May 12, 2014

Mouse Day Afternoon.

Baby mouse It often happens in the deconstruction of a family that the pets are the biggest casualty.

In the complex business of building new households and routines, the children always come first, and with the extra attention they usually need in these circumstances, there is even less energy available for the animals.

When the kids and I moved out of the house in June, we left behind our beloved Luna. She’s a brindle pit lab mix and an extraordinary girl. Oliver spends plenty of time with her when he is with his dad. My daughter, Rachel and I barely see her. We took her to Mammoth in September. She’s a wonderful hiker and swimmer and loves clearing the trail of menacing critters.

We plan to take her to the tide pools in Palos Verdes to tangle with the crabs at low tide, but these are occasional outings and we’ve sacrificed our daily interaction with her. Rachel is passionate about most animals. Frankly, the loss of her dog is way more difficult to bear than the loss of her stepfather.

Her requests for a pet have been met with hesitation on my part. I’ll explain. In order to stay close to the beach (three blocks), I moved us into a two bedroom apartment. It is in a lovely building with great facilities—pool, spa, fitness center, on-site management.

But with two kids of vastly different ages, space is tight.

I gave each kid a bedroom and I have the living room set up similarly to a hotel room. Anyone who knows me must know I have made a beautiful home. I love it here and thanks to excellent closet space, we make it work for us. That is, until we added two more members to the family.

I set Rachel on a research project to find out what the perfect pet for us would be.

We considered fish, geckos, frogs, turtles, gerbils, and hamsters. There were several criteria to consider—feeding, activity level, cleanliness, smell. After much consideration, we settled on two female mice. We read several places that we should buy from a breeder. I located one near us who had several litters coming up, but they wouldn’t be ready for several weeks.

While at the pet store to look at supplies, we fell in love with a teeny little brown mouse. Ignoring what we had read and not wanting to wait for the breeder’s mice, we brought her home with a cowprint one—Mabel and Twitter, respectively. They were adorable.

We were enchanted.

On Day two we went out for a couple of hours and when we got home Mabel was dead. Hmmm.

After some agonizing, we decided to return Twitter, bleach the cage, go to a different pet store and try again. This time we bought three mice, beige, orange and brown or Willow, Marmalade and Minka. We actually called Marmalade “Deranged” since she raced and chewed her way around the cage.

Within 24 hours, she was dead. Not long after, Willow joined her.

Left with only Minka, we had a decision to make. Mice can’t live alone. They are social creatures and will eventually die of loneliness. This was a pivotal moment when backing out would have been easy. My disappointed daughter’s doe eyes lured me to the breeder. We brought home the most adorable mice I could have imagined. One was blue (think Weimaraner). In fact, we named her Fay after William Wegman’s famous Weimaraner, Fay Ray.

The other had the markings of a Siamese cat. We named her Sagwa after the Amy Tan character. There is stark contrast between the “feeder” mice at the pet store and what I began to refer to as the übermice. Fay and Sagwa have big, soft eyes, enormous ears, long, thin bodies and thick, buttery soft fur. More than that, they have soul. I know, I know.

I think I am crazy too, but these little creatures are adorable and affectionate. So much so, that two weeks ago we donated ordinary feeder mouse, Minka, to the ranch where we ride horses. Pat, the owner, has a menagerie of animals including an array of snakes and lizards, frogs, mice, rats, a dwarf bunny and chicks.

This is where the story gets good.

Last night, Rachel and I set out to clean the cage. This, of course, is my least favorite part of mouse-ownership. I would make Rachel do the entire job, but it involves a lot of mouse crap and I worry about exposure to germs. So she does the less objectionable parts and takes the opportunity to exercise the mice while they’re sprung. As she approached the cage to invite them out, she stopped in her tracks. “Minka?” she said. [Duh. Minka’s not here anymore.]

“Omigod mama there’s another mouse in there!”

Alright, I am a reasonably smart woman. I am not easily rattled. But folks, there was a third mouse in the cage and it looked just like Minka. What ensued was about 15 minutes of near hysteria trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

There were a few scenarios that looked something like this:

1. Minka decided she preferred to live with us and found her way from the horse ranch in PV to us in Hermosa Beach. That would require about eight miles of walking and a rodentine GPS device.

2. One of the breeder mice was secretly pregnant when we got her and gave birth, not to a litter of pups that resemble pink erasers, but a single adolescent mouse that looks like a feeder mouse. Since there had been no baby bumps present, and the new mouse had clearly been alive much more than one week, we quickly ruled this out.

3. Fay and Sagwa missed their playmate so much that they teleported her back from the ranch.

4. Minka had gotten eaten by the rat at the ranch and what we were really seeing was an apparition as she came back to say goodbye.

As we debated these possibilities, the truth suddenly presented itself as I stood there watching the uninvited guest squeeze itself through the bars of the cage and into the wilderness of my daughter’s room. It was a wild mouse who had found it’s way into our house and then into the cage to shack up in the cushy pied-á-terre we built.

Country mouse, meet city mouse.

Fortunately, my mom walked in to watch Olly so Rachel and I could go play Guitar Hero at a friend’s house. She became the thread of reason in the blanket of insanity. She quickly shut Rachel’s door so the wild mouse was contained. After watching it flatten itself to the thickness of a two-ply tissue, I wedged a towel in the threshold for added security. Rachel and I went out, bought four mousetraps, pretended to be rock stars, and in my case, drank heavily.

When we came home, I set the traps, accessing the room from the balcony and sealed it off. Rachel slept in my bed. We hoped to hear the snap of a trap sometime in the middle of the night. Alas, we did not. In the morning, we cleaned out her room—a project which had been looming since we moved in, really. Leaving the door to the rest of the apartment sealed, we organized and de-cluttered.

As we worked, Rachel heard it first. There was the very distinct sound of a mouse coming from her bathroom.

It is a mixture of a gnawing and chirping sound. I grabbed a trap, put it in the bathroom, shut the door and did the old towel trick. We both breathed a sigh of relief knowing our guest was contained in the inner sanctum. Rachel and I agree our mouse days are over. The ROI is diminishing. Certainly, attracting wild mice into what is already a small apartment for it’s inhabitants is unquestionably unacceptable.

I called the breeder and she will take Fay and Sagwa back. We will have to play host for another week while she vacations in Cancun, as they will need to be quarantined upon their return to the mousery and that takes more attention than her mousesitter can handle.

But that’s okay. We will manage.

The question we can’t seem to answer is this: what do we do with the wild mouse locked in our bathroom?! 


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Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: courtesy Zoe Kors via stocksy.com

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