Critters in the chimney?

Published 12:18 pm Thursday, May 9, 2024

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Had I been given the good advice my friend Lynn gave after I nearly went into cardiac arrest a few days ago, I could have avoided the entire incident.

“When one of my cats stares into the fireplace,” she began, “I leave the room.”

“When two of my cats stare into the fireplace, I leave the room and close the door.”

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“When three of my cats stare into the fireplace,” she warned, “I leave the house.”

Not having had the luxury of this heads up, Paul and I sat, as old poots do, arguing over the authenticity of a Chinese vase while watching Antiques Roadshow when all three cats plus one dog (I’m assuming this would constitute burning down your house, Lynn) advanced slowly towards the fireplace. Despite having a cap on the chimney, critters, from time to time, somehow manage to make their way down and find, to their horror, at least one set of eyes hungrily licking its chops.

A flick of a movement was caught by the corner of my eye as something moved from a small gap in the fireplace screen and hid behind the terra-cotta fox that sits as a sentry.

Paul, who has an intense aversion to any kind of rodent, sat up sharply.

“Is that a c-chipmunk?” he whispered, sounding rather choked.

Having had rodents for pets as a child (see what the internet has made you miss, kids?), I leaned forward with eager anticipation and even rose to step forward to investigate. I hesitated as I saw the hair rise on the back of Poppy, who retreated. Well, if that’s not an invitation to grab my phone and record a potential viral video, I don’t know what is. Chuckling and assuming it was something cute and furry (while remembering Paul, in the past, leaving skid marks to escape a flying squirrel), I was wholly unprepared for what happened next: 

Lean in, y’all, because this is great…

Our Maine Coon mix Bernie advanced cautiously towards the hearth, slowly reached out his paw, and a young rat snake (good, nonvenomous guys) propelled himself forward as if to strike and went airborne! I, too, went airborne, backwards, over the coffee table, and afterward, upon watching the video, thought that Bernie was trying to defend himself using ‘rope-a-dope’ while it sounded as though I was speaking in tongues.

The biggest surprise of all was Paul, the same man who won’t be in the same zip code as a mouse, boldly stepping forward to pick up the snake and deposit him outside. Men, in general, don’t like being told what to do by a woman, especially when they feel that they are coming to her rescue, but as I watched him reach for the middle of the snake, I started to yell, “Make sure you grab him behind the head so he can’t bite—“

“OW!” was his response. 

It was a shallow puncture, just one fang, and I treated it as I do any injury at the farm: with whatever happens to be in the equine first-aid kit—in this case, Betadine, bag balm, and vet wrap. Then I told him to walk it off.

Since this traumatic event, we have anchored the fireplace screen so as not to allow any gaps and, despite my ‘no vacancy’ sign, took in another feral cat.

Lynn, you’ll have to tell me what world event is predicted by the stare of six cats…