Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Regarding a new and more efficient process for dealing with the mouse problem.

     Our house has mice. Every now and then we can hear them, at night. A quick patter of invisible feet in the attic above our heads, a gentle drumbeat rousing me to action.
     When we first moved in, 21 years ago, I'd set mousetraps in the basement. The kind set on a small rectangle of cheap wood, where you'd place a square of cheese on a yellow plastic trigger, carefully pull back the metal bar, set it with a wire, then delicately place the trap,  your fingers placed out of harm's way, on some flat surface where a mouse might find it.   
     But those traps had significant disadvantages. I never caught my finger in one, but the risk was always there in that set spring, that straining bundle of potential energy. Sometimes they'd sit there for weeks, the cheese drying out, disquietingly. Other times you'd find them, face down on the floor, a tell-tale tail protruding from underneath. Maybe even a rivulet of deep crimson blood. That felt very cruel. You had to look: the crushed mouse head, the bar embedded in its skull, the snout just beyond the cheese that lured it to its death. Cheese it would never now eat. I'd cringingly, though not without a trace of satisfaction, drop the fatal duo, trap and victim, in a bag and go throw the bag directly outside in the garbage, as if the wee timorous mouse corpsie couldn't be allowed to remain in the house.     
     About 10, 15 years ago I abandoned the wooden trap system, and went for the big guns. A five gallon bucket of Blox mouse poison. It had the great advantage of not having to be set like the wood trap. Nor were there victims to deal with; the poisoned mice seek water, supposedly, and go off to some unseen place to die. Instead, there were these little triangular black plastic traps, designed to contain the poison and keep any prying cat or child from getting to it. Originally there was an odd metal key that pried the trap lids open, but that was lost long ago, and I learned a flat head screwdriver would do in a pinch. I would slip on latex gloves to handle the poison, which felt like a prissy bit of excess caution, but there you are.
     The Blox came with three traps. I'd put one in the garage, at the base of the back wall, which was simple enough. One in a hole in the brick wall in the basement, and one in the attic, accessed through a small metal trap door
 in our bathroom ceiling. That was the hardest part of the whole process, opening that metal door above my head, as mice would congregate there, eating the poison, and leave behind small hard black oval droppings. If you weren't careful, you'd open he metal door, above your head, and receive a baptism of mouse droppings. But that only has to happen once. Twice at the most. And I open the door slowly, holding a garbage bag under it as I did. Three times, tops, before I got the message. Lead with the bag.
     So this is the process. I would remove the trap from the basement wall, fill it and return it to its niche. Then I would go upstairs with a stepladder, climb up, gingerly, if not slowly, open the door, leading with the bag, remove that trap, go down two flights of stairs into the basement, fill that trap, then go back up two flights, return it, close the little door, sweep up the mouse droppings that fell onto the sink and floor anyway despite my best efforts to catch them in the garbage bag, and call it a day for another six months.
     But here came the epiphany. Almost two weeks ago, I removed the trap from the basement wall, and was filling it, when I thought: Hey! If I took this upstairs, and swapped it with the trap upstairs, first, it would save me the journey down with the empty trap. I could remove this from the basement niche, fill it, go upstairs with the filled trap, climb the stepladder, reluctantly open the metal door so as not to get a face full of mouse poop, remove the empty trap, put this full one in, then return downstairs with the upstairs trap, fill it, and put it in the niche in the basement, thus saving a trip up and down the stairs.     
     Have I explained that clearly? I hope so. And yes, I understand that the destination of today's column is hardly worth the effort of getting there, assuming I have, and I'm not sure about that. But the truth is, it was a long day yesterday, finishing this big project for the paper which turned out to be due weeks earlier than I imagined it would be, requiring a big push to complete, leaving me fairly well sapped at the end of the day. Now it's ... ah ... 3:50 a.m., and I've gotten up to write something for you, because that's the kind of responsible person I am, and the mouse trap situation presented itself, since it seemed a good idea as it was unfolding, and I took out my iPhone and snapped a couple pictures, leaving them like bread crumbs to lead me to the topic, for good or ill.
     So no, not how Lori Lightfoot should cure violence—no friggin' idea, start with curbing guns, then creating jobs and do everything in between. But you don't need me to tell you that and, besides, I've said it before, repeatedly, for years. While this is something new and, as the great Brendan Behan said, a change is as good as a rest. With the mouse poison, there was a certain joy in figuring out a more efficient process for doing something. It felt like progress of a sort. And we need all the joy we can get now, the murdered mice notwithstanding.
     And yes, I have sympathy for the mouse. If it weren't for that quick nocturnal scamper, I'd never think to kill them. Live and let live. Big house, lots of voids and false walls and attic spaces. You stick to your realm, we'll stick to ours. But one mouse then two then 20, and we can't have that. Nature is cruel; I didn't invent it, just trying to live in it. Besides, they don't  stick to their realm, whatever mouseworld exists in the unseen hollows of the house, with little easy chairs made of fabric scraps and tiny reading lights and broadloom rugs on the floor. Oh no. Occasionally they will get into the larder, or nibble into a bag of bread left on the kitchen counter. Bold, unprovoked vandalism of bun bags, clumsy thefts that can't be ignored. They're criminals, these mice, and deserve what they get. If you disagree with that, well, there's the comments section below. Now I'm going back to bed.


  1. My significant other has an almost religious fervor for not taking another life. It can often be frustrating when dealing with an invasion from the 4 legged criminals intent on sharing our food and living quarters, without sharing any of the expenses or providing a service like a dog or a cat. Catch and release is a time consuming nuisance, and the baking soda and peanut butter "treats" meant to dispose of the invaders got me a stern lecture when it was discovered that their intention was to end the lives of these naked tailed vermin. I was finally allowed to unleash my fury on these furry thieves when Chicago alley rats decided to invade the vegetable garden, but only when I assured him that dry icing their burrow would allow them to go peacefully in their sleep.

  2. Beautiful. Everyone has these moments. I remember breaking ice cubes to shove them into a water bottle to keep the water cold when my stepdaughter said "Why don't you run warm water over the ice cubes and just drop them into the bottle". One of those "duh" moments that I'm sure everyone has.

  3. Mice don’t stay in their realm. Neither do those wasps you wrote about not long ago.

  4. The problem with being a thinker is that subversive thoughts are inevitable and destructive to our peace of mind, especially if our introduction to the animal world was done by Disney or Charlotte's Web.


  5. “Three times, tops…” 😀

  6. Well, if you can stay up until 3:50 a.m. for us, I can start pondering a reply at 6:00 a.m., which I did.

    For starters, any real solution requires first that you seal the house where the critters are getting in, or else your quest will be never-ending. It may seem impossible, but your house is a physical entity with only so many ways for them to get in, so it can be done.

    Once that's achieved, you can make clear progress against whatever (or whoever) is in your walls. The problem with poisoning them is that you can smell the results. The solution I swear by, if you're okay with catching them alive and relocating them elsewhere, is the Mice Cube, a little tinted-plastic box with a trap door at one end that can be pushed inward but not out.

    Put in a little birdseed or similar as bait (if using something gooey like peanut butter, put it on a piece of paper to make later removal easier), the mouse comes in, the door falls shut behind him, and he's in there until you come back to find him. (As the packaging tactfully puts it, "Check trap once or twice a day, as mouse will expire if left in Mice Cube.") Maximum capacity is actually two mice, as I discovered on more than one occasion.

    In a nutshell (Har!), these things are phenomenally effective in our experience. On the few occasions when a mouse was spotted, I'd put out a trap in the evening, and it would have an occupant (or two) by the next morning. Repeat until no one checks in for 24 hours.

    I'm rather fascinated by these critters, and the translucent box gives you and the mouse a chance to study each other up close if you like. Disposal consists of simply turning the box over, the door falls open and the mouse comes out. Assuming the mouse is alive, you can easily transport it to the nearest outdoor area (or neighbor you don't like very much) before releasing.

    1. Adding to the good Andy advice. If you can see light coming into your house (obviously except a window) they can get in. Seal it and if its a big enough opening, use steel wool to stuff in the opening. They can't chew through that. Also sprinkle a little boric acid down for ants. Put traps tight along walls as they don't like wide open spaces. If you see a rodent traveling through the middle of a room you have a bigger problem than you thought. Never tried bird seed but peanut butter is better than cheese. Glue boards are good but don't forget to check them and make sure located where pets can't get stuck. If you have a cat, hire a new one.

  7. When it comes to wasps and mice (and spiders), it's me or them. Evolutionary ladder privileges. I have no desire to suffer from the many diseases carried in rodent droppings, like say hantavirus, with it's symptoms of feeling like your lungs are being squeezed by a rubber band and having a pillow held over your face - and then there is the 38% mortality rate. You should be honored with a plaque for your service to humanity.

  8. Getchoo a kitty, Mr. S...rodent infestations were the reason that man domesticated felines in the first place. Unfortunately, not all cats will chase mice. One will literally allow a mouse to run right past its whiskers and then display the kitty equivalent of "meh" on its face--while its furry housemate will turn out to be a ruthless and efficient killer. It all depends on the cat's pussonality.

    We had mice during the early days of the the spring of 2020. Heidi, our lazy and fuzzy Persian Princess, never lifted a paw. Mousing was beneath her dignity. But sleek all-black Onyx hunted them down and neutralized the threat. Some of the mice were not yet dead, just playthings and torture victims. I had to finish them off, and hear their final squeaks as I bashed them into eternity.

    We finally had to call in our exterminator...the ant and centipede guy. He put down those same black triangles. That same week, I reported what I thought was a gas leak. It was actually the stench of the decomposing mice, emanating from under our screen porch. How did you deal with the accompanying stink, Mr. S? Or did you just choose not to discuss it? Luckily, it doesn't last very long.

    All your life, you see cartoons in which the mice are lured into baited traps with wedges of cheese, often Swiss cheese that has holes, so that there's no mistaking it for what it is. Then I heard or read that mice aren't really attracted to cheese, and that it's an urban myth, and that peanut butter is much better.

    So this story tells me that the cheese thing is true after all. But what puzzles me is that nobody ever mentions the possibility of the bait attracting other vermin, such as ants and roaches. Then you've merely replaced one problem with another. Sometimes, solutions only lead to other difficulties. We did keep our black triangles. No mice this year....and no sport for Onyx. But I'll end this reply the way I began it...getchoo a kitty. Too bad your son's cat wasn't still around.

    1. Oh, and even if there are no mice present, or your animal companion chooses not to be a mouser, kitties are still fun to have around, and bring joy, delight, and hours of endless amusement into a household.They give a home its soul. Ask the kitty guy who has shared his living quarters with cats for the last forty years.

  9. It's somehow reassuring to be reminded that life in the leafy, suburban paradise is not *all* visiting with cheery neighbors during peaceful dog walks, ambling over to the nearby public library, chats with the local bookstore owner, contemplation of the abundant flora and fauna, and victorious campaigns with the Ariens. : )

    LOJC beat me to my comment, which, before I even got to *that* line was *going* to be "Twice at the most."

  10. I have to go to the store every few weeks and buy a mouse. My son feeds them to his snake it's fascinating to watch. We had mice in our old place and I asked him can't we just catch him in a live trap and feed dad to the snake.

    He's like no dad you have no idea what those mice might of eight and I'm not going to poison my snake

  11. A 50/50 mixture of Portland cement & corn flour will rid you of the mice.
    They will die of terminal constipation.

  12. we haven't driven or maintained our cars as we did prior to the pandemic. My spouse brought his car in to fix the windshield washer fluid hose, which had stopped working. The mechanic took photos of the 'problem'. Mice made a nest in his car engine compartment and chewed through the tubing! I was going to purchase a device for the car that emits high frequency sound to repel rodents. There were hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon. But further research suggests the devices don't work. So - no.

  13. If you want to end their lives humanely, if that even makes sense, I think you are better off with the snap traps - they are violent, but quick. No extended suffering as with poison. But as others have noted, you can get live traps and relocate the mice. I have done this many times. But since I no longer have small children in the house, now when I relocate them I don't have to bring along a bag of Cheerios to tide them over in their new home.

  14. That was going to be my comment. We had mice at our home on the west side of Northbrook. They were attracted by my storing bird seed in the basement - not smart. After a few months of trapping them, I hired an exterminator who identified holes in the foundation where the mice were getting in. Sealing them up solved the problem. Much more effective, though not as satisfying. Since then we have downsized to a condo nearer to downtown. There are still occasional mice that I remove with a trap and peanut butter - SNAP - end of problem.


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