as cossetted pets. Arwen read up on Skinner’s experiments and I went out to buy a dog whistle.
The training regime progressed. Rats do learn fast. Conditioned to come to the sound of the whistle, which was inaudible to human ears, they knew they’d get food and affection from us.
As for poison, we put small amounts each day into their food. Norweigan wharf rats are immune to Warfarin, but we fed them anti-dehydration tablets and small amounts of other commercial posions. These rats would not be exterminated.
We also kept them in seperate cages. We didn’t want pregnant rats slowed down, or stopping to have litters. I also gave them birth control pills as a safety.
By mid-Septmeber we were ready. Pendrell place had never looked lovelier than it did in the silver of moonlight. We released the rats into the grille at the back of the building.
In the middle of the night, always at a different time, one of us would sneak down, blow the food whistle, and give them another dose of food and birth control and insurance against poison. There were casualties. We lost three, we never knew how. But their work was going very, very well.
It was over in four months. The landlord there had tried every exterminator in the Yellow Pages. He’d even tried the trap-and-release guys, but our little commandos found their way back, every time.
In January we came back, wondering if he’d like to sell. Gaunt and hollow-eyed, he agreed to sell it for a million. Of the six suites in the place, ony two were still occupied. We moved in on March First.
We had our space. The kids played soccer on the lawn. Arwen planned a vegetable plot and I planted Clematis vines to twine over the fence. We interviewed potential tenants for our building, tenants who wanted a home, not just a place to live.
We could have euthanized the rats. But they’d gotten us our home and we felt as though we owed them not to kill them. But they were bored in their cages. They wanted out.
Now that we were trying to run a respectable, clean apartment building, what should we do with them?
The answer came unexpectedly. Just down on Nicola Street was another lovely old building. And the landlord was raising the rent to turn out the tenants. He wanted to make the suites into condos. I read it on a website, that the tenants had organized a collective, with a fund for lawyers, and that they had almost exhausted their resources.
We let the rats go there. If they were stubborn enough to form a collective, they were stubborn enough to wait out the rats.
That was all three years ago. To date, we have five apartment buildings. The tenants who were spooked by the rodents, we kind of culled. If we thought that they’d fit in with us, we offered them their places back, with a no-rodent guarantee.
We incorportated last winter: Wharf-run Inc.
So far, it’s working out well.