Mouse in the House

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As autumn approaches field mice, once happy to live in a field, are now trying to take up residence in our home. There is some primordial clock that tells them to seek cover and this dwelling, for some reason, looks pretty good to them. We are not really comfortable living with these mice so we have put out traps and they are pretty deadly. I have to say that this makes me feel bad. I long ago tried to make a vow that I would not kill animals unless it was for food. And yes, for those of you who do not know, I do hunt for food. It is a skill that has been passed down through the generations. It is part of my culture. But more than that it is part of me partaking in the life and death of the natural world. But killing wantonly is not in my blood. Still I am inconsistent. I swat flies and mosquitoes but move spiders and beetles carefully out of our house. I believe that life is precious and I worry about the impact that I leave in the frothy wake of my life.

But these mice they perplex me. Quite a few years back I used a wire box trap that caught mice without harming them. I moved the mice quite a distance and was very proud of myself. One day I moved a mouse who only had half a tail and had a white spot on the side of his nose. Two days later I caught the same mouse again. The little fellow liked our house so much he had crossed a stream and found his way back through a quarter mile of woods-a long, long trek for a creature with legs that are only a couple of centimeters long. It was then that I realized that I was probably trapping and moving the same mice over and over again. So I went back to using the deadly traps. To this day I don’t feel very comfortable with ending a life in this way. I just don’t.

Prickly lettuce seed waiting for the wind to distribute it. If the mice could hitch a ride they would.

I rationalize that the mice can chew electrical wires and do other harmful things to our house. I know that mice are not very sanitary and can even carry some strange diseases like the hantavirus that is getting so much attention in Yosemite. And I know that mice are prolific (a single female can produce 40 babies each year) so it isn’t as if I am going to eliminate the species from the planet. The mice get into our food in the cupboards. They eat through plastic bags to get to nuts, through thick plastic containers to get to grains, they even leave little piles of scat around to let me know they’ve been visiting. Still, I feel bad. There is no other way of explaining it.

I wish mice could read. I’d put up signs telling the mice that our house was very dangerous. They’d be polite signs saying “please find somewhere else to live”. They might think me obnoxious or even a snob but that’s better than them thinking I’m deadly. Thirty years ago we planted mint all around our house. We had read that it would keep the mice away. Most of the mint was eaten. I think it might have been mice. Their fresh aromatic breath gave them away.

I’ve given up trying to seal the house up so tight that a mouse could not enter. They have soft cartlidge and squeeze through a hole smaller than a dime. Unless I were to tear down this house and start over again there are going to be holes here and there as small as a dime. No, mice are a fact of life and we just have to try to keep them at bay.

I have learned to set the traps late so I don’t have to hear them go off. But I have some particularly industrious mice that come out before I go to bed and get caught. I doubt they do it just to make me feel guilty. Still, it does.

Closed Gentian.

We live in the woods. There is a very healthy rodent population. We have voles, deer mice, and many shrews in our area. They are a necessary part of the ecosystem and food chain. I want them to be part of my world but not the part of my world where I eat and sleep. A few years back a mouse wandered into our living room and scurried right past our large male bloodhound, Cooper. Cooper is a very gentle fellow. He jumped up and got in front of the mouse. He laid down so that the mouse was between his two large front legs. The mouse stood on its hind legs. Cooper thought it was trying to play and attempted to lick it. The mouse tried to bite his tongue. Cooper was confused, very disappointed that he did not make a new friend, and went off to sulk in the corner. The mouse found a trap that same night. He would have been better off if he had made friends with Cooper.

And its not just our house. Last spring when I was cleaning up the yard after the last of the snow melted. I moved a piece of plywood that I use to put my snow plow on. Under the plywood there was a nest with a mother mouse and four hairless babies. The mother ran off in fright. I knew if I left the babies alone that she might return to retrieve them. Within an hour they were gone. Initially I could not imagine where she had taken them and then I realized my fishing boat was only a few yards away. I rejected that thought given all the work it would take to transport the babies into the boat that was sitting on a trailer high off the ground. About three weeks later I was bass fishing with Smitty, one of my best friends. He was in the front of the boat happily casting for small mouth bass when he suddenly jumped up. A mouse was running down the gunwale. Smitty, an ex-marine, took matters into his own hands and used the tip of the fishing pole to flip it into the water. The mouse swam around, crawled back up the side of the wet hull (no easy feat given it is more than a 90 degree angle), and jumped back into the boat. Not wanting to use his rod he grabbed my best rod and reel and tried flipping the mouse back into the water. He was successful but in the process lost a grip on the pole and the entire rig went into the drink. Blub, blub, blub. My $150 rod and reel was now at the bottom of the lake. The mouse climbed back on board and stared at the Marine. At that point I interceded and decided the mouse could stay, it was a survivor, and evidently so where his three brothers and sisters and mother and father who all started to run around the boat. We called it a day and motored back to the boat launch with the mice enjoying the ride on the way back. Mice like sight seeing evidently. That night at our camp we watched them jump off the boat one by one. Only this time the boat wasn’t in the water but parked on the trailer next to our campsite. And yes, you guessed it, our tent was full of mice that night. It could have been worse. I could have been arrested for transporting wildlife across state lines and releasing them. And I doubt the mice would have bailed me out of jail!

So maybe I do have a right to fight back. After all my life with mice hasn’t been exactly easy! Maybe I don’t have to feel so bad. But I will. There is no doubt about it. I am destined to a life of guilt for killing innocent mice. I can’t help myself.

Shining Clubmoss

Written for www.wildramblings.com in September of 2012.

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  • Annie

    Oh yes, I can totally relate. When I live trap them I remove them miles away so hopefully they aren’t the ones who show up right after I think I have the problem solved. The rats are an even bigger problem for me and seem so much smarter about being trapped. I have had to resort to the snap-traps which make me cry each time I take a life. I wish there was another way but from all the options I have researched, it seems the best, if that can be said about killing. I sometimes think of the whole process of ridding rodents from my attic as defending my territory, much as any animal would do, scare the intruder off and when that doesn’t work use stronger measures. Even with that rationalization, my human feelings of remorse come out with each full trap I remove.

  • Rita

    A delightful read! Please visit our learning center for tips to prevent rats and mice http://www.earth-kind.com/learn/. Fresh Cab is a natural and effective solution. Unlike mint, it is PROVEN to work by repelling rodents without harming them. Thanks for sharing your story and beautiful pictures!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, trapping rodents with spring traps is a hard road to travel. Like you I dislike it very much. We have not had rats since we stopped raising livestock. We never had them in the house but they used to get into the feed in the animal sheds. I really don’t like rats.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks for stopping by Rita. The crab looks interesting. Is it toxic in anyway?

  • Teresa Evangeline

    I go through the same misgivings. I don’t want them living in my house, but have found live traps and releasing, even a bit of a distance, just brings them back. You have a way of writing that makes it all enjoyable to read about. Mice and mosquitoes both. That’s a good writing feat. :)

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Tough topics require a little bit of humor don’t you think? Life is too short and too serious. I feel like I’m living large when I take a slightly twisted view. And thank you very much for the compliment, coming from such a good writer means a lot to me.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Tough topics require a little bit of humor don’t you think? Life is too short and too serious. I feel like I’m living large when I take a slightly twisted view. And thank you very much for the compliment, coming from such a good writer means a lot to me.

  • Emily B

    Love that story about Cooper! I can just picture it. And I understand your concern about the traps, but sometimes we do need boundaries in life. In my eyes, you are still very much a friend of nature, Bill. :)

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Cooper is perhaps the most gentle dog ever. At his enormous size, over 130 pounds, one might expect him to pounce on the mouse. Nope, not Cooper. He’d much rather play. And thanks, Emily, sometimes boundaries are necessary.

  • Barbara

    Such a great story – one that all of us who live in the country can relate to. Killing is not something I relish, and I’m fortunate that I don’t seem to have to lately. There are two very efficient rodent-killers in this family. They eat mice and rats, but not moles and voles – something about them they don’t like so they deposit them on pathways or at the front or deck door. Bliss blonde lab in this household has also developed a taste for mice. He is lazy though and waits for the cats to bring one to him, then he takes over. The cats don’t seem to object, but go back to hunting. I’m relieved I don’t have to put out traps any more. But the cost of wormer for the three consumers? well that’s another story.

    Loved this adventure Bill, and your musings on putting out traps. Many people are similarly conflicted but I think defending your territory is the only way to think about it. Mice however cute and clever, do carry disease and can certainly make a mess of the larder. Well written – I chuckled all the way through, having done the live trap thing, for many years… I also use white noise makers now that seem to work. I’m going to check out Rita’s suggestion as well. Always something to learn through your wild rambling Bill, and lots to enjoy. Thanks.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barbara. Having a cat or two would certainly help but my female bloodhound sort of froths at the mouth every time she encounters a feline and I shudder to think of the results should I introduce one into our household. Cooper would want to make friends with the cat, but probably sour when on it when he noticed it killing his friends.

    One can’t blame mice for seeking the easy life. It just can’t be here.

  • Montucky

    I feel very much the same way, but there really is no other recourse. It’s survival of the fittest!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    You know, you’re right. Survival of the fittest. Still, I’m looking into friendlier alternatives. Can’t hurt!

  • jamworks

    Mice hor d’oeuvres? main meal? Any wolves in your area? Don’t I remember wolves dining on mice in the Never Cry Wolf movie? Farley Mowat’s book and the movie helped make people begin to think differently about wolves.

    Knock on wood – Mice haven’t been much of a problem for us despite having no cat. But we groaned when we saw mouse sign in the house a few years ago. Then something must have happened to Mama Mouse. The baby mice ventured forth. We saw them scurrying along the base of the cabinets and foolishly wandering outside during daylight hours. A kookaburra soon looked very pleased at his unexpected lunch.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    We have a terrific diversity of small rodents-white footed mice, meadow voles, red-back voles, shrews, moles, house mice, and chipmunks. They are on the bottom of the food chain and preyed upon by fox, owls, hawks, bobcats, coyotes, snakes, fisher, and a large variety of other predators. In the movie “Never Cry Wolf” the main character was eating voles to mimic the wolves eating mice-trying to diepell the notion that wolves survived off of large prey.

    We have a relative of the kookabura in the US called the belted kingfisher, it is quite a bit smaller and adapted to eating small fish by diving into the water and catching them!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Sandy

    Well, I like that you don’t like putting down a trap. it shows that you are a caring person. Thanks goodness we don’t have many mice this last years. I think they used to come for my dog’s feed.

    My dad used to dab a mark of fingernail polish on the terrapins in the watermelon patch before he took them for a ride in the back of the pick up truck. They often showed up in the patch within a couple of days.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    No mice the last couple of days so maybe it won’t be so bad. I need to get the problem completely in control before there are other problems.

    Homing terrapins? That’s really, really funny!

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    I’ve been having a little trouble with mice too. I don’t feel quite that bad about killing them, but I do feel bad. It comes down to the idea that it’s either them or me, and they entered a territory they should not have. I do wish there was a better way than those awful traps though.

  • http://www.colorofsand.wordpress.com/ Cirrelda Snider-Bryan

    Thanks for a wonderful post!
    Yup, we have the same problem down here in New Mexico, Bill. I would leave the bacon grease to cool in the skillet and there would be little tongue marks on the edge. (I thought they were herbivores…) but they haven’t been doing that in a couple years – don’t know why. We heard too about mint. We have also heard about Osage Oranges being left in the corners. I put food in cans or jars for years now. I also use steel wool stuffed in the holes. And, have resorted to keeping contents of certain drawers with sealed plastic containers in them.

    Yes, I agree with you, it doesn’t seem fair to them. They just know a good shelter when they see one. It is good you are not putting poison into the environment – you know how disruptive and never-ending that is. I have hoped that allowing their natural predators to not be impeded helps. Though I can’t tell you who they are. Just that the rest of the web around here isn’t disturbed too much.

  • Anonymous

    What a wonderful post. My parents have a home quite close to a fields area so we used to have mice at home each winter. But we also had an amazing cat who took care of everything plus he used to come to us and show us with a pride each catch. Now my parents just accept them at home :)

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    It really is a dilemma isn’t it Ratty? Given the damage they can to to a structure and one’s health action has to be taken. I’m still exploring alternatives and I’ll let everyone know if I find a good solution.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Weasels are terrific mice and vole predators but I wouldn’t want to live with one even if they could be domesticated. I had a friend who had a pet mongoose that killed mice but he spent his entire life looking for it (that’s a funny story). If the problem was easy to solve it would have been solved years ago!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Cats work, no doubt. My female bloodhound does not like cats and that would be a huge problem (for the cat). To a certain degree it is a problem that must be somewhat accepted, but the populations must be kept at bay!

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