critter trouble right here in salt lake city

I began to suspect last winter that we might have a mice problem when I noticed a plastic bag of dried beans, about a quarter of its original content, slowly dwindling, so I looked around for the telltale evidence of poop pellets and found none. So I figured I was mistaken and wondered at my folly for not cooking all the beans at the same time. Pre-cooked beans last quite well in the refrigerator for later use the same week, and in the freezer they last quite long. It seemed silly to use only three-quarters of the bag, but apparently I had. So I lay the bag aside on the same pantry shelf and waited for the day I might need a quarter of a bag. A few weeks later, I picked up the bag again and it was empty. Then I noticed the teeny tiny torn space and thought, uh huh! We have apparently been hosting a mouse for quite a while, one with good manners–since he didn’t poop on the shelf–but a mouse nonetheless. There simply couldn’t be another explanation.

Immediately I announced my discovery to Hubby who, being an engineer and all, simply wouldn’t accept my findings. If there wasn’t poop on the shelves then there had to be another explanation. We’d have to wait and watch, and meantime he wouldn’t have to worry about it. Then came a more sinister and urgent enemy, as I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in early February, and almost everything else was forgotten after that.

Now that the cancer treatments if not the worries are behind us, to say we were caught off guard by what happened on a recent evening when we were sitting in the family room would be somewhat understated. In fact I was quite shocked when I noted the tiniest little movement from the wall-recessed shelving where my photograph boxes sit. It happened so fast I’m not sure my brain processed it properly but I saw a thin furry thing slide from the top of a box down the side to the shelf floor, then down the shelf wall to the carpet where he practically disappeared, as he was so tiny! Our daughter’s dog was lying there dozing, completely unaware and unperturbed at all while I watched the tiny slice of fur swim across the carpet, which was so much taller than he, it indeed looked as if he were adrift in an ocean.

Hubby jumped up to grab a newspaper. He thought he might be able to scoop it up inside the paper so we could toss him outside, but my squeals and his movement alerted little mousey to the fact that we’d seen him, so he hid–first under the couch and then, as I lifted the couch so Hubby could trap him in the newspaper–he scurried across the room disappear behind the bookcases lining the wall. What in the world would do we do now? There was no more refuting the evidence we’d both seen plainly as the nose on our face. We had trouble! We had mice right here in Salt Lake City.

It happens that we live at the base of an area of the Wasatch referred to as Rattlesnake Gulch, thus we were aware that we were prone to critter troubles right from the beginning of our moving here. In fact, the day I arrived for my first walk through before the moving van arrived from Las Vegas where we were living at the time, you can imagine how startled I was to lift the seat of the toilet in the main bathroom to find a drowned mouse floating. Out of instinctual revulsion, I involuntarily flushed it. It was quite dead. For weeks I was unable to use the toilet without seeing–in my mind–that mouse floating in the water.

After we moved in and I was papering the pantry shelves, it became quite clear from the droppings that the house was infested with mice (and other larvae under the sink that metamorphosed into tiny flies who lay more eggs to become larvae, etc), so our first major fix was to call a pest control. They came and sprayed and set mouse traps outside. While we knew it couldn’t be sugar they were spraying and setting traps with, either Hubby nor me labored long to think what it really meant. Personally, I could only focus on the fact that the law of supply and demand in nature meant that the more mice we had, the more likely the rattlesnakes in the gulch were to visit. Thus began my summer pattern of not setting a foot outside the porch in the back yard in rattlesnake season. If I couldn’t get the weeds or anything else controlled before the snakes started down the mountain, then they got a free pass the rest of the summer.

Long story short, the mice disappeared, the larvae did too after a couple of years. and for most of the past three years we have been relatively pest free as long as you don’t count the hornets and the spiders. While we saw a rattlesnake going after the squirrel family under the neighbor’s deck next door, we never saw one in our yard–yet. No mice = no snakes, and that was good enough for me. End of problem! Until now.

Only a few weeks ago, we were walking around the neighborhood when we met a couple of women also out for a walk. They were practically wringing their hands watching something on the side of the street near a gutter. Turned out it was a huge rat obviously in the agonizing throes of dying. No matter how much you don’t want rodents around your house it hurts to watch them die. Poison. I knew because the way it works to rid a house of them is that when ingested, the pest immediately leaves the house in pursuit of water, usually outside. Knowing it intellectually and actually observing a real death by poison are two completely different things. I felt like Scarlet O’Hara as I walked away from a horrible scene I knew I wouldn’t be able to shake from memory for weeks, all the time silently reciting, with God as my witness I will never (knowingly) poison an animal again!

So here we were with a mice problem without the heart to do much about it. Again. Neither of us wants to use professional pest control because we don’t want to contribute to pesticide runoff, and for the more obvious humane reasons. But we don’t relish being unwitting hosts to possibly disease-carrying vermin (the Hanta virus is a real concern here in the west) in our house either. We discussed a mouse trap–the kind that snaps across the spine when a mouse goes to nibble the cheese you entice him with, but couldn’t bear to think of the mouse suffering if he was trapped but didn’t die right away. Neither of us were up to that. And besides, who would retrieve the mouse and reset the trap? Both of us agreed. Not me! So we did all we knew to do at the time. We went to bed.

The following week Hubby went shopping and came home with a humane mouse trap. It’s a little black plastic box with an opening that allows a small animal to enter in order to nibble on the peanut butter treat the instruction page suggests you use to tempt it. Then when it finishes the treat, it can’t get out again. Next day, voila, you lift the little plastic contraption with mousey inside, open the back door and dump him someplace outside. Where doesn’t matter–maybe in the yard of that crudmugeon neighbor down the street. I don’t know if the scare from a night trapped in a bed of peanut butter is supposed to serve as a life lesson for said mouse, or if this becomes a ritual you’ll have to repeat every few days. Before we got the trap set up in our usual lackadaisical way, Hubby greeted me at the breakfast table recently with a little critter news.

Seems he found a floating mouse in that same toilet I saw the drowned mouse on my first walk-through. He flushed it down, even though it wasn’t dead yet. He tells me, little mousey won’t drown, he’ll just be flushed out into whatever critter heaven the sewer empties out into, whereupon he can find himself a new home to take him in. Wherever that particularly little mousey wound up, and I’m pretty sure he died a watery death despite Hubby’s protestations, I must say he was a thoughtful little critter. Not once did I find mousey poop anywhere in the pantry. But one day not longer after, I did find out where he’d been making his “toilet” all this time. Inside the cabinet under the sink. And no doubt the rest of his family is still using it. I expect any day now we’ll get that humane trap set up somewhere in the house, probably near the bag of beans I left out on the pantry shelf to see if any beans would disappear. Yes, I checked it today. The bag is going down slowly but steadily, and this time I found a fairly large hole. If I procrastinate long enough, maybe Hubby will come to the rescue.

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9 thoughts on “critter trouble right here in salt lake city

    • Would you believe it if I tell you that Hubby did look into these online, and then pronounced them as potentially harmful? When pressed, he noted that it could hurt their ears. We’re real wusses. Do you have wussies in Ireland?

  1. Oh, go ahead. Mousies make nests of paper which means record album covers and books. I want my books more so out my mousies go humanely.

    I love this tale of angst. Delightful. Thank you….

    • That thought occurred to me also. I remember the vermin shredding all kinds of things in the barn where I grew up. I guess I should be thankful they don’t poop on the grocery shelves, and I’ve learned to keep everything (except that one bag of dried beans) in plastic boxes they apparently can’t penetrate. Rodents vs ditzy man and woman…who would you put your money on?!

  2. I had squirrels in my house in Chicago. I relocated 12 squirrels (every one in the neighborhood) in a so-called humane trap, but the squirrels would try to bite through the wire mesh and scrape their noses raw. It made relocation an awful task.

    • I can see how awful that would be as well. I watch the baby squirrels under the neighbor’s deck as they play, so mindful of kittens roughhousing. And just the other day I noticed we have our own squirrels who’ve sat up housekeeping under our back porch too. We’ve planted a veritable banquet of marigolds and various other plants that are apparently quite delicious. I planted marigolds thinking the smell dispelled animals. Who knew?

  3. I always went for the natural remedy of cats. Somehow, all the vermin seemed to either find better housing or provide some amusement to the boys.

  4. once, our roach guy added a glue trap to his usual chemical treatment, and unfortunately, it got a little mouse in it, who couldn’t move but wasn’t dead. Glue traps are supposed to allow the rodents to live, but in order to free them, there’s this elaborate process involving soaking the trap and mouse in oil, so it’s terrible and inconvenient to boot.

    I would say agree that you need a cat, but it’s also awful to watch a cat playing with a nearly dead mouse. there isn’t really a good way, is there?

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