Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage

I am at war and the mission is not accomplished. My house is populated by mice. Their weapon of mass destruction is their large birthrate.

You would think that my years and years of overseeing dissections would make dealing with mice easy, but such is not the case. In fact, my science teaching has actually worked against me. When I first noticed a mouse in the house several months ago, I didn't think much of it. My science background told me that we share our world with many different living things, so if a little mouse wants to run across my living room and then back out through a crack every once in awhile, then it could go right ahead. My science background seems to have taught me less about what mice might do when they meet mice of the opposite sex. I blame cartoons for this. They show mice occupying homes, running from cats, and borrowing thimbles and such for furniture. They seem like nice little fellows.  Not once have I seen mating mice in a cartoon. So, life went on with the science teacher thinking that she was sharing a house with a bachelor mouse.

As time passed, I started to be aware that there were probably more mice than the one little guy. Signs of them started to appear in my bedroom, and I would hear noises coming from the dogs' food bowls when both dogs were on my lap in another room. It came to me (slowly--way too slowly) that I needed to get rid of these mice. The dogs were no help. I have actually seen them lazily watch the living room mouse run across the room. The pets had a pet of their own.  I started my internet search for ways to rid myself of the mice.

I read about how inhumane the various traps were, and declaring myself the St. Francis of the mouse world, I decided that humane traps were the way to go. I bought little traps that don't hurt the mice at all. The mice go in and the door closes, safely trapping the mouse.  Then my plan was to walk them to our local creek and wish them well.

I planted the traps and Madeline, one of my dogs, would wait for me to leave the room, grab a trap in her mouth, and run excitedly around the house. I would chase her and retrieve the trap, and she would do it all over again. Go figure. I finally found places to put them that Madeline couldn't get to, but the mice were too smart to go in.

Then I found two things that convinced me I had to go to war. I found some mouse droppings on my bed, and, horror of all horrors, they had eaten a Scharffen berger chocolate bar that I had on a shelf in my closet. It was time to stop being polite and start getting real. 

There's a lot of help available on the internet.  All seem to agree that the old-fashioned traps are cruel because they sometimes semi-kill the little rodents.  Many sites suggest the sticky papers.  They are somehow supposed to be less cruel.  I'm not sure how ethical it is to have a living thing with awareness spend its last few hours stuck to a board.  Does it starve to death or die of fear?  I couldn't use poison because I was afraid of the dogs getting into it.  How odd we are that one mammal is adored and needs to be protected from what is used to kill another.  I bought some of the sticky traps that are inside of boxes (so that you don't have to look at the horrible suffering), but the mice just walked around them, laughing.

When I talked to Cameron, he told me about an episode of This American Life called "Building a Better Mousetrap."  The title is a metaphor, but they began with a story about actual mousetraps, in which an expert says that the old fashioned spring action mousetrap is in fact the better mousetrap.  So, off to the store I went and purchased eight mousetraps.

I set up four of them in various places.  I put little bits of cheese on them.  A day passed and nothing happened.  Then, I decided that it would be just desserts to lure them with Sharffen berger chocolate.  So I set the traps and went to work.  When I got home and went to check the traps, one of them was gone.  A quick look around told me that it wasn't really gone; it had caught a mouse and the quick spring action had made the trap flip over.  This meant that I had to turn over the trap to see what had happened.  Would the mouse be only half dead?  Would it be beheaded?  The truth is that it was a very clean kill and must have been an instant death.  I still found the whole thing made me kind of queasy, but I set a new trap in the same space.  This morning, as I was in that space between being awake and being asleep, I heard a snap.  The same spot had produced another clean kill.  This time, I didn't feel so queasy.  In fact, I felt like I had accomplished something.  And the scientist had to use logic to assume that where there are two mice, there were likely many more.  I set another trap, and this time, when I got home from work, the trap was still set, but the chocolate was gone.  

The war continues.  Survival of the fittest.  Happy 200th birthday, Charles Darwin.


Patrick J. Vaz said...

I had two thoughts: were the hell did she get that title? And she used *Sharffenberger*? I think a Whitman's sampler would have been more than adequate for the purpose. Maybe your taking this Ferry Building thing a little too far? I have some six-year-old parmigiano regiano you could use next time. . .

Also, I laughed at the thought of you and the Bachelor Mouse. I imagine him smoking a little pipe and reading the London Times.

vicmarcam said...

Please, PJ! One is familiar with Henry V.

Having eaten an entire two ounce bar of the very same chocolate out of my closet, they likely would turn up their whiskered little noses at the Whitman's sampler. Even though I don't like killing them, I must have a little revenge in my heart because there is something kind of satisfying in knowing that they are dying in going after the very same chocolate that constituted the last straw for me.

Don't you think the Bachelor Mouse would also be wearing a little houndstooth vest, too?

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Well, one is familiar, of course. But I didn't think the one was you. . . .

I like to think of the mice peering closer at the chocolate, calling each other over to make fun of you -- look! Miss Fancy has Whitman's in the house! -- and then getting so close that their little necks get snapped. You could be the Cousin Bette of the mouse world.

A little hound's-tooth vest would be lovely. I think I was picturing more of a smoking jacket and a leather chair in a book-lined nookery, though.

vicmarcam said...

Well, you, of course, are correct, and as my literacy coach you'll like the story of the title. I was thinking about battle quotes and the first thing I thought of was "Once more unto the breach." I looked it up to make sure I had it right, but then I got carried away reading the speech (which was new to me), and was a little late for my carpool because of that. Because it was that good. And it was actually chock full of appropriate quotes, but I thought the one I chose for the title was the most fitting.

I see that your Bachelor Mouse is a bit of a classy fellow. Mine is more the type of mouse you could share a pint with at the Pub. Yours might share some of his good Scotch Whiskey with a visitor.

Unknown said...

Well, your initial reaction was about the same as mine would have been. In fact, a couple months before the cockroach infestation in my last apartment, I found one in the bathroom, killed it, and went about my business and didn't think about it again until a few weeks later when they were suddenly everywhere.

The similarity ends there because I didn't bother with humane traps (I am sure that such things exist, but I do not want to know about them).

As far as infestations go, I would definitely prefer cockroaches to mice.

vicmarcam said...

By the time this is all over, I think I may think differently, but I would take mice over cockroaches. There are only so many mice my walls can hold, but thousands of cockroaches can live in a house. I would not bother with humane traps for cockroaches.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but you need a Lily replacement. A good mouser would surely take care of your problems.

vicmarcam said...

Many people have suggested the cat route to me, and it is true that Lily, whom we lost in August, was a great mouser. I have not given up on the idea. In fact if anyone reading this has experience bringing cats into a house with dogs, I'd like to know how that worked. I keep picturing a frightened but surly hate-filled cat. My experiences have only been to bring dogs into a cat's house.

Unknown said...

Isn't that why we got Lily in the first place? I've heard that not all cats are mousers, so it might end up being more trouble than it's worth.

Now I am thrououghly creeped out by the cockroaches (I live in a 14-story building. I can't even imagine how many cockroaches it contains), but, unlike mice, they're quiet and they don't bite or scratch.

I was looking for some more reasons why cockroaches are okay, but then I read that they can survive for a few weeks after being decapitated and for some reason that really creeped me out and I have decided to give up this debate.

vicmarcam said...

Cockroaches and rats pretty much only exist because we exist. In fact, in the truly fascinating book, The World Without Us, author Alan Weisman, theorizing what would happen to the world if we all suddenly died out, points out that cockroaches and rats would probably be the first things to go, since they have evolved to live off of us. Personally, I think they'd outsurvive fluffy little dogs.