Sue Stenhouse spends her days figuring out how Rhode Island officials should calmly deal with disaster. But when a rat scurried through her office, her natural response was to jump on a chair, snap it with rubber bands and threaten to spritz it with Obsession.
Staffers normally concerned as of late with exterminating the state's financial crisis are finding themselves distracted by the four-legged pests that popped up last week in two offices. An exterminator inspected the building Monday after the rodents dodged several traps left for them over the weekend.
Stenhouse spotted a rat Thursday night after returning to her first-floor office to gather some papers needed for a meeting. She noticed, from the corner of her eye, something darting across the floor and assumed it was just a mouse.
Stenhouse realized her mistake when the rodent haunched up and appeared to look at her.
"I thought it was a squirrel that really just came in a window or something," said Stenhouse, Gov. Don Carcieri's director of community relations and emergency preparedness. "And then, I saw that tail and I was really concerned."
Concerned puts it mildly.
After climbing her chair, Stenhouse reached for the nearest available weapons: some rubber bands and her perfume, which she wielded as if it were pepper spray. The rat never got close enough for dousing. Instead, it nonchalantly ambled over to another office.
Stenhouse reported the intruder to the Capitol police, which guard the building.
"They said, 'Oh, yeah, we have a little problem,'" she said. "I didn't think this was so little."
Another rodent sighting came Thursday in the waiting area outside the office of Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, normally inhabited by lawmakers, lobbyists and constituents seeking her help.
Officially, Paiva-Weed spokesman Greg Pare described the varmint as a good-sized mouse, though he conceded the identity of the critter was a matter of internal debate. The staffers in Paiva-Weed's office are less bothered by mice than rats.
"They would prefer to think of this as a large mouse," Pare said.
In the past, prosecutors have been summoned to deal with other Statehouse infestations. Former Gov. Edward DiPrete, for example, was convicted of bribery in 1998. More recently, federal prosecutors flipped former Sen. John Celona, who admitted acting as a secret, paid lobbyist and ratted out his former employers and other political leaders.
For this job, building and grounds officer Edward Butler called an exterminator, who left some rat traps over the weekend and thoroughly inspected the two rooms Monday.
"He found some mice droppings," Butler said. "No rat droppings."
Just for good measure, the exterminator left a trap behind _ in Stenhouse's office.