You Dirty Rat


“Trade?” I ask Willow when she has hold of something not good for her (like my sock, a pencil or a shard of firewood). 

Her ears perk up.  She runs over to me, drops the not-so-good thing for a better thing (a cookie or an approved chew toy). 

We are in the process of learning “Drop It” which is a harsher command (think of how it sounds — the intonation behind the words as opposed to the inflection of “Trade?” which ends in an up pitch).  But I wonder if it’s such a good thing to barter with your puppy. 

Today, Willow found a gray rat.  I don’t know if she killed it or if it was already dead.  But at 6:30 this morning, I looked out the window into the dog yard on the farm to see this bit of fur with the unmistakable rat tail limply hanging from her mouth. 

Being a natural ratter, she was ecstatic.  Racing around the yard, the little gears in her primitive mind whirling with great velocity, torn between finding a place to hide her new treasure and the inability to let it go. 

Fascinating from a anthropological point of view.  DISGUSTING from my personal point of view. 

The dilemma:  I have nothing better to trade that beats a dead rat. 

Ninety minutes of watching her and periodically enticing her to “Trade?” and coming up short later, she appears at the back door sans rat.  I pray she hasn’t eaten it (poison possibility, worms, God knows what else) but stashed it somewhere for later.  She comes in, gets breakfast, is praised for coming in. 

While she eats breakfast, I go out into the big dog yard (which is actually a part of my garden), wearing a pair of work gloves and muck boots to seek the corpse.  No luck.  Only Willow will lead me to her prize, so I put her on a long lead and harness.  Out we go together, leaving Gus and Martha in the house.  Sure enough, she dives into the dank darkness beneath the deck and emerges with mouth clamped around the dead vermin. 

“Trade?” I ask, holding out her favorite squeaky plush toy. 

Are you kidding? her eyes say.  I am a ratter.  I am a great spotted hunter.  I have prey.  Real prey, with real fur and real stink.  Uh-uh.

I reel her in, grab her by the scruff of her neck and pinch her nose.  The dead rat, its gray fur now matted with dog saliva, its long yellow teeth visible in a mouth in the beginning stage of rigor mortis, drops to the ground.  With my free gloved hand, I lift it by its long naked tail, holding it high above my shoulder as we walk toward the garbage can just on the other side of the dog yard fence.

It hits the bottom of the empty plastic bin with an unremarkable thud.

Willow looks at me, crestfallen.

There will be other rats, even if she does not yet understand that.  But there is always something special about your first time.




  1. mcousino · October 22, 2013

    My lab mutts love hunting. At my new house, chipmunks are all the rage, as well as rabbits, and squirrels, and deer. Until I get my fence up, my bigger, older, wiser hunter is on a lead and is probably the reason I’m not finding a carcass a day. Once that fence is up, it’s going to be ugly. On the other hand, I can’t really begrudge them the killing. They are dogs, dogs like to chase and kill (and sometimes even eat) other little animals. And it keeps those rats/squirrels/rabbits/etc out of our gardens and homes, right? But no less gross. Your pups are adorable 🙂

  2. Run A Muck Ranch · October 19, 2013

    Rest in peace little rat guy!

    • Going To The Dogs · October 19, 2013

      He is. Still in the bucket. 🙂

      • Run A Muck Ranch · October 19, 2013

        Umm, might want to put it elsewhere…

  3. Bekah · October 18, 2013

    Aww poor rat. Thanks for sharing your story though. Your writing is flawless and intriguing – can’t wait to read more!

    • Going To The Dogs · October 19, 2013

      Can’t say I share your empathy for vermin. Where there is one …….. But thank you for reading and liking the story. 🙂

  4. PAZ · October 17, 2013

    Anthropological? Shouldn’t we compliment our animals by calling it zoological?

    • Going To The Dogs · October 18, 2013

      Probably. I think I should have said “from a behaviorist POV.”

  5. rartherrationalmonster · October 16, 2013

    Our dog is thankfully not much of a hunter. Unfortunalty, the cat is, and has the habit of bringing his kills to the dog, who then promptly eats it.
    Pets are wonderful, disgusting things 🙂

  6. elainecanham · October 16, 2013

    I too have a jack russell, with liquid eyes, and who likes nothing more than sitting back on her haunches with her paws in the air, having her tummy rubbed. But when she goes out and meets another dog (or car, or postman) she turns into a screaming attack ball. Mind you, there are no rats within a two-mile radius. I loved your post.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Thanks, Elaine. They are quite the characters of the dog world. Did you ever think that there might not be a rat in a two mile radius because of your Jack????? Hmmmm…..

      • elainecanham · October 17, 2013

        Sorry! That’s exactly what I meant. As soon as she was old enough to go outside, we found a dead rat by the car. A few days later (and she was only as big as a rat herself at this time) she killed another rat by the garden shed. That night there was a queue of rats, with their suitcases, streaming steadily out of the gate. Now there is only the postman left.

      • Going To The Dogs · October 18, 2013

        There you go. Rats do talk amongst themselves.

  7. Jeanne Webster · October 16, 2013

    Cute story with a smile!

  8. cathytremain · October 16, 2013

    You have a lovely dog – at least she did not eat the critter!

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Thank you Cathy! She is lovely. For a psycho killer, she has a lot of charisma. :). Thanks for reading.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      Thank you Cathy. Learning to be grateful small mercies.

  9. Mandy · October 16, 2013

    I am guessing Willow is a terrier? I have a miniature fox terrier who thinks he is a pig dog. Yesterday he added fox to his kill sheet. He then mustered a small mob of cows and calves with me and now thinks he is king of the world. I don’t think there is room for himself and his ego in his kennel.

    • Going To The Dogs · October 16, 2013

      She is a JRT and 5 months old. Today was her first kill. I’m just relieved she didn’t sneak into the house with it. I would have fallen over in a dead faint.

      Thanks for reading. Your dog is adorable.

Comments are closed.