Why I think rat-popping should be encouraged

So – let me start this post with one of my book drawings.  To remind those of you who haven’t seen it yet – here it is:


Hmmm.  I’ve had a couple of folk express their distaste at the page above.  Somebody said that – although she might select my book from a bookstore shelf and start reading… she would replace the book if she came across this page.  Somebody else mentioned that she found the page distasteful and unnecessary – and she felt that it might upset children.

I’m not going to go in to a (very) long-winded response about the rat-popping… (because I’ve been working hard on attempting to manage my disclaimeritis)…  but, there’s a few things I want to point out:

Firstly… the rats were dead already.  I don’t like killing things.  And I have certainly never tortured or hurt any animals.

The rats from my story were big field rats that had fallen into our partially-buried septic tank (on the smallholding where I grew up)… and they had drowned in the sewerage.

I was a curious child – and I wanted to open the septic tank to understand what a tank full of poo and wee looked like.  Yes… gross!  – but – as I say, I was a VERY curious child.  What I discovered – instead – was about 12 dead, bloated rats… floating on top of all the other stuff.

I couldn’t reach them with my hands (kinda like reaching into a half-full well… and I had no intention of falling in to the septic tank whilst trying to retrieve the rats)… so I grabbed the pool net (Dad would have had a melt-down had he known)… scooped them up one-by-one and examined them closely.

My first thought was:  WHY have they swollen up like balloons?

My second thought was:  if they look like balloons – I wonder if they will *pop* like balloons?  Will they make a loud… popping sound?  Will they explode?  If they DO explode – will their guts splatter everywhere… like on the movies??

My third thought was:  how can I go about popping these rats to find out?

I didn’t want to try and pop them with a pin or a knitting needle – simply because doing so would mean that I would be within close proximity of a potentially exploding rat.  I did not want rat guts all over me.  Especially not rotting, stinky rat guts.

So – I decided to pop them… from a safe distance.  I lined them up in a neat row on our driveway… took a few steps backwards… took aim… and tossed bricks on top of them.

To be honest – it was pretty disappointing.  They didn’t explode like little rodent bombs.  They didn’t make a nice, loud balloon *pop* noise, either.  It was more a dull, squishy, muted phlooooppfff  sound.  The guts kinda oozed nonchalantly on to our driveway.   There was no dramatic, splattered rat-gut-shrapnel (as I had secretly hoped).

But there you have it… it was a fun science experiment.  Carried out by a curious child.

And you know what?  I don’t think this kind of curiosity should be discouraged because it makes people squirm and wrinkle their noses and say:  “Eww!  That’s disgusting!”

As much as I’m an artist (and my rat-popping days are long over and I have no desire to concoct any further experiments on dead things)… there’s a whole bunch of kids out there who could be future scientists, biologists, doctors or pathologists.  And those kids are curious about this kind of thing!  And they want to know… and understand how stuff works… and I think we should encourage them.

Dead things… are a part of life.  We need people who will be curious about that kind of thing.  Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of proverbial tea… but… for the kids who DO want to dissect the dead things… and figure out how stuff works or why dead things bloat… I say:  let them!  Encourage them to question.  Encourage their curiosity.  And later – ask them what they discovered and what they learned.

Personally… I learned that popping dead, bloated rats wasn’t worth the effort of retrieving them from the septic tank… cleaning up the aftermath… and trying to hide the poo-encrusted pool net from my dad.

I also learned that dead rats bloat because the decomposition process releases various gasses.  These gasses accumulate and cause the bloating.  Too much gas accumulating (or – a brick)… could cause the gas-inflated cavity to rupture… but not *explode*… or blow the entire carcass to bits.  Therefore, my experiment rendered significantly less dramatic results than what I had anticipated.

As the saying goes, we learn something new every day.

6 thoughts on “Why I think rat-popping should be encouraged

  1. I so enjoyed reading this. If you ever spent time on a farm as a kid, you would know that this story is a pretty normal one. We use to find it funny watching the ladies cutting the chicken heads off for supper and watch them running around. Also disappointed if one did not have the running reaction. You keep on doing what you do and write what you’ve experienced. At least you are honest about it!

    • hehe! Thanks, Heidi… and yes – as a farm-kid… we were WELL acquainted with dead things. I actually have many…. MANY…. MANY…. gross stories that I could share about what life was like on “The Plot” (as we called it) – but I’m still struggling to figure out the fine line between “TMI” and “being me”… *sigh*… Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. I LOVED the rat popping section of your book…the arts and creativity must be grounded…and what is more grounding than dealing with a dead rat?

    As an Illinois farm kid, I too did my fair share of “gross” tasks and animal experimentation. From chasing the chickens with a hook to “wring” their necks, to accidentally cutting off the leg of a salamander in our window sill and then monitoring it over the months it took to regenerate a new leg, to unintentionally killing baby mice, rats, and bunnies by trying to “rescue” them, I followed my natural curiosity and lived with the consequences. My rat “popping” experience was much more detrimental to the rats than yours….My dad used to station us outside the barn at “rat holes” with pitchforks. Then he filled the tunnels with noxious gas and we were suppose to dispose of the rats as they made their exit. The stuff of nightmares…but also a “real” experience in the life of a farm kid.

    • Oh, I hear you, Jan! The “real” experiences of a farm kid… are definitely not for the faint-hearted. As I said to Heidi, there’s actually SO many more gross experiences I could share about those years. So many experiments… and yes – MANY dead things. That’s what happens on a farm when you’re surrounded by dogs, cats, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, snakes… etc. Life… and… Death… is in your face every day. So – to be honest – I still really struggle to *file* the idea that children are all sensitive little creatures who need to be protected from the realities of life (and death). And – obviously – not everyone out there are farm-kids like us… and so I’m trying (probably trying TOO hard)… to be sensitive to those who WEREN’T raised like I was (and who are disturbed and upset by rat-popping stories)… whilst still trying to remain honest and true to the dirt-encrusted-adventure-loving-creative-creature tomboy that I am (the kid who fried flies… and stuck pins in dead chicken’s eyes (also to see whether they would pop)…! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I can relate in many ways!!!

  3. I was also a farm kid, people are so precious about this kind of stuff nowadays because so few people actually get to experience that kind of life. I love your rat popping story, my siblings and I were in charge of keeping rats out of our pig feed store, a never ending job let me tell you! It was like a war, us versus the perpetually hungry and devious rats. To this day my adult self is amazed at my child self and the complete lack of fear I had… if I see a rat now, I scream and run a mile!

  4. I admit that upon first glance, rat popping seemed pretty disgusting. But after reading all about it, I get it. Reminds me about a time when I was on a boat and we saw a lobster trap floating with a dead bloated seal in it. As we got closer we realized how horribly it stunk and we decided to leave it be.

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