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Confessions of a Flea-Bitten Feminist

Ever wondered how you might deal with an infestation of creepy-crawlies? Nothing could have prepared writer Judy Millar for her close encounter with fleas-but her sense of humour certainly helped carry her through.

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Confessions of a Flea-Bitten Feminist

One inauspicious day last June, I awoke to an intensely itchy inner calf. Closer examination revealed a cluster of three small red bites, each with a red halo. A quick check-in with Dr. Google determined that the “three-bite cluster” was breakfast, lunch and dinner-for a flea.

Thread-level scrutiny of our bedsheets turned up feisty specks that made Olympic high jumpers look downright lead-footed. Eventually I captured one of the wee hurdlers in a bowl and trapped it under a film of plastic wrap until the exterminator could swing by to make his identification. 

“Cat flea,” confirmed “Dan the Pest Man,” with a seen-it-all shrug upon his arrival. Our Shih Tzu-poodle, Biker, slunk off into a corner. Carrier guilt? More likely he was suffering the indignity of having attracted Ctenocephalides felis (the cat flea) rather than its doggy cousin. Apparently, his monthly flea-prevention pill hadn’t deterred “itchhikers” from leaping aboard when he had nosed around our compost pile and later curled up on our bed. 

Within 48 hours, I was sporting 20 bites and a very bad attitude. My husband was about to embark on a kayaking expedition to clean up Japanese-tsunami debris on beaches in Quatsino Sound, B.C. Having to face down a flea infestation solo while Kayak Guy was off playing hero had begun to rankle. 

Up until this point, I’d lived my life as what you might call a fair-weather feminist-all in when it came to equal rights and opportunities, yet firm in my belief that the Y chromosome carries unique abilities (and obligations) in realms such as auto repair, yard care and insect removal. 

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“I’ve shampooed the carpets. Just keep on vacuuming and sprinkling!” said Kayak Guy cheerfully as he set off on his big adventure. “And don’t forget, Dan said powdered borax dehydrates fleas and shreds their innards. We might be able to lick this mild infestation!” 

I was about to argue that the words mild and infestation do not go hand in hand. Also, it would be “me,” not “we,” doing the rest of the delousing. But Kayak Guy was out the door, and there was no one to argue with apart from the dog. And Ctenocephalides felis-or Felix, as I nicknamed the dot that was hopping and bopping its head against a saran-wrap roof. 

It occurred to me that naming one’s flea wasn’t a particularly macho approach to insect removal. It was time, so to speak, to man up in this war of me versus the flea. 

My weapon of choice: 20 Mule Team Borax (All Natural Since 1891!). What match was a teeny bloodsucker for 20 formidable beasts of burden? Mess with the whip-wielding, ginger-haired cowgirl on the box, and the mini-mules circling in the badlands behind her boots would have something to say about it. The Borax Girl didn’t look a day over eight, but she had that can-do suffragette spark in her eye. 

Day after day, Borax Girl and I mulishly pursued our mission. We vacuumed the carpets and sprinkled with product, stripped and laundered the bedding, combed the yard and doused the critters in the compost. The bites subsided. Borax Girl and I smiled. Together, we were winning the battle and the war.We were women-hear us roar! 

I visited Felix’s bowl for a triumph- ant gloat, but alas, the flea had fled! A section of plastic wrap had come loose, and a well-aimed hop had carried Ctenocephalides felis to parts unknown. 

“Why on Earth would you keep a flea?” asked a friend the next day. I wasn’t sure. To watch him endure saran-ceiling concussions for the misery he’d inflicted? To take him out with a 20-mule victory kick when all was said and done? 

My reasons hardly mattered now that Felix was loose and keen to copulate in my carpet. I started to search for Dan’s business card, then stopped to look at Borax Girl. She cracked the whip. I grabbed the vacuum, gritted my teeth and began again. 

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