Eew! What was that horrible smell? Even with chronic congestion associated with my being allergic to nearly everything, I could tell something had died. Following my nose, I wandered downstairs, then into the corner of the basement with the seldom-used utility sink. As I got closer, I realized the deep sink was completely full of dirty water that lapped at the faucet and threatened to spill over the counter and onto the floor. I hastily ran upstairs to alert my handyman husband.
Further investigation (done by my squeamish sweetie) showed that the person who originally built our house had failed to cap the drain extension plumbed for a future downstairs dishwasher. Taking advantage of a safe sanctuary, house mice had built their nest in the dry pipe. We never would have noticed had the drain not clogged. Instead of running down and out to the septic tank, water from the kitchen sink upstairs had been forced to take a detour into the unused pipe, flooding out the mice and making a huge mess in the under-sink cabinet. Apparently this had been going on for several days. What finally alerted us was the aroma of putrefied drowned rodent.
As my husband made repeated trips to the hardware store, I read up on mice. I was already aware of the dangers of hantavirus, a serious respiratory disease carried by the local deer mice. And our local media frequently carries stories about the disputed endangered status of our local Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse. I didn’t want to contribute to the extinction of a rare species, but I didn’t want mice in the house, either.
After a quick look through my field guide, I identified my invaders as plain old House Mice. Far from being in danger of extinction, these mice originated in Asia, invaded Europe around 10,000 years ago, and now live everywhere people do. Apparently, I could act with impunity.
My first thought was to simply exclude any unwanted critters by doing a better job of sealing up the house. Was I ever naïve. We caulked and screened and plugged and nailed… and the mice kept coming. Could they teleport? Maybe not, but they apparently could squeeze through an opening less than a half inch wide. And if no such opening existed, they could gnaw. When I discovered a new pile of droppings under my kitchen sink, I knew we were fighting a losing battle.
The next step was purchasing two live traps. Baiting them with marshmallow and peanut butter, I strategically placed them in the pantry. Three days later I had holes in my cereal boxes, droppings under the pasta bags, and two empty traps. Apparently our mice have university degrees.
All right—no more Ms. Nice Gal. It was time for some traditional mouse traps. Setting them was a challenge; they had a nasty tendency to snap shut on my fingers. I gingerly placed a half dozen traps around the edges of the room. I was concerned that our cat would set them off, so I tried to hide them behind the fridge, under the counters, etc.
Oh, you caught that? Yes, we have a cat. In her fifteen years with us she has shredded furniture, despoiled rugs, and barfed up hairballs in my bedroom slippers. Unfortunately, she is totally oblivious to her natural prey. Mouse? What’s a mouse?
The marshmallow-baited traps sat patiently for an entire week while the bag of marshmallows on the shelf developed a raggedy-edged hole. I found new droppings under the refrigerator and we heard chewing noises coming from inside the walls.
I went out and bought rat poison.
I felt like a heel, feeding warfarin to our cute little beady-eyed house mice, but I was desperate. I carefully set the trays of little blue pellets inside the pantry, shutting the door to protect our useless feline.
In the morning, the trays were empty. Eureka!
The absence of mouse droppings, the continued presence of unmolested food in the pantry, and the sounds of silence coming from our walls were all very encouraging.
Then I started finding desiccated mouse bodies.
Open the closet, find a mummified mouse. Hit the fridge for a midnight snack, stumble over something soft and furry in the middle of the darkened kitchen floor. Lovely. While I doubted our cat would eat these mouse-nuggets, I couldn’t be sure. And if she did, the warfarin would poison her as well. I didn’t feel comfortable running that risk.
We went back to mouse droppings in the cupboards, gnawed bags of chips, and worrisome gnawing sounds emanating from behind the drywall.
The outlets in my home office stopped working. Some electrical sleuthing indicated a break in the wires right at the spot where we’d heard the chewing. My husband went to get a saw. One large hole in the wall later, we finished scooping out the insulation-filled mouse nest and reconnecting the wires. My spouse patched the drywall, and I finally got around to painting the room the nice maize-yellow I’d been wanting.
We had to do something about our unwanted houseguests.
We were just trying to be helpful when we agreed to pet-sit while our daughter and son-in-law went on vacation. A few weeks later they dropped off their two de-clawed cats, who immediately took over the house. (Our resident pet raised a furry eyebrow, decided they were unworthy of her interest, and went back to sleep.)
The next morning, a freshly killed mouse was waiting at my bedroom door. The younger of the two visiting cats was sitting smugly beside it, purring. Really? With no claws? I was impressed.
The following two mornings yielded two more dead mice. There was a lull, and then one more more soggy-with-saliva body was deposited at my door. And that was that.
I really don’t want to get another cat. Our current one is tolerated more out of habit than for any redeeming qualities. Yet, we live on five acres outside of town, and I store substantial quantities of bird seed and chicken feed. Mice are inevitable.
Maybe someone needs to start a business—a rent-a-mouser service. In the meantime, we told our daughter that she and her husband need to take regular vacations.