Saratoga woman asks, ‘Is that a rat or an opossum?’

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DEAR JOAN: I was wondering if you could identify a critter in my yard. Is it a rat or an opossum?

I’ve seen rats in our yard before, but none that look like this. It doesn’t run away like a rat would, and it sits still like an opossum, but it has a rat tail.

Patty Allen, Saratoga

DEAR PATTY: Your photogenic tree-sitter looks like Mickey Mouse’s long lost cousin, Charlie, who ran away to join the circus, fell in love with a high wire artist and ended up settling into a cute cottage in the suburbs.

Your visitor is more rat than opossum, but it is not the type of rat we’re used to seeing. It’s a dusky-footed woodrat.

Woodrats can be just as troublesome as roof and Norway rats, chewing on the bark of trees — oaks are their favorites — and plants, but they don’t make themselves as obvious to us as other rats. They also do good in the world, building massive conical shaped stick houses that have many chambers for food storage and occupancy. The houses become apartments, of sorts, to other animals including salamanders, snails, lizards, slugs and insects.

The woodrats, also known as packrats and trade rats, are hunted by owls, coyotes, hawks and bobcats. Coyotes will try to knock the woodrat’s house down, but the structure is often so complex that the woodrat remains safe. The woodrats also line the interior of their homes with bay laurel leaves, which might help fumigate the place of unwanted pests.

DEAR JOAN: I would like to offer an alternative solution for Alice in Campbell whose long-haired cat is always scratching.

I had a similar problem with an indoor-outdoor Siamese mix, who turned out to be allergic to bites and have very sensitive skin. My vet suggested I bathe her weekly with Johnson’s baby shampoo and finish with a good coating of Johnson’s baby conditioner/creme rinse, leaving a little in her coat. I then blew her dry with my hair dryer set on low.

Her itching and red rashes were gone within a couple of weeks, and she developed a beautiful coat. Of course, you should also use continuous flea/tick prevention. Fleas can be anywhere, even if you don’t see them.

You have to be gentle and patient until the cat gets used to the bath and drying, but it is well worth it for both the cat and you. My cat made the connection between her comfort and the baths, and came to enjoy the process for the relief provided.

Ann, Campbell

DEAR ANN: You provide proof that bathing a cat is not an act of suicide. I can’t tell you how deeply impressed I am with you and your cat, and what amounts to a trip to the spa.

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