This Dead Rat Smells Just Like Pickled Cabbage

This story begins about two weeks ago, when I noticed some erratic, deep paw prints in the gravel of our side yard (the one I had been working on since summer 2022). Clearly, there had been some exciting and energetic coyote action, over night!

It is now clear what the coyotes were after: a snack of big, fat rat. While the coyotes weren’t lucky that night, the rat wasn’t much luckier either: injured, it dragged itself into hiding, and ultimately perished in its hiding place. That hiding place was behind and under a rack of pots and saucers and garden utensils. And that rack is located under our bedroom window.

This will already tell you what conspired: nature took its course, and the deceased rat began to emit the typical odor of decay (it’s not something we smell often, which perhaps explains the convoluted approach to finding its origins). Shuwen’s sense of smell is better than mine, and she mentioned in passing over the past couple of days already that something smelled bad. I didn’t smell it, the August rains were not too long ago, so I thought that perhaps something wet just smelled… wet, perhaps.

Last night, it was pretty warm and it was a back and forth between opening the windows (still to warm), running the A/C (before bedtime) and then finally, opening the windows again (when the outside temperature dropped, closer to midnight). And there was that smell again. Shuwen said it reminded her of badly pickled cabbage, but since we had beans for dinner, I did not want exclude the possibility that we ourselves might be the source of that smell. 🤣😜

In the wee hours of the day, way past midnight, I woke up to some scurrying and scratching sounds, outside. The sounds of the night in the backyard are comforting and I like them: a chorus of crickets mostly, and the occasional clicking of the gravel or rustling of some leaves when a little animal comes through. But the sounds that woke me up seemed to come from right underneath our bedroom window, and they did not stop. After a few minutes of listening, I pulled back the blinds and shone a flashlight into the backyard.

A plump but surprisingly large animal slowly waddled away into the shrubs — what was THAT?! It was too big to be a rat, and too small to be a raccoon. It was gone, but I noticed the bad smell now very much, too. I left the window open and, thinking that it might get the smell out of the room by sucking in some nice and fresh, cool night air, ran the whole house fan for a few minutes. As you can imagine, that did not help at all to get rid of the stench…

And fifteen minutes later, the scurrying and scratching sounds began again. With my flashlight, I went into the backyard now, and followed the sounds of that mysterious animal as it disappeared into the shrubs. It climbed onto a tree, and I managed to snap a blurry picture, with my phone. Exposure time: 2:46 a.m. — and it was an opossum! How curious. Back inside, I continued to sleep on the couch, to not further disturb Shuwen with my back and forth, should the opossum return.

It was impossible to ignore the bad smell in our bedroom when I returned there in the early morning hours, and it was also clear that no person, not even a bean-eating person, would be able to produce this kind of bad odor! 😬

Reading about opossums on Wikipedia (they look quite cute, I think) I learned that it can only be a Virginia Opossum. They’re night active (hear hear), slow, and not aggressive (confirmed). They eat, among other things: dead animals. That was when I connected the dots: terrible smell + opossum = dead animal in the vicinity.

Let me tell you how I spent Saturday morning: emptying the rack under our bedroom window so that I could pull it away; finding, pretty much as expected, a sizable dead rat underneath it; disappointing a one-inch wide procession of ants by removing the cadaver; pouring bleach to eliminate the lingering stench from dead-rat-juice-on-concrete… and then putting everything back together. For the next dying rat to hide underneath it.

I scooped up the cadaver with a shovel, because it wasn’t entirely in a firm and solid state anymore. Even double-bagged into two sealed plastic bags, some stench inevitably emanates from it.

Oh, the joys of having a backyard. Next time, I’ll try to get a usable photo of the opossum.

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