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Mpls, MN, United States

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Great Mouse War

Or, War and Mice, a Tolstoyesque epic (or at least epic-length post)

Firstly: in case you weren't already aware of this, I am a sensitive, conscientious, vegetarian pacifist and abhor violence of any sort.

Secondly: I am posting these details because I wish I had known yesterday what I know now, and because last night's Google search didn't give me much of the help and moral support I sought. Please don't feel obligated to read this rather gruesome post, Dear Regulars--you really probably just want to skip it altogether--but if you have arrived here via a search for help in a similar situation, I hope my post can maybe help a little.

I mentioned yesterday that I appear to have a mouse problem; my neighbor's cat caught one of them, but then I watched her watch at least two more, and not catch those ones. I called my landlord yesterday evening for instructions on how to change the bulbs in a certain fixture in my apartment, and happened to mention the mice. He said that this is the time of year for them, and that in this building they always go to the apartment that doesn't have a cat. He agreed that traps were the way to go, and said that glue traps (of which I'd never heard) were the most effective--that the mice's limbs and snout become stuck and they suffocate. I remembered my family having bad luck with snap traps when I was a kid; the sound of poor Uncle Louie (as we for some reason dubbed the offending mouse) dragging the trap with him behind the refrigerator remains with me. I also hadn't had any success with the live traps I used in Bowling Green. Glue traps, falsely, sounded like a good idea, so on my landlord's endorsement, I bought a pair of them.

Do not buy glue traps!

It's true that they catch mice. Mine caught one within the first 15 minutes. It didn't hold it securely enough, however, and I actually watched as the mouse was able to use the ledge at the back of the cupboard as leverage to free himself. I was a bit relieved, honestly; I certainly didn't want to deal with him. I did leave the traps in place, though, while I was out for the evening.

When I returned, I could hear a thumping the moment I stepped in the door, and my heart sank. When I opened the cupboard, it was even worse; I'd caught two in the same trap, stuck side by side in the same half of the tray, and both were alive. It was 1:30 a.m., I was alone in my apartment, and my neighbor was, I assume, sleeping soundly in preparation for the half marathon to which I was to give her a ride at 8:30.

I had no idea what to do. The mice, who would periodically shake frantically in an attempt to extricate themselves, didn't look particularly close to expiring, and I rued ever having bought the glue traps. Seriously, what was I thinking? David Sedaris has a (less-than-inspiring) story about drowning a mouse a trap hadn't quite killed, and that was how--it was rumored--pests were dispatched at Big Lake. I didn't want to drown the mice, but I didn't know what else to do. I really wished I hadn't bought the glue traps. I threw the empty one away.

Thankfully, my friend Nathan, one of the calmest, kindest boys I knew in high school, was online, and I messaged him for advice. He was sympathetic and kind, and it was wonderfully reassuring to have some human contact. He figured the fastest way to put the mice out of their misery would be to hit them with something heavy; he got on The Google and read that it could take them days to die on their own. I was doubly convinced that I had to end their suffering, but the thought of inflicting direct violence upon them was appalling. What would I use? What if I missed, and just wounded them? Would I have to look?

The upshot of the conversation was that I realized that drowning them would, for me, be far easier, cleaner, and perhaps even quicker, than bludgeoning them--and that since I had to do something about it before I went to bed, it was time to act. In David Sedaris' story, and a few I found online, the process was protracted and dreadful because the trap floated and/or the mouse swam. I decided, therefore, to use a small container of water (I used a plastic ice cream container that I've used to store leftovers but didn't mind throwing away) and to physically submerge the trap if necessary. I put on my gloves, filled the container and set it on the porch, and steeled myself to move the mice. Getting them from under the sink to the porch was definitely the worst part, because they wriggled so hard I was afraid I'd drop the trap, which I held gingerly at the far edge. Once outside, though, I plunged the tray into the water and turned it so that I just saw the back of the tray, and suddenly everything was still and silent. I crouched on the porch, freezing in my pajama pants and T-shirt, holding the tray below the surface of the water and squeezing my eyes shut as I counted out two minutes. It seemed like a good idea to hold it, just in case, although there was no movement and the tray remained submerged when I removed my hand.

I went inside to give it a few more minutes, and then grabbed a plastic bag and went back outside. I carried the tub downstairs and poured the water out on the lawn without having to look at the contents. Then I slipped the whole thing into the plastic bag, tied it up, and put it in the trash, with infinite relief.

But this morning, there were more mice.

I heard one under the sink, and when I investigated, discovered it was in my trashcan, under the liner. I took the whole thing outside, and when the mouse poked its head out at the bottom of the stairs, I dropped the trashcan and let it escape... straight back into my house, probably.

So I rode to the hardware store and got snap traps this time--two two-packs. According to my landlord, there's "the genocide" and then things settle down. I didn't want to do poison, and for all their potential failings, snap-traps did seem quick, clean, and blessedly decisive compared to the glue traps.

I was very nervous, but did manage to get the traps set, baited, and positioned under my sink. I caught the first mouse within the first five minutes, and another one almost immediately thereafter. I went through all four traps (I couldn't bear emptying and reusing them) in about two hours and went back to the store for four more. So far, I've gone through a total of six snap-traps, all well-positioned, quick, clean, kills. Twice the savvier mice have managed to steal the bait without triggering the trap, and once the trap snapped without catching anything (three times it snapped as I was positioning it, which terrified me).

Unfortunately, I have apparently killed off the smaller, meeker mice, and have since been terrorized by one or two larger, bold ones. Unlike the others, these ones aren't confined to the area under the sink and behind the refrigerator. One actually darted in and out of my bedroom, and one made it up on the kitchen counter. The very worst, though, elicited a fairly blood-curdling scream from your increasingly high-strung narrator. That was seeing a wriggling tail coming out of the freshly-baked and hardly-eaten plastic-wrapped loaf of bread on my counter. The tail was attached to a very fat mouse, who emerged from the mouse-shaped hole he'd gnawed at my initial gasp and fled at the subsequent shriek.

At the moment, however, all is quiet. Perhaps my nemeses have retreated downstairs, to my hippie neighbors' mouse sanctuary. I ran into that neighbor (who, being an artist and married to a playwright, is very cool, just not very tidy) on my way to buy traps, and discovered that in the process of packing things for their upcoming move, she had discovered all sorts of mouse evidence. Everywhere. I think they have spawned a colony, which makes me very unhappy indeed, since our walls are permeable and I'm the only other unit without a cat.

Earlier this afternoon it felt like a siege, so I'm glad to have a respite. The last two traps are baited and set; my current body-count is eight. I sure hope this ends soon.


I Hope So said...

holy mother mary. i'm so sorry. and yet i can't stop laughing. are you going to get yourself a cat?

Curly Sue said...

Thank you for such a funny account of such a stressful situation. I definitely recommend the snap traps also. I'm sure that once you get the population under control, you won't have any more afternoons like the one you described.

Daniel said...

At least you and David Sedaris have something in common now. Do you mind if I pronounce "nemeses" like the plural of mice: meeses?

Voth said...

I have a mouse problem as well. Mario, my almost 30 pound cat, catches them, gives them baths, and lets them go.

Next time you use a glue trap, pour canola oil on the mouse and trap, and the mouse is free. No more mouse in the house, and you get to see a mouse covered in cooking oil. It's a win-win!

Ellen said...

At least you don't have bats.

Cerise said...

Oh guys, I'm so glad you thought it was funny! I wasn't even going to write about it, and then when I started, I was afraid it would be a gruesome downer.

And Wendy, your story about Mario is hilarious. If I did break down and get a cat, getting one like him would be just my luck.

april said...

oh my grody, these mouse posts make my skin crawl. i think for sure you need a cat. ours are very good spider hunters.