My experiences with animals through the years.
|Most people that I know hate mice. To the general population, mice and rats are regarded as pestilence. They ruin items like clothing, books, and furniture, and they are a nuisance to the pantry if they find their way into a habited dwelling. They leave their tell-tale droppings behind, letting you know that they were there. Droppings are the mouse's calling card. The human reaction to these calling cards is never pleasant one, and usually results in action. Mouse traps and/or calls to the local exterminator usually follow. Or, the human gets a cat.
The average lifespan of a wild mouse can range from six months to five years, although some sources state that two years is the longest that one usually survives in the wild. The female mouse is sexually mature around one to two months after birth, and if that particular mouse happens to live two years, it has the potential to become pregnant at least twenty-five times. Each pregnancy lasts three weeks, producing five to ten pups. The pups will be weaned around two and a half weeks after birth, at which time the mother can become pregnant again. A mouse that lives two years can produce anywhere from 125-250 babies--potentially. Half of these offspring won't make it past the six month mark in the wild.
When I was six years old, my family moved from Lexington, Alabama to Greenhill, Alabama. It was only about twenty minutes away, but Lexington was my home, so it seemed much further to me. Plus, my grandparents had been my next door neighbors for the first six years of my life, and now we would have new neighbors. No longer would I cross the foot path that lay between my grandfather's vegetable gardens. If I wanted to visit them, I would have to have my parents drive me there--a whole twenty minutes away. While I was excited to trade a double-wide trailer for a nice brick house, I would miss walking to my grandmother's every day. Life would never be the same.
My dad sold our trailer, and the yard where I had played as a toddler became a freshly plowed field. My grandfather planted potatoes there. He had been a farmer before working for Reynolds aluminum factory. Taking an early retirement when the plant closed, he took up small-scale farming again, picking up the legacy that had been left by his father, and his father's father, and so on.
My parents helped dig the potatoes up when they were ready to see the sky, and I was left to play alongside them in the dirt field that had once been my stomping grounds. Our toy poodle, Tinker, had been buried under the peach tree in our backyard. My grandfather had left the tree standing when he had plowed the field. I doubt it was from respect for our dead dog that lay buried beneath the ground. More than likely he just didn't want dog remains plowed up with his tractor.
It was sunny the day my parents started digging up potatoes. Even in North Alabama, the weather can become sweltering hot as early as the first part of May. It was a Saturday morning--the only morning of the week that my parents weren't obligated to be at work or church. Seeing my parents with garden hoes in hand and sweat dripping from their brows wasn't the highlight of my day. I was busy looking for arrowheads in the plowed earth. My aunt had found plenty of these artifacts in my grandfather's fields over the years, so my chances were pretty good.
The momma mouse popped up out of the ground before I had a chance to get a good look at her. It was the babies that followed that caught my attention. They had popped up out of a hole in the field that my parents disturbed with their hoes. The mother was long gone in a matter of seconds, leaving her babies to roast in the hot sun. Many died within minutes of hitting the surface. When my parents' backs were turned, I scooped one up and hid it in a loose pocket. I would have my own baby mouse to care for, but it would have to remain a secret. My parents would never allow a wild mouse in the house.
When we got home, I ran to my bedroom and hid behind the side of the bed that was farthest from the door. I took the baby mouse out and inspected it. It had a thin layer of fur on its tiny body, but its eyes were still closed. It was still breathing, but I had no idea what to do with it. Pulling a cloth shoe from my Strawberry Shortcake doll, I placed the infant inside, and racked my brain. I had saved this mouse, which made me responsible for its well-being, yet I had no clue as to how to care for something so small without help from a grown-up.
My brother, two years old than me, passed by my open doorway, and froze. "What have you got?" He asked me. I didn't want to tell him anything, but I knew he'd try to take the object I was trying to hide from him if I didn't let him in on my secret. It couldn't be avoided. "I'll tell you, but you can't tell Mom and Dad." He agreed, and walked over to look at my prize. I should've known that he couldn't be trusted, even back then, but I wanted to believe that he would keep his word. He didn't.
As soon as he left my room, he headed for the backdoor. My parents were outside doing yard work, and he ran for them, while I ran after him, yelling at him that he was breaking his promise.
My parents reaction wasn't what I expected it to be. Dad would've thrown the baby mouse outside for the cats to eat straight away, but Mom had mercy on it. She retrieved an eye dropper from the bathroom, and then heated a small dish of milk. We made it a bed of facial tissues placed inside a Country Crock vegetable spread tub. No one in our family had any experience taking care of small wild creatures, but my mom and I did our best. We didn't have the benefit of the internet to instruct us back then--only a mutual love of lost creatures.
According to online sources, a mouse pup must be fed every one to two hours, around the clock, until they are weaned at around fourteen days. Kitten replacement milk is supposed to be used in place of the mother mouse's milk, and the genitals of the baby is supposed to be rubbed after each feeding to stimulate a bowel movement. Needless to say, we didn't know any of this at the time. Our baby mouse was fed a few times each day with regular cow's milk from the eye dropper, and it must've pooped on its own, because we never rubbed its genitals after we fed it.
We placed the mouse's bed on a bookshelf in our living room. It was kept on a higher shelf so it wouldn't accidentally get knocked off. It seemed like a fool proof plan at the time. We didn't consider that the mouse would get out. It didn't even have its eyes open yet.
Anytime we were away from home after I found the mouse, I would immediately head for the bookcase to check on it. Wednesday nights after church were no exception. The mouse was probably a week older by this point, and seemed to be getting along well. Picking up the Country Crock tub, I panicked. The mouse was gone. After checking underneath the tissues, I called to my mother. We spread out to do a search of the living room. Surely the mouse couldn't get far, not with its small size and blind eyes. A few minutes into the search, one of us spotted it. It was halfway down the hallway, headed for God knows where. I snatched it up and placed it back in its container. After its feeding, we poked a few holes in a lid and placed it over the tub. A few mornings later, it all ended. When I woke and went to the bookcase, the container was no longer there. "I'm sorry, honey, it didn't make it," my mom informed me. We had tried to save a wild creature and it hadn't worked. It was one of my first lessons in life. You can't save everything that needs saving. Maybe I had just prolonged the inevitable, but my intentions had been pure.
My dad never shared my mother's compassion for animals. He didn't mind dogs, but he had no tolerance for wild animals--or stray cats. When a stray cat tried to steal dog food off the porch, my dad rigged up a hot plate filled with milk (a metal skillet wired to a car battery) to remedy the situation. Dad hated mice and rodents of any kind. When mice pellets were discovered, he would pull out the mouse traps, along with peanut butter, crackers, and american cheese. Each trap had a freshly made miniature peanut butter cracker or cheese cracker placed on it to tempt the intruder. The sound of the trap being tripped could be heard throughout the house, and no one had to guess what had made the noise. The caught mice were usually dead by the time morning came, fixed in an unnatural position by the trap. Dad would then hurl them off the back deck and rig up the trap again.
When Dad found a nest of baby mice under the hood of his lawn tractor, he was just as ruthless. He picked up the nest and hurled it into a briar patch a few yards away. I stared in amazement. It hadn't given him a moment's thought. My thoughts were with the mother mouse. She would come back for her babies, but they wouldn't be there. Would she mourn them, or just carry on with life as usual? Being a kid, I assumed the former.
After a few years, my family moved again, this time to the city of Huntsville, Alabama. Because we no longer lived in the country, we didn't have the dogs and cats like we had in the country. We didn't even get a dog until we had lived there a year or more. My parents did allow me to have other pets, though. We started with fish, but I soon learned that fish are extremely boring pets. Next came the hamsters. Both my brother and I had our own hamster, and for some reason they ended up in the same cage after a while.
After a long day in my fourth grade class, I came home to find my hamster, my brother's hamster, and a dozen other hamsters in the cage. The male hamster (my brother's hamster) was letting the naked babies climb all over him, but the mother was doing something else with the babies. She was in the process of eating one, and its head was already gone. It's not hard to imagine a ten years old's terror at such a sight. I screamed and then grabbed what was left of the baby away from her. I had no idea what to do with the squirming body of the headless baby, so I just put it on the bathroom sink and then ran downstairs, tears streaming down my face. Now knowing where I was going, I jumped on my bicycle and pedaled like mad down the sidewalk, tears blinding my eyes. Nearing a corner, I intended to turn my bicycle. Something else happened instead. My bicycle seemed to have a mind of its own, and decided to jump the sidewalk. I was flung over the handle bars and into the street, where I lay on my back, stunned and breathless.
"Are you okay?" A voice sounded above me. I couldn't move or speak. Someone called an ambulance and a crowd began to gather around me. I was sure that I was in big trouble, never mind the aching in my body from hitting the hard asphalt of the road. My hamster was eating its babies, and my parents would be furious that I was laying in the middle of the road like a crazy person. My mind screamed at me to get up, but I couldn't do anything. Then a path began to clear around the onlookers.
A car had parked on the street and I heard my mother's voice. Kneeling down, she touched me and asked me where I was hurt. I must have muttered something to her, because she and my dad then helped me up and into their car. I was in the emergency room for a few hours before they cleared me to go home. My wrists were sprained and I had patches of road rash, but no concussion. We went home and I told my mom about the hamsters. There had been sixteen babies when I had come home from school. Now there were fourteen. Within a month, all of the babies had died. The mother never ate anymore than she had on the first day, but she obviously couldn't feed all of her babies. Most died in the first week. A few looked like they were going to make it, but the last one died on my eleventh birthday. I decided that hamsters weren't the pet for me, so I moved on to a white mouse named Mikey.
By the time I was in the fourth grade, I was an avid reader, and some of my favorite stories to read were about animals--especially talking animals. I had recently read one of Beverly Cleary's books, 'The Mouse and the Motorcycle.' It was about a talking house mouse named Ralph who learns how to ride a toy motorcycle. He communicates with a little boy in the story and I loved it. I wanted a Ralph of my own. Our house was new and mouse free, so I talked my parents into buying me a pet mouse, one of those white mice with red eyes. It was the only kind of mouse we could find at the local pet store, and was probably meant to be snake food instead of a pet, but he worked for me. I named him Mikey, after the baby from the movie 'Look Who's Talking'. I didn't really like the name Ralph. So, Mikey and I became best friends. I carried him with me everywhere, except church and school. He rode on my shoulder to my friends' houses. I loved that mouse, even though he never once tried to communicate with me. Then one day, he was gone. When I went to his cage, he wasn't in it. I never found out what happened to him. Maybe he died and my parents removed him before I found him, or maybe he escaped. I missed him as much as an twelve year old can miss a pet mouse. Then I moved on to other things. My family was about to move back to the country, and it looked like I had a good chance of getting a horse to ride.
In my late teens and early twenties, I kept reptiles and amphibians, rather than rodents. Mice became food for my snakes, although I hated that fact. I tried feeding live pinkies (newborn mice) to my first snake, but I only did it once before switching to frozen pinkies. Hearing the baby mouse squeal as the snake constricted it was too much for me. At one point, I had two rainbow boas that required a rat each every few weeks. I performed the duty of smacking the rat against the glass of the snake terrarium to stun it before throwing it in to the snake and then walking away. It bothered me, but rats aren’t quite as cute as mice. The practice of rat smacking soon ended for me, though.
The last time I attempted to feed a live rat to my boa, something happened. I went about the procedure as usual, first taking the rat by the tail and then swiftly smacking its head up against the glass wall of the snake’s terrarium. When I put the rat in with the snake this time, the rat looked as spry as ever. I took it out again, not wanting it to bite and scratch my snake’s eyes out, and repeated the process. Again, the rat jumped up and ran around the enclosure. The snake didn’t look interested, either, so I took the rat out and put it into an empty terrarium in the garage with a bowl of water and a handful of dog food. I figured that it deserved to live, since it had taken two beatings to the head and had come out unfazed. A week later, the rat had a litter of baby rats. I hadn’t even know she was pregnant, or I wouldn’t have been so cruel. I felt terrible, and decided that these rats would never be snake food. They were housed in the garage for the time being, and I had no idea what I would do with them. I wasn’t interested in a litter of rats for pets, and I didn’t know anyone who would want them, unless it was for snake food. I never had to figure it out, however, because somehow or the other, they ended up escaping from their enclosure. Luckily, our garage was detached from the house, so there wasn’t much of a chance that they’d end up in the house. They probably fled to the nearby woods. I guessed that half or less would survive in the wild. The rest would get picked off by wild snakes, coyotes, foxes, owls, and hawks.
My children love all animals, and they’ve had hamsters and pet mice among other pets. My daughter’s favorite pet is her fancy pet mouse named ‘Fluffy,’ a black and white mouse with more tolerance than I’ve ever seen in any animal. She lets my daughter haul her around like she was a doll (albeit a tiny doll), and doesn’t ever bite or try to hurt her. My son’s mouse, ‘Imelda,’ doesn’t tolerate anyone. She refuses to be held, and has tried escaping on three separate occasions. Each time she has been caught by our family cat (an excellent mouser) in the middle of the night. Lucky for her, I have excellent hearing. I’ve rescued her twice, and my husband retrieved her the last time. If she sustained any injuries, she has since recovered, but refuses to let anyone get near her, and her tolerance has gone from four to zero on a scale of one to ten-ten being the most tolerant.
Since our family has a tendency of picking up new pets, we’ve accumulated terrariums and cages that sit dormant in the garage. The mice are kept in the garage as well. Their food is kept in a large, empty aquarium so it will be within easy reach. Checking their food supply one morning, I noticed movement in the empty aquarium. A baby mouse, the size of a quarter, had fallen into the aquarium during the night. It had probably smelled the food and thought it could climb back out after it had had its fill. It’s black beadlike eyes stared up at me with fear. I knew I couldn’t kill it, not with my soft nature, and I wasn’t about to let my husband kill it either. What kind of message would that send to our kids? But then again, I didn’t want wild mice in the house, either. Where there is one, there are many. So, I devised a plan.
I trapped the baby mouse in a small box and transported it to another empty terrarium, this one having a mesh lid on top to prevent escape. I gave it food, water, bedding, and a hide box. My kids were involved at this point, and were entranced by the cuteness of its fuzzy brown fur and the white spot on its forehead. Back in the other empty aquarium, I placed a handful of mouse food and waited. In less than an hour, I had caught five more mice the size of the first one. Two larger ones were caught the next day, and they were all transported to the lidded terrarium. They bounced like rubber balls, trying to escape from their prison. All the while, my kids were cheering and fascinated by our new ‘pets’. My husband gave me ‘the look’ as we both watched our kids enjoying the captive mice. There was no chance in hell that we were keeping eight wild mice in our garage, but what was I supposed to do with them?
For some reason I decided I would call my dad and ask him what he would do. I figured that his advice would involve violence, but I called him anyway.
“How big are they?” He asked me.
“About the size of the thumb,” I answered him.
“Just flush them down the toilet.”
“Okay, you can be the one to tell the kids,” I sighed, before adding, “It's fine dad I'll figure something out.”
After talking it over with my husband, I decided we would keep the mice until they were a little bigger. Then we would take them out to the country and release them into the wild.
A few weeks passed, and then it was time. We loaded up the aquarium that held all of the mice and took them out close to my parent’s house where there was a creek nearby. We would release them close to a creek, so that they would have a source of water to drink from and also have woods to hide in. It took only a second or two for all of the mice to scamper into the woods.
Relieved of our burden we made our way to my parent’s house to spend a few hours visiting before heading back home. It was a good feeling, releasing the mice into the wild. I had done a good thing, and my kids had a positive example to follow. I wasn't my dad after all. l I didn't kill mice just because they had the capability of carrying disease.
Mice have a hard time everywhere. They are considered bad in every country and culture around the world. Only Asian cultures have any positive association with them, and they usually lump them into the category of wealth and riches, which can be considered negative by some groups of people. But on the same hand, they are associated with theft and ill-gotten gain. So it’s a lose-lose situation all the way around for mice and rats.
I’ve never been a person to protest the rights of rodents. I understand the reality of having wild rodents in one’s home. Not only can they carry disease, they can also cause allergies and food poisoning. I get that, and I’m grossed out just like everyone else. I do think that these creatures have a place on God’s green earth, though. Perhaps humanity just hasn’t come to realize what the mouse’s purpose it just yet. Larger rodents, like rabbits for instance, can serve as a food source. My grandfather used to raise rabbits specifically for rabbit stew, which I ate as a kid. Rats and mice, however, are hardly worth the effort, and are usually portrayed as only being eaten by the poor and homeless.
My family doesn’t buy mousetraps. We don’t need to. Our cat usually takes care of inside rodent problems before we are even aware that we have one. She is an excellent mouser, and I don’t chastise her for it. Mice don’t belong in my living space. Out in the garage is one thing, but inside my house is another.
I feel confident in saying that one out of five people that I know have a fear of mice. One friend of mine cannot even look at pictures of mice without feeling her flesh crawl and breaking out in a sweat. I’ve never understood this kind of fear. Humans are thousands of times bigger than a mouse, and yet a grown man will oftentimes climb onto a chair when a mouse runs through a room. Musophobia is considered a common phobia, but I’ve always considered it an irrational one. What are the chances of a mouse harming a human, unless it contaminates that human’s food source?
When my husband and I first married, we spent the night at my parent’s house in the country on occasion. Sleeping on a futon in my childhood bedroom, my husband and I passed the night peacefully. At daylight, my husband felt a tickle on his nose. Opening his sleep weary eyes, he saw a blurred nose and two black eyes peering at him from atop his chest. A curious mouse had decided to get a closer look at his nose at some point, which explained the tickling my husband felt as the mouse’s whiskers brushed against his nostrils. In a millisecond, the mouse darted off the futon and disappeared. Bolting upright, my husband rubbed furiously at this nose, while shifting the covers around him to make sure the mouse was really gone. We still laugh about the experience, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want it repeated. I wouldn’t either.