Housesitting: Expect the Unexpected

Dogs rat poison

Jared found the dead rat on the floor of the chicken coop.

It must have eaten the poison in the rat trap at the corner of the house. I’d noticed the trap but gave it a wide berth, preferring not to think about its implications.

Mice in the kitchen I was learning to handle – barely – but rats were a whole different ballgame. The trap made me think of the scene from Lady and the Tramp, where the Tramp has to save the baby from a dirty horrible rat.

Disney. Demonizing rats since 1955.

My unflappable husband disposed of the corpse before we left for Sawtell that morning; I didn’t ask where or how. He told me, of course, about how he went to pick it up only to discover that it wasn’t completely dead yet. I can’t go into the details but suffice it to say the rat is no longer with us.

We had a gorgeous day out and I didn’t give the rat another thought until we returned late that afternoon. The dogs were leaping with excitement and demanding pats, so it was a few minutes before I realized that the ‘tamper-proof’ rat trap was lying open on the lawn.

For an hour we debated – was there likely to have been any poison left? If so, how much did they eat? Did one dog eat it, both dogs, or neither dog? What did the poison even look like? How much would it cost if we called the after-hours vet? Were we overreacting?

In the end, we called the vet.

“I’m really sorry to bother you,” I said, ever the people-pleaser. “But we’re looking after two kelpies and we’re worried they might have eaten rat poison.”

Her tone changed from polite to serious in an instant. If it had been less than 2 hours since they’d eaten it, she would give them an injection to induce vomiting. Any longer, we were better off to start them on vitamin K tablets in the morning.

Rat poison is an anti-coagulant, which in a nutshell means that it causes the animal to bleed to death from the inside-out. Vitamin K is a coagulant, so in theory it should cancel out the effects of the poison. The trouble is, the vet explained, that the symptoms can take a few days or even a few weeks to appear, and by then it’s too late.

* * * * *

Landscape Australia
Looks pretty, but isolation becomes a challenge in an emergency.

The vet was in Macksville, 30 minutes away. When we arrived at 9am Sunday morning, Jared took the dogs for a walk while I went in to see the vet.

“I’ve been a vet for seventeen years,” she said, “and this is the first year we’ve had more than 1 or 2 cases of rat poison. So far we’ve had 12 cases, most of which needed blood transfusions. One unfortunately didn’t make it.”

The vet was explaining how to administer the tablets while I quietly panicked – blood transfusion? – when she stopped mid-sentence, transfixed by something outside the window.

“Do you know that man?”

There, in front of the clinic, was Jared. He was unshaven, wearing a tattered hoodie and a beanie, hunched over talking to thin air.

Of course, it wasn’t thin air, it was the dogs, but they weren’t visible and the vet didn’t know that. Her first concern was that he was scoping out the closed clinic on a Sunday morning, aiming to break in and steal some medication.

“He’s with me! That’s my husband.”

Relieved, she continued on with her instructions while I tried to suppress the laughter bubbling up inside, grateful for a moment of humor in an otherwise stressful situation. The price of the tablets was put on the owners’ account – $168 total – and I hoped that we were doing the right thing.

Gus and Mack’s owners were in Africa, contactable only through email. We’d emailed them but had no idea when we might get a reply. They had told us to take the dogs to the vet for an emergency, except in the case of a snake bite because anti-venom was just too expensive.

But what about a blood transfusion? How much was too much?

* * * * *

Dog and steer
Gus, terrorizing the rogue steer as usual.

It’s been two weeks since the rat poison incident, and the dogs are still full of boundless energy, tearing through the fields, harassing the cows, and demanding attention. They’ve also been attracting ticks like magnets. Yesterday we had to pull a tick off Gus’s eyelid.

His eyelid.

Jared held him down while I came at his eye with tweezers; you can imagine how well that went. After four attempts, the tick came out with a squirt of blood that clotted almost immediately. Either the medicine is working, or they didn’t eat any rat poison to begin with.

The owners wrote back, assuring us that what we’d done was fine. The dogs had gotten into the trap before, chasing the scent of a rat, and it turned out to be empty.

I’m relieved, but still crossing my fingers that the last week of our stay goes without incident. The next time we do this, I’ll be asking more questions before the owners leave. You can never fully prepare for the unexpected, but you can sure try.

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    1. Today we found leeches on Gus and when they came off he bled heaps. Every time I think we’re done with the weird incidents he comes up with something else. He’s fine though, and that’s the main thing!

  1. I’ve always been so curious about doing house sits so I’m really loving hearing about your experiences (minus the rats and the poisions and the ticks obviously!)

    1. It was a really useful first foray into housesitting – a little more intense because they owned so much land for the dogs to explore, but overall a good experience. The people were really nice so that helped! I would definitely recommend it – much easier than I anticipated.

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