Rat Wars

 

Ken James runs his Wills View pack of Jack Russell Terrier's in western PA where he breeds very small Jacks capable of hunting American quarry (10 inches at the shoulder and under 14" chest spans).  This is an excerpt from his wonderful book: 
"Working Jack Russell Terriers in North America: A Hunter's Story" which is available from the JRTCA site at: 
http://www.terrier.com 



My first Jack Russell was my brother's discarded, psychotic trouble-maker named Eve.

Being a true working terrier, she was having a bit of trouble adjusting to "captivity" in the suburbs of Baltimore. I had a farm in Pennsylvania, and as a favor to my brother, I decided to give Eve a new home.

I remember not being impressed with the looks of this little ten pound mongrelly animal that leaped out of the car. She appeared to be just another spoiled city pet to me. My sister-in-law gave me a brief history of the Jack Russell (fox bolter, rat killer, gun dog, etc.), along with a squeak toy, dinner bowl, and a special bed. The history of the Jack Russell and the animal I saw in front of me did not add up. I did not think a dog this size could do any of the deeds that were ascribed to her. But, having a rather large and rapidly expanding colony of rats on my farm, I would not have long in seeing what she was made of. We took Eve out to one of the feed storage sheds, which generally had rats crawling about even in the daytime.

"Okay, you can let her loose here if she's not afraid to walk into the shed," I said with a smirk.

Eve ambled into the shed and instantly her demeanor changed from a funny, short-legged little dog into a very determined, vicious hunter. She ran over to a board and tried to move it by picking it up with her teeth. The fact that the board was about fifteen feet long did not deter her. I was soon to find out there were no obstacles too large when it came to Eve's pursuit of a rat. I helped her turn the board over, and she promptly slew three rats that were resting there. And she did it with about the same speed that it took me to say it. After killing the last rat, she went to each victim and proceeded to break every bone in its body.

This became her trademark. After each kill she would go back and pulverize each and every victim. How such a hatred of rats developed in her psyche was hard to say, but I intended to put it to good use. I believe Eve had found a home.

Now country people and city people have different ideas on how to best care for a dog. My dogs were always kept in the barn while most city dogs stayed in the house. Lo and behold, Eve not only made it to the mud room on the back porch, but eventually ended up sharing my easy chair. I did, however, throw away the squeaky toy as soon as my sister- in-law disappeared down the lane.

To say that I had a lot of rats is probably being a little modest. It would be more accurate to say the rats had pretty much taken over the barn. A few examples will give some idea as to the extent of the problem. Rats were consuming about eight hundred pounds of cattle feed a month. Further, quite a bit of feed was contaminated with their droppings. Rats had chewed theirway into a duck pen that housed my daughter's 4-H project and wiped out fifty baby ducks mainly just biting into their heads and then leaving them in a heap. They were constantly chewing holes in the barn walls and undermining the barn floors with their maze of tunnels.

Then there was the fear factor. When I turned on the barn lights at 5:00 AM, hundreds of rats scurried back to their holes. This had to be seen to be believed.I had tried to kill off a few of the scabious rodents in the past but with little success. If you have never fought rats, then you have no idea the intelligence this adversary possesses. I thought the poison I had put out was working because I began to see a few dead rats around the sheds. I promptly went to the store and bought most of their supply of rat poison and put it in every nook and cranny I could find. The most amazing thing started to happen. I was finding packets of poison either buried under the hay or covered with rat urine and feces. Several of the adult rats had been sickened by the poison, but survived and this was their way of warning the rest of the colony. I was never successful with poisoning after that.

My next strategy was old-fashioned rat traps. The springs on these suckers provided enough torque to easily decapitate any rat unlucky enough to try to get the bait. I gleefully baited the traps with peanut butter, which rats cannot refuse. It's comparable to a Frenchman coming upon a plate of "pat, de fois gras." It will be eaten. I carefully placed the baited traps between the feed bags that evening fully expecting to be rewarded with five headless rats the next morning. On the way to the barn the next day, I stopped off at the feed room and found all five traps sprung, licked clean, but not one dead rat. How they pulled off this stunt was baffling. If one were to breathe hard on these traps, they sprang shut.

Rats 2 - Farmer 0.

Everything up to this point had failed. So it was with great anticipation that I introduced Eve to the Wills View farm rat colony. The first morning at the barn was the sweetest. As the rats shuffled back to their holes, Eve killed fourteen before they even realized there was danger among them.

True, a lot made it back to safety, but I'm sure a certain sense of doom permeated the collective psyche of the rat colony. As the weeks progressed, Eve and become a proficient team at rat killing. She would locate by barking; I would remove the debris that the rats were under, and as soon as they were uncovered, Eve would kill most of them. It was a beautiful arrangement and quite a sport. I was hooked on Jack Russells and figured if one dog can be so much fun, just think what two or three more would be like. With this in mind, I started looking for a male for Eve.

The next month I found Ratler. At six months he was hunting rats and just about anything else that dared to breathe oxygen and came within smelling distance. It was also pretty obvious that a Bull Terrier had flown over the nest in the not too distant past. He was still a very good dog, although like most Bull Terriers he was easily knackered by hot weather. I next purchased a Jack Russell bitch from New York with a pedigree showing a strong influence of Brian Plummer's stock. Plummer was a noted rat hunter in England. All of his dogs were dead game with rodents. Her name was Reaper, as in Grim, and she did have the brown blanket across her back with which Plummer was trying to identify his dogs. She turned into an excellent > hunter, very agile and quick. However, she and Eve had an intense dislike for each other. I had never seen dogs carry such a grudge as Eve and Reaper did. When they fought they were completely silent (so I wouldn't find them and break up their little game, I suppose), locked at the throat, no quarter asked nor any given. Many a time I used the pond to loosen their hold on each other. However, even with this vendetta between Eve and Reaper, we were still a grand rat killing team. Eve and Reaper would hunt the nooks and tight places while Ratler would stand back and watch for the rat to bolt, always thought he showed a lot of intelligence by doing this as he killed far more rats than the two bitches, but it was the day by the silos that a white rat almost managed to outwit and outrun even Ratler.

Every large rat population has what is known as the "king rat." This rat is generally a male that is nearing the end of his life. They usually break off from the main rat warren and tend to live a solitary existence. They are characterized by three traits: they are large, usually twice the size of a regular rat; they are white or grizzled with age; and they are homicidal. If any other rat gets near them, they deftly and swiftly cut its throat. Every rat is aware of where the king is at all times.

I was in one of the equipment sheds when I heard Eve and Ratler making game. I could tell they were behind the barn by one of the old wooden silos. The area was honeycombed with rat holes as it was one of the favorite areas for the rodents. We had killed a large number of rats here, and I was surprised that Ratler and Eve had found more. When I came around the corner, both dogs were digging frantically under a piece of concrete. I quickly grabbed a digging bar from the barn, placed the tip under the concrete and prized up one end. A very large white rat jumped straight up between the dogs. The loud clack of jaws snapping air could be heard. Unbelievably both dogs completely missed their quarry. The rat ran toward the other cement silo andstarted climbing the outside of it. Eve flung herself at the rat, but he was just out of her reach. By the time I got there, he was twelve feet up the sixty foot silo. I still figured we could get him if I could dislodge him with a well placed stone. I gathered up a handful of rocks and started throwing them. Several times I came close; however the rat was getting near the top, and it appeared that his escape was imminent. Eve and Ratler were both trying to climb the silo. Eve actually got five feet off the ground before she fell back. I knew I only had time for one or two more throws or else the rat would make his escape. I picked up a stone, took careful aim and threw. The rock missed completely but ricocheted and struck the rat in the side, just hard enough to cause him to lose his balance. Eve met him as he fell to the ground. He never got out a squeal. A big league outfielder couldn't have made a better catch than Eve. It was a tremendously big rat, and I wished I had taken the time to weigh it.

Press the cover above for another possible source for Ken James' book. Another possible source is: http://www.4mdogbooks.com/B-JRT.HTML