Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vintage week: I met my match in Minnie the Mouse

Due to vacation, have pulled out an old lifestyle column I wrote for the Ottawa Sun.

February 18, 2004

The mouse landed in the middle of the night.
I awoke with a start, to a high-pitched squeal coming from the bathroom. My 23lb. cat had the mouse cornered behind the door.
Half awake, I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a mop, wrapping it in a bunch of newspapers and fixing them in place with an elastic. I was apparently planning to kill the mouse with a newspaper-covered mop before I realized a mouse is not a mosquito or a fly. So I tried to catch it in everything from a cottage cheese container to a garbage can. I laid a trail of cheese bits leading out into the hall, hoping it would recognize an opportunity and leave gracefully through the front door. I went back to bed, hoping the 23lb. cat would take care of it for me.
As I suspected, the cat was utterly useless.
Now I like to think of myself as fearless, and by that I mean someone who can overcome most problems and scary things and take care of myself. I don't like asking for help. Once when I was too broke for an auto body shop, I rented a sander to tackle the rust on my first car (and quickly learned bodywork should be left to professionals). I've moved multiple times for various jobs and travelled throughout Europe, where I fended off lecherous, evil-minded drunk men and survived a gang-style mugging, all on my own.
But the mouse in my house had me beat. Any time it appeared I was reduced to a quivering wimp.
I phoned up Phil Gour, a technician with Ottawa exterminator Germex, who told me mice are quite happy to live outside in winter, under the snow. But when it gets as cold as it has been this year, they'll scramble in through any hole they can find. If they start coming out in the open, he said, "it's not a good sign."
I called in the landlord, who at my request laid several humane traps laced with peanut butter. Several days went by, and they remained empty. I named the mouse Minnie, wondering if it would be possible for her, the 23lb cat and I to learn to live together.
Minnie grew bolder. She crept out into the living room as I watched television. She scampered across the counter as I prepared dinner. She climbed on my head while I was sleeping.
That's right. I woke up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to a mouse in my hair. As my screams subsided, we all took off in hot pursuit of the living room: Minnie, the 23lb. cat, who'd been sleeping at the end of the bed, and me. When I arrived, Minnie was gone. The cat was lying down, washing behind her ears.
"You woke up and it was on your head? Well, that's surprising," said Gour. "When you deal with pests, there's an exception to every rule, that's one sure thing I can say."
I didn't go back to bed that day. Screw peanut butter. I sent the 23lb. cat to stay with friends and paid a visit to Canadian Tire. There, I gathered all the supplies I would need to turn my apartment into a killing field.
I placed bowls of poison and water near sticky sheets designed to Venus flytrap the little critter. My landlord contributed some old-fashioned traps, the kind that can snap your finger. And I fell into a fitful and shortened sleep, towels stuffed under my bedroom door.
The next morning I found Minnie. During the night she'd been caught in the sticky trap, and then somehow she and the trap got tangled up in my small vacuum cleaner. It was horrific.
I'm sorry, I mouthed, outside by the dumpsters behind my apartment building, as I shoved the entire mess into a garbage bag and beat it violently with the aforementioned mop. A day later my landlord located and dealt with a Minnie 2, who was dying a slow death stuck to a second sticky trap under the stove.
Sticky traps don't work, Gour confirms when I ask, because they make "a horrible mess" of everything. The most humane method of catching mice is a multiple catch trap, but Gour relies on good old poison to work quickly on mice, which then crawl away and dry up. He knows what he's talking about, having chased down his first rat with a tennis racket at the age of five, then following his dad Pierre into the family business.
I learned a lot the day I put Minnie and my vacuum cleaner out in the trash.
Sticky traps are about the least humane method of mouse catching around, despite what their package promises. But waking up with a mouse on my head can dramatically alter one's definition of what is humane. And although there are probably a lot worse things to contend with than a couple of little old grey house mice, I'm still glad they're gone, so I can go back to being fearless.

Update: The cat died several years later of a condition we all suspected was made worse by her obesity. I moved to a high rise, and then I moved to Abu Dhabi. Have seen plenty of cats, no mice.

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