If you’re surprised that I would pay $200 to have a rat rescued from our fireplace alive, it’s only because you don’t know me.
The pest control representative I’d phoned obviously didn’t.
“Umm. Normally people pay us to kill them,” he said.
“I know. I’m just wondering if you’d catch it and release it alive.”
“I’m sorry. That’s just not possible.”
The rat had fallen down our chimney, and we could see it moving around behind the smoke-darkened glass door of the fireplace. We were reluctant to try to catch it ourselves. If we opened the door, it would jump into our basement office and hide under stacks of boxes, books, and papers. We needed a professional, but professional “catch and release” exterminators were hard to find.
I tried the local office of our state Fish and Wildlife Department. The rep said they couldn’t help with non-native species. “Maybe try a local animal shelter,” she suggested.
The folks at the animal shelter said they’d be happy to take care of the rat–but only if we could take it to them.
Finally I called PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They’re a bit more radical than I am, but I knew they wouldn’t laugh at me for trying to save a rat. The rep promised to make a few calls on our behalf. “In the meantime,” he suggested, “you might want to slip a dish of water in there.”
At last I connected with Kathi at Footprints Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, a Redmond-based nonprofit. Most of their rescue work was baby squirrels, possums, and bunnies, but they were happy to do a catch and release rat project.
Kathi and her assistant showed up that evening, armed with a colorful pillowcase. They told us to clear a path to the outside door, just in case. Then they swung open the fireplace door, threw a pillowcase over the startled creature, and pulled it out. We took it out into the backyard.
Kathi peeked into the pillowcase. “Holy, sh**! That’s not a rat. It’s a flying squirrel.”
She lowered the pillowcase to the ground. The squirrel slipped out, hopped across the yard, and climbed swiftly up the massive Doug Fir next to the birdbath. We watched until it disappeared into the branches.
“Wow! I never knew we had them in the yard! We’ve lived here 30 years and never seen one.”
If we had known it was a flying squirrel, we would have had an easier time getting help. Fish and Wildlife would have been out here in a heartbeat. And yet, why should it matter? All life may not be equal, but all life matters.
I would have felt good about saving a rat. I admit I felt even better about saving a flying squirrel. But if I had not valued the first, I would never have had the encounter with the second.
The next day I cleaned the inside of the fireplace doors. The next time something falls down the chimney, at least we’ll know what it is.
Christine Dubois is a widely published freelance writer, editor, and writing instructor, who lives near Seattle. Visit her at: www.christinedubois.com