KAREN MARTIN: Fending off small furry invaders

There’s a rat in mi kitchen;

what I’m a gonna do?

I’m gonna fix that rat …

— UB40

It’s really a mouse. Probably more than one. In my kitchen. And closet.

Big deal, right? Central Arkansas is full of small rodents who, though timid, don’t have the slightest hesitation about making nests in urban houses. Our population’s fondness for bird feeders and bowls of pet food aren’t exactly discouraging; ya gotta eat.

Although I’ve dealt with rodent invasions before, they happened in houses constructed long ago–like my first house in Capitol View, built in 1923 (where a rat once noisily galloped across my dining room in full view of my date that evening; pretty much the end of that relationship)–which is more porous than my present home, built in 2019. Although I figured it would be impenetrable, I figured wrong; Mice can get inside through air-conditioning units, holes in gas lines, or dryer vents–any opening that’s the size of a dime.

How do you know they’ve encroached on your personal space? Giveaways include scraping noises in cabinets and walls (at night), along with the appearance of dark droppings the size of a kernel of rice under sinks, in drawers, and near food sources.

If the mice would leave it at that, we’d co-exist. We even gave our invaders a nickname: Mouse Zedong. A fictional personality is next. But he/she/they have moved on to gnawing walls beneath the kitchen sink and shredding the drywall (it can be patched, right?) in the guest bathroom.

Why are they here? Mice are scavengers, always on the lookout for shelter, water, and food. With dog-food and dog-water bowls on the floor and lots of cabinets, the house offers plenty of all three. Picking up the bowls is problematic as the dogs grew up free-feeding at their leisure, and switching to serving them at specific times then removing the remains would likely cause a canine rebellion.

After a brief, blissful period of magical thinking involving the critters’ voluntary departure once the weather got warmer, I decided to take this seriously.

Here’s what the competent company that handles my termite contract recommends, and my response:

• Seal all entry points such as cracks or holes in your foundation, holes in your screens, or missing shingles on your roof (can’t find any of these to seal, although the mice may know something I don’t).

• Make sure garbage containers have sealed lids (the garbage can is in the garage, and there are no mice there).

• Keep compost covered at all times (I don’t compost).

• Keep property clean by taking care of spills, crumbs, and dirty dishes right away (done fanaticly on a daily basis).

Store food in airtight containers (also done fanatically).

That leaves three options:

1. Invite the termite-contract company to come over and eliminate the mice. The last time I used this solution was at a previous house in Hillcrest, where the attic was taken over by raccoons. Cost to eliminate them from the space, and keep them eliminated: $1,300.

2. Poison. I have three dogs. Despite their disinterest in chasing down mice, poison might end up hurting them. Not happening.

3. Humane traps. There’s no way I’d use a snap trap to kill or maim a mouse, and sticky traps terrorize them as well as leaving them to suffer, dehydrate, starve, and die. The goal is to run them off, not be a perpetrator of war crimes against rodents.

Choosing No. 3 involves notifying amazon.com that a pair of humane traps are needed. They arrive in short order, shaped like little mailboxes with hinged doors that hook to the base and are released when a mouse steps across them to grab goodies just beyond the door.

The traps are soon baited with dog kibble smeared with peanut butter (peanut butter is effective because the strong nutty scent attracts rodents; other tempting treats are chocolate, seeds and nuts, marshmallows, gumdrops, deli meat, fruit jam, and soft cheese).

One trap goes into a closet, the other under the sink. Day one yields no results. Then, on the second day, there’s a small, furry, very still little guy stuck in the closet trap. If he’s terrified, he doesn’t show it.

Advice from websites who know about this subject advise not to empty the trap’s live contents in the backyard, as the willy creature will find his way back inside. So the morning dog walk includes toting the trap and its occupant about two miles west to the Riverview Skateboard Park. When the door is opened, the mouse, who’s been saving his energy for just such a moment, departs at a dizzying rate of speed. Success!

Although there’s still some scrabbling heard beneath the kitchen sink, I’m empowered. Thanks for the encouragement, UB40: I’m gonna fix that rat.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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