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Rat-Killer Kitten? Two Students’ Journey with a Pet Exterminator

Missing a pet-shaped figure in their lives a year and a half ago, two students, fourth-year social anthropology and International Relations student Fritz Stammen, and St Andrews class of 2023 alumna Anushka Ghosh, decided it was time to start a family.

Stammen had originally wanted to adopt a flock of homing pigeons (he thought it would be fun to race them, he said). But there was another issue Stammen, who lived on Hope Street, had to address: rats. The pest problem on Hope Street had been getting worse. In Stammen’s flat “there was just a ton” of them. He even heard them crawling through his walls before he went to sleep.

The solution to the rat ruckus? Adopt a slender, black kitten.

“We wanted a pet — and a cat comes with relative ease”, Stammen said. “I figured it would help the whole rat situation too.”

Without a household dustbin, rats had been attracted to the rubbish outside of Stammen’s flat. After catching wind of the delectable detritus, they became nestled in the walls of his Hope Street home.

“They were a bit scary on a primal level”, Stammen said. “[It felt] kind of like this gut [feeling that there were] interlopers.”

Stammen never saw the critters in his room. But he would hear them when he went to sleep. “It was mostly just annoying”, he said.

In the kitchen, packs of rats would squat in a gap between the sink and the counter. At night, they would cluster on household surfaces. Eventually, the situation worsened — Stammen was forced to patch up a hole in his bedroom wall that the rats had carved out.

Enough was enough. Ghosh and Stammen found a furry child to adopt from a local family in town.

The kitten was long and slender, with a small white spot on his chest. He had piercing yellow eyes and heaps of energy. After two weeks of deliberation, Stammen and Gosh affectionately started calling the new friend ‘Lucifer’, a name for the devil in Christian theology and the Latin name for the planet venus. That soon became abbreviated to ‘Luci’.

But as it turned out, Lucifer’s name sounded to a more sinister nature than the cat could stomach. “I only ever saw Luci actually catch a rat twice,” Stammen said. “There’s a herd of rats that just move around Hope Street. Any attempt to exterminate has failed”.

In Stammen’s flat, the rats were “dealt with conventionally” — presumably with the help of an exterminator — though Luci may have helped ward off the stragglers. To the chagrin of Stammen’s neighbours, they migrated upwards after they were booted from the downstairs flat.

That caused a slight bit of neighbourly tension.“I guess there’s still some beef”, Stammen said.

But if he wasn’t a killer, Luci was a lover. He became accustomed to the hustle and bustle of friends coming and going between life in the two friends’ flats (Gosh lived separately, on Bell Street).

Nobody could sit on the sofa without Luci wanting to be close, and he became a fixture at parties. He was especially renowned for his piercing eye contact.

“It’s bizarre, I’ve never seen another cat like it”, Stammen said. “He holds eye contact with people constantly. It’s weird, cats don’t do that”.

Mostly a house cat, Luci’s first year with his new family was comfortable and happy. Occasionally he would wander in Stammen’s garden, but he knew not to go beyond the walls that barricaded it in.

But when his hormones started to spike, affection from students was not enough. Ghosh and Stammen had waited too long to get him neutered and, as adolescent male cats do, when mating time came Luci ran during a stint under Stammen’s care.

The fourth-year feared the worst. As the days went by, anxiety started to peak. Luci was nowhere to be seen. Still, Stammen made the executive decision to keep calm and not tell Ghosh.

“She was extremely protective of him, and you know, would be extremely worried”, Stammen said.

Stammen and his flatmates took to walking around the streets, calling Luci’s name. For temptation purposes, they carried the cat’s favourite food, along with his litter box. Maybe he would recognise the scent and return home to comfort, they thought.

But the days went on. And the look for Luci lasted.

“We began to feel worse”, Stammen said. “We didn’t know if he had the instincts for the road. He had been living such a sheltered life.”

After the search reached a point where Ghosh had to be informed, the group’s efforts to find Luci ramped up.

“We made flyers, created posts, and even paid for Facebook ads”, Stanmen said. “Suddenly everything was just insanely stressful.”

Occasionally, a resident would send a tip, saying they had spotted a black cat. Each time, Luci’s loving team of lookers would drop what they were doing and rush to where he may have been spotted. But no sighting ever amounted to anything. Everyone was left feeling doubtful.

That changed one night, when a small meow was heard at the front door. It was the wee hours of the morning — and someone wanted a midnight snack.

“It was super exciting”, Stanmen said. But not wanting it to happen again, Luci’s loved ones had differing opinions as to how to prevent this from repeating.

“It did cause some controversy”, Stanmen said. The group was worried about the ethics of making an intimate decision on behalf of a helpless animal. “We had some ethical, philosophical discussion about what to do, but at least he was back.”

The solution they agreed to was attaching a tracking device to the cat’s collar.

That has kept the kitten from running away again. But with Ghosh graduated, Luci has moved to London with his mother, where he is living it up as a town cat in the city.

Ever since, Stammen has been feeling a little bereft.

“Definitely, definitely missing him”, Stammen said. “It’s been tough.”

As an international student from the U.S., Stammen said he would advise those from overseas to think about where a pet would live outside of term time. But all snafus — and the cat’s limited rat-keeping skills — aside, Stammen said that having a pet in university is worth the trouble.

“It was overly spontaneous, but it’s all worked out,” he said.

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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