Bats in the Belfry, Mice in the Garage

little mouse looking at camera

I’m not only the crazy cat and dog lady. I have now officially become the crazy mouse lady as well.

I sit here at breakfast, worrying about whether or not I should feed the mouse waiting in my garage to be released after being humanely trapped. I worry that after I release him, he’ll be hungry and not able to find food quickly enough to survive.

mousecleaningpawsI’m waiting to release him until the outside temperatures rise above freezing. It should be in the 40s in a little over an hour, and that might help this tiny mouse’s chances of survival. But will he (or she) be even more hungry then? Will the delicate creature die before having a chance to find a food source? Or am I nuts and none of it matters?

My crazy mouse adventure started last month when suddenly my car reeked from the overpowering odor of dead mouse. How does one know what eau de dead mouse smells like, you might ask. A watering can left in the garage over the winter into which several mice climbed and then were unable to get out. At least they were not thirsty when they died, but the stench the next spring when the watering can was accidentally overturned was truly horrid.

Having cars that smell of dead mice is not acceptable. This happened in our 13-year-old car, but we also have a one-year-old car that still smells a bit like a new one. We certainly didn’t want to trade in that pleasant scent for the significantly less pleasant odor of death.

We knew that mice gamboled and played in our heated garage. In fact, a few winters ago, I was alerted that a baby mouse had ended up in my nightstand drawer when my cats showed an inordinate interest in that not-very-interesting piece of furniture. There were two feet of snow outside, and it was apparent that a small young mouse would not survive out there. I impulsively put the cute little gray mouse with huge brown eyes in the garage, hoping against hope that when spring came, said mouse would leave for the green outdoors.

Well, instead, that adorable little mouse probably produced litters and litters of baby mice, who grew up and then had more litters of baby mice, fourteen of which have now been safely trapped and are in a field a little over a mile away.

So to protect our cars and our sanity we had to decide how to get rid of the ever-growing mouse population in our garage. There were only a few options. A slow, painful death by glue trap was out of the question. That is probably the most inhumane, gruesome way to kill an animal. Many chew off limbs in their efforts to escape and they all die slow deaths, terrified, struggling and hungry.

Poison also was out of the question. Poisoned mice often die outdoors where other animals in the food chain eat them, then sicken and die from the poison. Foxes, hawks, coyotes, and even dogs and cats are poisoned by eating mice that have been poisoned.

What is left after those two non-options are removed are either the snap-traps that quickly kill mice (or do they?) and humane traps. I went back and forth between those two options. I’ve heard that letting mice go in fields far from home leaves them vulnerable and scared and they die there. But snap traps don’t always cleanly kill the mice, leaving a responsible homeowner to finish the job.

“Would you kill a mouse that was hurt in a mouse trap?” I asked my husband, whose job includes dealing with the messiness of dead animals mangled by our dogs (parts of rabbits left uneaten, a duck my daughter’s dog killed and dismembered, and a few others best forgotten). But when he asked me how, I had no idea. How does one quickly and painlessly kill a mouse?

I turned to to find humane traps. And to my delight, I found that there are traps that are easier to use than the Have-a-Heart traps, which can be tricky to set. They are also cleaner because the mouse poop stays in the trap. I ordered four immediately.

They arrived quickly and even more quickly were filled with peanut butter and set up in the garage. The next morning there were five mice in four traps! Two especially small mice had entered one trap together. They were so cute that I really wanted to keep them forever. But the thought of them living in a small house with four mouse-loving (to eat, that is) cats and rodent-killing dogs made me realize that they would die from fear and in the process torment all the domestic animals living in my house.

traps ready to go

8 Peanut butter filled new traps ready for action

I let all the adorable creatures go in the aforementioned field. It was a pleasant 50-degree day and I hope they were able to connect and build a little mouse town together there. I reset the traps with more peanut butter. The next morning there were three mice. They went to the same field.


Field of mice

But then the mice stopped going into the traps. Was it the mouse poop dirtying the traps, I wondered. Or was the smell of fear from the mice who had been trapped in them making the remaining mice wary? I ordered eight more traps and cleaned the used ones. One poor mouse was caught on a cold and rainy afternoon. I didn’t feel right taking him to the field, so I left him in a nearby shed with plenty of food, hoping (stupidly, I’m sure) that he would stay there and be happy and dry and not meander back across the yard to his previous home — my garage.

Two more were released on a chilly morning, again in the field. By this time, I learned how to leave plenty of peanut butter not only between the plates in the trap where the mice would smell the peanut butter but not be able to eat it, but also in the trap itself so that they wouldn’t be hungry when they had to start their new lives. Upgrades keep occurring to me. Now I add a dried corn and sunflower seed mix to the sticky peanut butter so that it’s even more filling.

But this morning, there was a beautiful little mouse in the trap. He had eaten all the cute,ousepeanut butter and seeds and corn. I worried about whether or not I should try to feed him again before releasing the small creature into the field. I had decided to wait for the sun to warm the day a bit, so it wouldn’t be too cold for the young mouse. Would he be hungry? Should I put him in a bucket and feed him before releasing him? Or would that scare him even more?

With the smaller, young mice, when you pick up the trap, they turn to you and look at you with big, innocent eyes. And you don’t think about car wires and poop all over the garage, you just think of this sweet, tiny animal who seems to trust you and looks at you. I didn’t feed him before releasing him, but I did wish him well on his journey.

I also think about the mouse that my son-in-law found in his basement the morning of my grandson’s first birthday. It was squeaking in distress and was not moving. He put the small mouse in a shoebox with paper towels and some food. When I arrived, he told me about it, and I said that if it was still alive at the end of the party, I’d take it home and care for it. It was alive, but shivering and damp and not moving. Once home, I put the shoebox in a large plastic Tupperware tub and put a heating blanket under the shoebox. The rule of thumb with young or injured animals is to only put half the box on the heating pad so if it gets too hot, the injured animal can go to the other side of the box to cool off. By the next morning, young mouse was no longer shaking but was moving around the box. We took mousey to a veterinary practice that does wildlife rehab, and they assured us that they would check mouse out for injuries (there was a possible injury from one of the cats) and then let the mouse go. Did that mouse find a safe place to live?

It’s getting really cold, and my husband wants to put the cars in the garage. I’m afraid that there are more mice to catch. Even a few mice can lead to many mice in just a few weeks. Last year, a neighbor friend told us that when he saw my husband driving our minivan down the street, mice were jumping out from underneath it.

I didn’t believe him then, but I do now.

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