Awwww....such a cute rat. Until he starts eating into the chain saw oil, contaminating the chicken coop with his droppings, or threatening to bite the baby. Then even the most soft-hearted animal lover knows the time has come for action.
Ask your friends. They will probably recommend you pick up poison at the home improvement market: problem solved.
But is it? What if your child or dog (or a neighbor's pet) finds some poison dragged away from your careful controls by a critter before he dies a painful death? And poison, both in the manufacture and use, poses risks to the environment.
"Sticky traps" offer a popular alternative: rodent walks on but he can't walk off. Easy cleanup: pick the trap up by the edge and toss the dehydrated corpse in the trash -- still frozen in the spot where it was trapped. But slow death by dehydration? Even mice and rats deserve to be treated more humanely than that.
There are better ways. Following the prevent-and-minimize motto of green living, when it has become absolutely necessary to adjust the population balance in favor of human interests, a humane pest control solution should avoid killing if possible, and minimize stress.
If rats are not a problem except in certain areas (for example, puncturing water pipes as pictured, or chewing wires in the engine compartment), treat the area with a natural deterrent.
PETA suggests whipping up a potent concoction of salad oil with horseradish, garlic, and plenty of cayenne pepper. Let the oil sit several days, then strain it. Use a spray bottle to coat surfaces with the rodent deterrent.
2. Get a Cat (or a Rat Terrier)
Finally, you have an excuse to get a fuzzy companion that will assume its critter-deterrent responsibilities in addition to keeping your lap warm.
Mice and rats may find cats and rat terriers to be un-humane, but the method does fit into the natural scheme of things, and the cat ends up with a sustainably sourced meal.
(Note: this option is not appropriate if poisons have already been distributed, or in urban environments where neighbors may be spreading poison.)
3. Trap and Release
Live traps, like the Havahart two-door rat and squirrel trap shown above are favored by many people with a heart for even the most annoying animals.
However, keep in mind that releasing an animal more than 100 yards (100 meters) away from its point of origin is not humane according to PETA, so if you don't want a re-run of mouse vs man, a little animal suffering must ensue.
4. Traditional Spring Trap
The most humane options above really amount to just living with rats and mice. Most of us do so without ever noticing they are there. But occasionally, populations explode to the point that we must exert some control.
How do you know when things have gone that far? Well, the final choice depends on personal tolerances, but when lines of disease or damage are crossed, it may be time to get serious. The search for a solution turns to humane methods to reduce the population.
The spring trap, an age-old technology, remains the cleanest and greenest option. A properly sprung trap will kill an animal almost instantly (do check traps often for the rare case when an animal that is only wounded and trapped must be put out of its misery).
Look for a model that can be cleaned (metal or heavy-duty plastic base), avoiding those with wooden bases or which come in multi-packs. A pair of rubber gloves and a dust mask is a good idea for when you release the little guys in a proper burial ceremony to assuage karma for what had to be done.
Electrocution traps fill a niche when dead vermin cannot be seen by the public, or for those people who are leaning towards poison because the options above have too high an "eewww" factor.
The rodent terminator pictured above is new to the market, boasting advances which include a two-piece housing and water-proof electronics for easy cleaning. Avoid the electronics if you can tolerate a spring trap, but choose this option ahead of poison.
6. DIY Rodent Trap
We have heard ideas ranging from putting a piece of wood with peanut butter in a bucket of water (drowning is not the most humane option, but quicker than a sticky trap) to people who are so convinced they built a better mousetrap, and are selling their ideas in an e-book on building a humane mousetrap with materials easily found at home.
7. High-Tech Biomimicry
Speaking of building a better mousetrap, James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau set the standard.
Their high-tech vision for a rodent trap mimics giant rat eating plants discovered in the Philippines.
They envision rodents lured up the inside of tubular table legs in search of crumbs. When the rat or mouse steps on the trap door a sensor opens it, dropping the pest into a microbial fuel cell. The digestion of the animal powers the sensors and trap door.
This article was revised to clarify that cats (or rat terriers) should not be exposed when poisons may already be in use.