The text message I sent my sister Friday night was, “OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There was a rat in our toilet bowl tonight!”
You know the urban legend about rats and snakes and other critters swimming up through the sewer pipes into your toilet? It’s not an urban legend. Not where rats are concerned, anyway.
This story gets pretty gross, so be warned.
We buy Swheatscoop cat litter. It comes in a paper bag, not plastic, and it’s made from wheat, so it’s compostable and flushable. Our cats love it. In fact, they love it a little too much.
[2016 Update: Today, we use Integrity cat litter. Swheatscoop switched to a plastic bag.]
Which is why ever since this incident in 2008, we’ve kept the bag out of reach of little critters.
Wheat litter is flushable (as long as your cats don’t have toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that kills sea otters, which ours don’t) but even still, sometimes the clumps get a little hard, so the company recommends to let it sit in the toilet for 20 minutes before flushing to help the wheat clumps break down. And that’s the problem…
We sometimes let it sit in there longer than 20 minutes. Friday night, we forgot to flush before leaving the house, and when I got home and lifted the lid, there was a fat brown rat EATING the cat litter IN THE TOILET! Did you hear what I said? The lid had been down! He got into the toilet through the pipes!
I dropped the lid and started to hyperventilate. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, Michael, oh my god, OH MY GOD!!! There’s a RAT in the toilet!!!”
“Beth, I tried to tell you that before,” he said, “But you didn’t believe me.”
See, apparently, in the middle of the night a few weeks earlier, Michael thought he’d seen a tail scurrying down the toilet pipe when he got up to pee. But I’d told him he was hallucinating and forgot all about it.
“Well, it’s huge and it’s sitting in there! What should we do? (OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!)”
Michael came running in with a baseball bat. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do with that thing, but after pacing back and forth, peeing in the tub finally (because I really, really had to go!) and then pacing some more, I sloooooooowly lifted the lid to look in again, and… the rat was gone. GONE!
Of course it was. It had gone back into the sewer whence it came.
So I flushed and flushed a bunch of times. And then I started to Google. I found all kinds of discussions about rats showing up in closed toilet bowls, with people insisting that the rats had swum in from the pipes and others arguing that was impossible.
It’s not impossible. In fact, there is a device you can attach to your toilet to keep out rats and snakes and other unwanted animals.
Okay, so I’m not going to stop using wheat litter. It works well for us as long as we sprinkle baking soda in the litter box, comes in a paper bag, and can be flushed without a problem. (Well, except for this problem.) I’m going to get my landlord to install that device, and I’m not going to let the litter mellow out in the toilet anymore.
But aside from practical considerations, this incident has forced me to examine my feelings about and relationship to animals. How is it that I would do anything, anything to protect my little kitties? I don’t eat meat and have changed my life to protect wild animals from plastic pollution. And yet, for a few minutes one night, we thought about clubbing an animal to death with a baseball bat. And then discussed various types of poison before coming to our senses. What’s that about?
Hal Herzog has a book out called, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. I haven’t read it yet, but I listened to an interview with the Herzog on To The Best of Our Knowledge the other night and a few days later read Mark Bittman’s piece in the New York Times, “Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others,” in which he bemoans the treatment of farm animals and “pests” and wonders how a woman can be jailed for beating a hamster to death while the City of New York gets a pass for routinely poisoning its cousins the rats.
I don’t want a rat in my toilet. And I don’t want a rat as a pet either. So I’ll find a way to block its entry and stop leaving “food” in my toilet. But because of this incident, I’ll continue to examine my relationship to the animal world and the strong reactions I have to it.
Oh, and look before sitting down.