Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The be-whiskered menace

Hugo Schwyzer has a post up that reminded me of something. He writes:

Here’s the problem: we have little nocturnal creatures living in our attic, scurrying around and chewing things. We worry that they may be doing damage up there, and they drive us nuts with their noises at night. (We wear ear-plugs to bed). On the other hand, we’d rather be kept awake than pay an exterminator to kill them; we would endure great expense and discomfort rather than harm a single whisker on a single rodent.

Hugo is a believer in animal rights, as well as a fan of rodents. (He has six chinchillas.) His story called to mind a dilemma I had a few years ago. Back in the midwest, we lived in a house that had built in the 1950s on what had been a tree nursery. It was a lovely place, and of all the houses I've lived in, that one is still my clear favorite.

But there was a problem. Like Hugo, we began to hear little scurryings in the attic. Then we began to find pieces of dog food in odd places -- drawers in the bathroom, in pairs of shoes left by the door to the garage, in boxes of documents in the office. When I found kibble in my silverware drawer, I'd had enough. I ordered one of those sonar thingies that's supposed to repel rodents, and I started storing the dog food in plastic bins.

I'm fairly certain the mice merely chortled at the sonar device. As for the plastic bins that thwarted their access to their regular supply of dog food, they simply attempted to chew through them. The dogs themselves were useless. I once watched as a mouse ran directly in front of my golden retriever. By the time he'd so much as turned his head, the mouse was long gone. So we sterilized the silverware and ordered live traps, which we baited with peanut butter. We caught a mouse every day, which we then relocated in the woods away from the house.

It didn't make a dent. We concluded that the relocated mouse carried stories to his comrades of the promised land, this great house over the hill owned by a bunch of milquetoast vegetarians. "Sweet," they'd say. "Let's go!"

We consulted my then-brother-in-law. He was a wildlife biologist with a decidedly unsentimental view of rodents, and he thought we were crazy. "Oh, look," he said in clinical tones as he examined the day's catch, "a common European house mouse." I didn't care what they were called, I just wanted them to stop leaving dog food in my silverware drawer. I was ready to go lethal. Thing is, I strongly suspected that even if we hired an exterminator, a new group would just move in.

But fortunately for the mice, the arrival of spring was upon us, and they always seemed to make off for the great outdoors once the warmth returned. They didn't come back much after that. Perhaps it was a hard winter that year.

Of course, they're just as wily in the great outdoors. Once, when we were backpacking in the Olympic range, I went to hang my food bag on the provided bear wire. It was a magnificent contraption, designed to repel even the cleverest bear. The wire was stretched between two trees about twenty feet off the ground. Through a pulley system, the bag was arranged so that it would hang in the middle of that wire. The bear would literally have had to walk a tightrope for fifteen feet to get to the bag. I placed my double-bagged food into the stuff sack, cinched the drawstring as tightly as I could, and hoisted it up.

The next morning, I pulled my bag down. It was still cinched as tightly as I had left it the night before. But in the corner of the ziploc holding my trail mix was a tiny hole with jagged edges. There were crumbs all over the bottom of the stuff sack. The Houdini of mice had eaten my trail mix.

I think the bald truth is that humans are no match for mice. Mice, I think, are just far too competent. In a way, it's difficult not to admire them. I'll be reading the comments on Hugo's post to see if anyone offers him a non-lethal fix. I'll be pulling for him.

1 comment:

JLB said...

My favorite part of this post:

We concluded that the relocated mouse carried stories to his comrades of the promised land, this great house over the hill owned by a bunch of milquetoast vegetarians.

Thanks for my first laugh of the day!

And thanks for the link... I too can tolerate mice to a certain point, and I'm always looking for more non-lethal solutions.