I am pleased to report that, once again, our house is home to wee rodents, this time a pair of gerbils named Salt and Peppa.
Salt is the smaller of the two, clever, energetic, and mischievous. Peppa is more reserved, less social, and also mischievous.
Basically, if you own a rodent, you’re going to have to accommodate some degree of mischief.
Case in point: In 1970, my parents purchased their first home in the North Jersey suburbs, a modest, two-story fixer upper. My father wasn’t very good at fixing-upping, however, so he left the painting, hammering, and electrical stuff to Mom and searched out a task that was better suited to his unique set of skills.
When the house revealed itself to have a mouse problem, Dad was on the case.
He toddled to the hardware store to pick up a humane Havahart trap and borrowed an unused, dusty, rusty birdcage from Grandpa. Dad’s plan was simple. He would trap the mice in the Havahart and deposit them in the cage. Once the mice were all caught, he would take the cage to a wooded area some distance away and release them.
That night, Dad set the Havahart using peanut butter for bait. Then he fixed up the cage, stocking it with everything a mouse could ever want: plenty of food and water and high piles of shredded up newspaper to serve as bedding. (Dad was nothing if not a good host.)
Less than an hour later, the trap sprang shut. His first mouse! Dad deposited the critter into the cage. He covered the cage with a sheet (I’m not sure why that was necessary, exactly. For privacy, maybe?), got more peanut butter, reset the trap, and went to bed.
The next morning, Dad awoke to find a new mouse in the trap. He pulled back a corner of the sheet, put the new mouse in the cage, replaced the sheet, grabbed the peanut butter, and reset the trap. Late in the afternoon, the trap clattered shut yet again. Again, Dad pulled back a corner the sheet, deposited the new mouse in the cage with the other two mice, replaced the sheet, got out the peanut butter, and reset the trap.
And so it went. For days Dad caught mice and put them in the cage. He replenished the cage’s food and water supplies as needed. He also began to ask himself—with increasing alarm—Just how many freaking mice are in my house?!
The answer to his question was: one.
One mouse who really liked peanut butter.
This mouse liked peanut butter so much, he would escape the cage several times a day and get himself re-caught several times a day just so he could keep eating the Havahart’s bait.
The sheet draped over the cage was the means for his escape. The mouse had grabbed a corner of the sheet in his mouth and pulled it into the cage until the thin wire bars stretched apart wide enough for him to wriggle through.
The mouse—with help from Dad—had carved out a wonderful life for himself. He had complete freedom of movement, a safe comfortable place to sleep, and an endless supply of good food and water.
It was Mom who discovered the escape plan. When she did, she expelled what would be the first of several lifetimes’ worth of exasperated sighs. “How on earth,” she asked Dad, “did you not notice that there were no other mice in the cage?”
“I thought they were all hiding under the newspaper,” he replied sheepishly.
“It was at that moment,” Mom told me many years later, “I first realized that your father needs constant supervision.”
Mom was right, of course; Dad was not a guy one could leave alone with a task. But, to be fair, when a person engages in a battle of wits against a rodent, the smart money should always be on the wee one.