Tuesday, June 27, 2017
A Better Mousetrap
I think I was a barbarian as a child. Among other things, this showed up in my zest for killing mice. Because we lived in the country, our house was home to lots of creatures, especially when the weather got cold. When I turned twelve, my job was to bait the mouse traps in the kitchen and dispose of any corpses that were there the next day. I’d get up first thing in the morning and run to the kitchen. If I found a dead mouse I’d wake up my younger brother Steven and show him the victim. Then we’d take it out and bury it in the field. I don’t know how many mice I trapped during those years, but it must have been in the dozens.
Now, quite a few decades later, I’ve definitely mellowed. My interest in exterminating mice has dropped to zero (or even -20). Last week when our cleaning lady said that she’d found mouse droppings behind our toaster, Katja insisted that I go to the hardware store and get some traps. I was delighted to discover that they stocked a humane, no-kill mouse trap. It cost three times as much as the regular guillotine-like traps, but I bought it without a second thought. It’s such an ingenious invention. The heart of it is a long tube that rests upon a fulcrum so that, when a mouse walks into the tube to get the cheese at the far end, it tilts the tube forward, and the door slams shut behind them. The mouse isn’t hurt at all, and one can free it in a pleasant, wildlife-friendly environment.
I baited the trap that night with Cheez Whiz, and I got up early the next morning to see what had happened. I was excited to discover that the door to the trap was closed. I got dressed and took the trap down the street to a large, wooded lot on a hillside. I set the trap on the ground, opened the door, and waited for the mouse to back his way out. When he didn’t appear, I tilted the trap up so he would slide out. Still no mouse. I carefully peeked into the tube. To my shock, it was empty. The cheese was gone, but the mouse had somehow escaped. I couldn’t imagine how that happened. Such a clever mouse.
I set up the trap the next night and checked the following morning. The same story. Closed door, no cheese, no mouse. On the third morning the door wasn’t closed, and the cheese was still there. I decided that the mouse had wised up to my tricks and was not going to mess around. On morning four the door was closed again, but the cheese was still inside, and the mouse had obviously escaped.
I haven’t given up on this excellent trap, and I’ll set it again tonight. I am wondering if the mouse’s family members have figured out how to release him or her. In any case, I’ve decided that my new mousetrap is even more humane than I’d first imagined. First of all, it leads to humanitarian behaviors on my part, and I feel like a better person as a consequence. And it’s even more favorable for the mouse. He gets free cheese and can continue to live in out house with his family and his babies. He probably feels very smart. All things considered, it’s the best of all possible worlds for humans and for mice.
Postscript. A couple of days after writing this I checked the trap again, just out of curiosity. When I shook it, I thought I heard a sound inside. I opened the end and saw inside a shriveled up mouse corpse. It was covered in a mucousy fluid that spread over the floor of the trap and had leaked out onto the kitchen counter. I speculated that it was some bodily fluid that mice emit when they are being slowly tortured to death. Disgusted with myself, the trap, and the mouse’s sad body, I put the corpse in our garden and threw the ten-dollar trap in the garbage can. Humane traps, I realized, are the old-fashioned kind that instantly snap and break the mouse’s neck. I’ve decided, though, to go with no traps at all. Mice can live in our house. They’re cute, quiet, invisible, and they’re not causing anybody any trouble. I might even start putting out cheese in the evening.