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The question

I have lived in my house for almost 50 years. Each fall, when the cold weather appears, mice come in from the garden looking for a warm place for the winter, leaving evidence of their arrival. Each fall, I set traps for the visitors and usually kill five or six. But this now bothers me. A mouse arriving in my kitchen and prowling for food is only being a mouse; it has no malevolent intent. It now occurs to me in the past few months that merely being a mouse does not warrant a death penalty. Do I not have sufficient things to worry about? What do you think?

The answer

Well, I know not everyone would agree but personally I do feel like you’re overthinking this and any mice who manage to penetrate the perimeter of your domicile should be dispatched to Mouse Heaven (or Mouse The Other Place) without a second thought.

My opinion may be influenced partly by having lived and worked on a farm for a couple of years, where uninvited creatures, a.k.a. pests, were treated with a minimum of sentimentality.

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(Public Service Announcement: sensitive and/or squeamish readers might want to skip the next two paragraphs.)

I have memories, for example, of the farmer shooting Canada geese, considered pests for some reason, out of the sky. Or of the rats that lived under the corn silo, hardly moving, becoming atrophied and obese, munching on kernels of corn that fell down to them. Every so often, as a matter of routine, the farmer would throw a wet smoking rag under the silo, and these fat rats, barely able to walk, would come trundling out, where the farmer was waiting with a shotgun; his son with a shovel; and me, the hired hand, with a pitchfork, ready to rain doom down upon them.

Get the picture? Frontier justice. If what ensued were portrayed in an old-timey cartoon, the sound effects might be: Blam blam! Kloon! Splort!

Okay let’s draw a curtain over that admittedly unsavoury scenario. Please allow me to attempt to redeem myself and portray myself as a more sympathetic character when I say:

I do hate seeing any of God’s creatures suffer. So I’m saddened and disgusted by and opposed to the glue trap. I do hope you aren’t using those to catch your mice. The mouse becomes stuck and thrashes around in the glue, alive. Some people then toss the mouse in the garbage, to die of “natural causes,” i.e. thirst and starvation. It’s more humane to drown the stuck mouse in the sink or toilet.

But still not humane enough. The mouse has likely suffered and been frightened and confused for many hours. I feel like the conventional “snap trap” is humane enough, usually killing the mouse instantly.

(Snap-trap hack: Don’t use cheese for bait, use peanut butter or dog food or a bit of Tootsie Roll.)

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But if you’re still squeamish and conscience-struck, there are also such things as “live traps” where a door shuts behind the mouse and you then take it somewhere (far from where you live) and release it to nibble another day, to scurry around, squeak and ideally mate, and have numerous further mousey adventures.

Then there’s the question of prevention, maybe the most humane option. Keep your house clean and crumb-free (mice only need about a tenth of an ounce of food a day to live, so you’ll have to be meticulous), with food sealed up and pet food put away for the night.

Sprinkle cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil around: that apparently repels them.

If you do all these things maybe they’ll say to themselves: “Squeak squeak this house sucks, it’s not worth the bother, let’s go next door to that holey, crumb-filled house where they leave their dog food out all night.”

But whatever you do, ultimately, I think your instinct is correct to draw a line in the sand vis-a-vis uninvited creatures such as mice in your house. They can carry disease for one thing: for example, some mice have ticks which can give you Lyme disease, which you most emphatically don’t want.

Your welfare and well-being should be your primary concern, above and beyond what is certainly a laudable compassion for the creatures scurrying around the house you’ve dwelt in and maintained for half a century, eating your food, gnawing holes in the walls, and leaving droppings.

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