Animals Matter: Of Mice and Men (and Cats)

For all that I love cats, I must admit they have some less than lovable habits. For instance, in common (I suspect) with most cat owners, since acquiring our feline lodger Henry Wowler, we also acquired a Mouse Problem. (Yes, I know. Cats are supposed to get rid of mice – hah!).

‘He’s got big ears,’ said the vet, when I took him for his first inoculations. ‘I bet he’ll make a good mouser.’ Alas for us, and the local wildlife, he was right. The Wow ‘made his bones’, so to speak, on earthworms – which, right from the start, he proudly brought in through his cat-flap (a mixed blessing if ever there was one) to play with. His delight at his first major kill knew no bounds – even though we knew it was only a puff of breast-feathers from a blackbird exploded by a sparrow-hawk. But inevitably, the mice (or parts thereof) began to appear in the kitchen (where he’s confined overnight to keep the gore off our soft furnishings)… as, inevitably, I had to resign myself to mopping up after his nocturnal hunting expeditions.

On the one hand, I can’t help admiring his skill, diligence and perfect physical adaptation for killing small creatures: his huge, sound-funnel ears, keen nose and big brilliant eyes that miss nothing; his lightning reflexes; his incredible patience (reminiscent of an Inuit seal-hunter crouching for hours over an ice-hole); and of course his paws and mouth full of deadly weapons. On the other hand, disposing of his victims is a pain in the bum.

House rule is, if it comes in alive, he loses it – assuming we get to it before he does. (Unfortunately, if it comes in dead he often loses it as well, usually by batting it under the fridge beyond claw reach where it lies, undiscovered, until the growing stench or suspicious swarms of flies alert us to its presence). This has led to many a ludicrous Tom-and-Jerry-style chase as Wowler and I (creature-catching glass in hand) fight for possession… and a couple of occasions when Jerry has given both of us the slip and holed up in the cavity under the electric fire in the living room hearth.

The first time this happened, we had no humane traps; so I pushed in a paper tissue for Mousie to make a bed, two jam-jar lids of water and birdseed, and barricaded it into a luxurious prison behind walls of video cases and books. Then for £4.50 we bought a twin-pack of The Big Cheese, a simple plastic rocking trap, ready-baited, with a lid that snaps shut when triggered by the weight of the mouse inside. At least, that’s the theory – and indeed, we did catch it a day or two later and (much to Henry’s chagrin) returned it to the wild.

However, the second mouse was much more cunning. Evading the two Big Cheeses set for it either side of the fridge where it had taken up refuge, it waited until Wow and I had cleared off then found its way to the living room and took up residence in Mouse Motel (as I realised when Henry mounted a permanent guard on the hearth-rug). Twice, this Mousie managed to steal the peanut butter with which I’d re-baited the Big Cheese without tripping the trap… clearly, sterner measures were called for. So I bought a Procter Brothers Ltd. Pest-Stop Multicatch trap – at £4.50 for a single unbaited trap, it’s more expensive than the Big Cheese but a far more robust affair; a grey box that can hold up to four mice, with an internal metal ‘bridge’ that flips up behind to stop them getting back out the way they came in. Advantages are that it doesn’t need to sit on a perfectly flat surface – and it can’t be accidentally tripped by a nosy cat. (Disadvantage is, unlike the Big Cheese, you can’t see at a glance whether it’s tripped… and if you forget to check it regularly, it soon stops being humane!).

Anyhow, yes! As soon as Mousie had munched the room-service portion of seeds provided, (well, I felt sorry for it), it succumbed to the lure of peanut butter and chocolate biscuit in the trap and this time we had it. A fine, big handsome mouse – well, I suppose it would be after several days of nothing to do but kip in the warm and pog out on seed and peanut butter – and we felt very guilty about evicting it into a freezing cold night to burrow into a heap of leaves in the woods. Am now confidently expecting it to start hanging round in our garden at night, hoping the Wow will catch it and bring it back in for another stay in Mouse Motel – bit like an habituated convict who doesn’t want to leave prison.

Meanwhile if you, like us, have an issue with uninvited ‘mouse-guests’ but can’t bear to kill them or leave them to the un-tender mercies of your cat, I can recommend the Pest-Stop Multicatch – it works, and it doesn’t hurt a bit.

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