DEAR JOAN: My neighbor, Billie, was standing outside her open garage door when I drove home the other day. She clearly wanted to talk to me, so I parked and walked back to see what was up. She had a rat in her garage. It was large. She had been unable to persuade it to leave.
The rat was in the open, just sitting there between her car and a row of boxes and bags. I grabbed a rake and took a turn at persuading the rat to leave. I failed. The rat went between some boxes and disappeared from sight.
After a while I went home and was greeted at the door by my cat, Biggins. Aha. I picked him up and carried him across the street. I set him down on Billie's garage floor and he made a circuit around the perimeter, looking and smelling, but finding nothing of interest. He walked out to the street, looking back at me, as if to say "Why are we here?"
I called him over to the place where the rat had gone in, crouched down and looked intently. Biggins came over and looked too. For a moment, nothing. Then his ears went up. His tail went up. He jumped up onto the boxes and disappeared into one of the canyons. A half-hour later he came out carrying the rat.
Billie said I deserved a giant good neighbor award. Biggins was happy. Later that day his walk said "I am the Big Hunter." I was happy because I had helped my neighbor. Everyone was happy, except, of course, the rat.
DEAR TOM: I know some people will be squeamish about this, and I certainly don't celebrate death, but it is pretty awesome to see nature in action. Cats are hunters, whether it be rats, birds or our bare feet under the covers. To see them at work is like seeing a lion hunting prey in the Veld.
DEAR JOAN: I own a Christmas tree farm in the Bay Area where we allow well-behaved dogs on leashes. We are dog owners ourselves and love animals. The one ongoing gripe I have with these customers is the ones who will pick up after their dogs, and then leave the plastic bag with the dog poop in it on the ground next to their car for me to deal with later, if I happen to find it.
The plastic lasts forever, and the poop cannot break down and compost back into the soil when it is inside a plastic bag. I find these little doggy grenades all year long, and it is sometimes very unpleasant indeed to hit with the mower.
I implore my customers to go ahead and put it in a bag if you are going to take it with you, but please don't leave the bag for me to deal with later. Dog poop actually goes away very quickly and naturally.
It is worth noting that this problem persists in many places where dogs are welcome, be it on the beach, trails or dog parks. If you are going bag it, take it with you.
DEAR HANS: By all means, people should be cleaning up after their pets, which means disposing of the bagged waste properly.
I wouldn't recommend just leaving the unbagged poop behind for others to accidentally step in, or for other dogs to get into. Dog feces can contain parasites, which can then be passed along to other dogs.
The waste can be added to a compost bin, but the finished compost should not be used on vegetables or anything that humans will consume. Use biodegradable bags and take them with you when you go.
DEAR READERS: Dead rats and poop aren't the greatest Christmas Eve topics, so let me close by thanking you all for being responsible pet owners and wildlife preservers, and wishing you peace and joy in the coming year.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.