Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Creepie crawlies, things that go bump in the night, and Stevie's Redemption

You know, there are just some responses that seem to be hardwired. I work with animals all day, and started when I was 12 as a volunteer at the zoo. I worked my way up to employee, also spending many hours as a volunteer at a wolf sanctuary and doing years of wildlife rehab, then followed by half a dozen years of working at various vet clinics while I was in school and now 19 years as a practicing veterinarian. Over the course of those years I've worked with all kinds of animals of various species, including all kinds of reptiles, rodents, and other oft maligned critters. For the most part none bothered me...

However, I have found that dealing with them in a context where you are in control is one thing, and happening upon them unexpectedly is a whole 'nuther ball game!

I've lived in my house a little over 2 1/2 years now. When I bought it and moved in, my dad started rehabbing my old house. Since he spends half the year in Florida, it turned into rather a prolonged process. A few months after I moved, I brought an EZ up tent over from the old house that I had stored on the covered front porch. It was in a nice, zip up bag with wheels. I stowed it in the garage at the new house. That night as I pulled into the garage SOMETHING ran across the back of the garage in the glare of my headlights. Uh oh, I apparently had a hitchhiker who had ridden along with the tent. I now had a resident mouse! (I must point out that I never had mice IN the old house, nor did I ever see any outside in the yard...but apparently I did have some living outside!). I spend a couple of weeks leaving the garage door open hoping he would choose to leave (right). I put the cat out in the garage hoping he would do the dirty work for me- he just looked at me like I was nuts. I took Andy who was OBSESSED with his rabbit fur squeaky mouse into the garage and tried to encourage him to look for the mouse...he also had absolutely no interest in being the bad guy. Finally I reluctantly did what I had to do and set a trap. I baited it with peanut butter and barely got back into the house before I heard a loud SNAP. End of mouse problem. Ugh. Totally grossed me out to have to deal with the aftermath.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago. We finally finished the rehab on the house and put it on the market this year (I must say it looked GREAT!) and miracle of miracles the first person who looked at it bought it. The week prior to the closing I headed over to get a few last things out of the shed in the backyard. I brought back my old wooden obedience broad jump from the set my dad made me 20 years ago (how is that possible???) when I was training Levi; a few leftover stick in the ground weave poles, some garden tools, and one of those plastic upside down cone shaped Christmas tree stands ( for some reason I had at least four tree stands there; since I have an artificial tree I left the others for the new owners, but thought i would keep one just in case!). Deja vu....that night I pulled into the garage and again, something ran in my headlights. HOW the mouse hitched a ride somewhere in that stuff I don't know- there just weren't that many places to hide, but I guess he was inside the Christmas tree stand. I think it's far too much of a coincidence to not believe that he came from the shed. Crap.

So, I tried to ignore the problem and hoped he would just go away. That worked pretty well until Saturday night. Cory was entered in rally Sunday in obedience, and Saturday night I was checking to make sure I had everything i needed in the car since I had to leave at o'dark thirty in the morning. It occurred to me that since excellent rally has the "honor exercise", which is basically an on lead sit or down stay in the ring while the next dog does its exercises, that I needed a six foot lead according to the rules; the very pretty braided teal and purple lead I usually use at shows is only five feet or so. Darn it! (can you tell that I really don't do a lot of training specifically FOR rally? I should have been better prepared but we've actually only practiced the honor exercise once. A stay is a stay is a stay....until you realize your equipment doesn't quite meet the regs!). Oh well, I have about 4000 leashes so no problem. Except none of the leashes in the van is six feet- I have 4 flexies, at least four agility slip leads, a four foot Bengals lead, the show lead, Andy's pretty braided kangaroo leather show lead, also only 5 feet, a purple nylon 4 foot one, several "spare" braided leather leads anywhere from 3 to 5 feet long; our best braided leather teal and purple agility slip lead that matches the snap verson show one, one "standard" leather training lead which, for the first time, I bought in a four foot rather than six foot length, and three or four tracking lines ranging from 20 to 40 feet long....ooooookaaaaay. So now we move to my various training bags which are in a state of disorder stacked in the front of the empty side of the garage. In my defense i will say I have really tried to avoid clutter and be neat since I moved, and for the most part I have succeeded. The places where it occasionally slips through and gets by me are the garage, the pantry, and the office closet. (the van and my office at work don't count, we're only talking about the new house!). I have been meaning to sort through all my training bags and organize them for the summer....but first it was too cold in the garage, and when it got warm I was not anxious to go looking through them and have an unexpected encounter with my furry little guest! While I was searching I had been trying to ignore the occasional scuttling noises I heard, but when i started moving things around in the front of the garage Mr. Mouse was quite indignant and began running around the edge of the room. I was not real happy with this development; it made me a bit jumpy to say the least! After an abbreviated search, I came to the conclusion that somehow in my extensive leash collection and approximately 15 training bags of various sorts (seriously), I no longer own a six foot lead. Well. Maybe the judge wouldn't look that close. I walked over to the trash can, lifted the SUPPOSEDLY snug fitting lid, and about jumped out of my skin when the mouse was perched on top of the trash and went flying off to God knows where. Ok, enough already, time for a trap. I set a trap and fully expected to be done with the problem in the morning.

But morning came (WAY to soon as my alarm went off at four so I could leave to drive to Columbus) and the trap was still unsprung. Stevie the clinic cat was home with me for the weekend. He is a paper shredder and I had a project spread over the dining room table, so I shut him in the laundry room and basement for the day (not exactly a hardship- the basement is set up as a training room for the dogs complete with tunnels, jumps, their own couch and TV, and big windows which look directly out at the woods and bird feeder). I got home around 5 that night...still no mouse in the trap. OK, moved it to right in the middle of the path around the perimeter of the garage I have seen him run. I was bringing things in from the car and it occurred to me that Stevie wasn't yowling to be let out of the basement. I opened the laundry room door and called him- no response, and no Stevie. Uh oh...Stevie ALWAYS comes running when I get home. This was not good. I went down the steps afraid of what I might find. But when I got to the bottom, there was Stevie over by the panel jump, looking just fine but still very uncharacteristically ignoring me. A minute later I saw why as he had a MOUSE trapped against the panel jump. A tiny, not much more than a baby looking mouse like critter at any rate. At this point I am more than a little jittery, Stevie is alternating between trapping him against the panel jump, batting him around, and picking him up in his mouth and shaking him. Now, this is very cute behavior when it is his little pink stuffed mouse or one of those tiny rabbit fur kitty mice, but when it's real it's just kind of gross! I was torn between pity for the poor critter, amusement at Stevie, and mostly horror that the mouse might escape and get up into the house. I grabbed one of those mini traffic pylons (we use them to heel around when we do figure eights) and managed to clap it down on the floor with the critter trapped inside, and slide a piece of cardboard under it so I could carry the wild beast outside. It was not looking too good when I captured it- lying on its back panting and looking like it was not long for this world. Now, I KNOW how to humanely do a cervical disarticulation on a mouse but it's been a LONG time, and those were mice that were somewhat used to being picked up, and this one didn't have a tail to hang onto. Plus I'm just too wimpy and I don't like killing things. So I took him outside where it was pouring down rain, and my neighbor's downspout which empties out on my side was gushing and had about a 6 inch deep, large puddle under it. I figured I would drop the poor critter into it, he would quickly drown, and that would be that. I still felt really bad but in the scheme of ways to handle it it seemed the most expedient and least bloody. I tentatively tipped the cardboard, lifted the pylon, there went the "mouse" or at least mous-ish critter- but he didn't know the plan! He promptly righted himself, swam out of the puddle, and took off, thankfully towards the neighbors' yard (don't tell!).

OK, so immediate disaster averted. I was very pleased with Stevie and gave him all kinds of treats for actually doing something USEFUL, and tried to avoid thinking about the 12 hours he had to torture the poor critter before I came home. At least I didn't see any evidence that waterboarding was involved. But then I started to worry again. Was this the mouse from the garage? And if so, how did it get in the basement? It would either have had to come through the house (AAAAGH! NO!) or outside all the way around the house and found a way in. It seemed smaller than what I thought I had seen in the garage- only about the size of one of those mini kitty rabbit fur mice; and it had a short haired tail instead of a long bald one, although I can't say that he didn't have one BEFORE he entered Stevie's interrogation program- I didn't get a very long look to do a complete physical! I checked the basement carefully and found no evidence of mousy habitation- no mouse droppings anywhere, and pretty slim pickings. There are a few bags of dog treats, but they are in sealed plastic bags which all appeared intact, and the bird seed I keep for the yard feeders is in rubbermaid tubs with latches, so pickings are pretty slim there. I thought maybe the basement critter was a baby vole who somehow got in when the downpour started- I had tunnels in my flowerbeds last summer and found a dead critter which had looked similar but bigger and was definitely not a mole.

Stevie did a basement check before we left for work this morning and assured me that all was clear. In the meantime, back at the garage....still no one has triggered the trap, and all is quiet with no scrabbling noises or visible flashes of running mouse. Hmmmm. I arrived home tonight and looked for him in my headlights when the garage door came up- no running mouse. Maybe it WAS the same critter. Tomorrow is garbage day so I opened the lid to throw away my coke and take the cans to the curb- AAAGH! Mouse alert on top of the trash again! I tried to slam the lid shut, but I'm not sure if he dove deeper into the can or back into the garage- I didn't hear him running along the wall, so I am hoping he was still in the can. I put the lid on tight and took the cans to the curb, at as long an arm's length as I can manage...I am hoping and praying he is still inside.

Please, Mr. Mousie, be in the can. If you are, you have just won an all-expenses paid trip to the Rumpke dump, a true mousie vacation paradise. There you can dine on the remnants of the best restaurants the city has to offer. I keep picturing Templeton the rat at the fair in "Charlotte's Web"....

"A fair is a veritable smorgasboard, orgasboard, orgasboard

After the crowds have ceased

At night, when the lights go down

It can be found on the ground all around

That's where a rat likes to feast"

Please, Mr. Mousie....this is the best possible outcome for all involved. I don't like being a mousie executioner. And apparently since your ancestors made this trip, the mouse population at the old house has followed Darwin's law and evolved to get smarter; you are not falling for the peanut butter in the trap trick.

You know, some people need the benefit of pharmacological intervention before they start hallucinating about such things. I'm a little frightened that they just inhabit my head naturally.

Some day I will tell about the night the bat got in the old house...

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