Of Mice and Vegans

by Maria Theresa Maggi on February 12, 2014

mouse sketch 3

I am not a person who is great at absolute thinking. Making decisions can stymie me and trap me in limbo. So I have to find questions to ask myself to guide me out of that place of inertia. One of the most useful questions I fall back on, especially when I want to allow a moral dimension I might be missing to become clear is to ask: “is this really necessary?” Not in the abstract or absolute, but right in the moment of the situation I am trying to decide about.

I realize for many people being an ethical vegan is an absolute,  but in my case my ethics have emerged over time, and are still emerging, situation by situation. So I ask the question “is this really necessary?” in an effort to become more aware.

Five years ago when my golden retriever was dying, much to her own dismay, she could not get up easily, and so had to abandon her naps on the back porch crushed up against the screen door. It was late summer. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, now that I was also cat-less, her regular naps at this location made her a huge door plug, effectively sealing any small gaps that mice might slide under, as they scrambled to settle themselves for the winter months.

The first time I saw one enter and scramble back behind the dryer in the kitchen I was so blinded by the exhaustion of my vigil with the dog that I couldn’t process what had happened. My yard had been visited by a few wild bunnies that summer, who hid in the raspberries and nibbled here and there on edges of kale or peas. One was curious enough about those of us living in the house that it would come up and listen under the huge old rose that backs itself into the porch slab, and then I would see it bound across the yard as I opened the door and stepped out. It would make me laugh to think of it eavesdropping. Early that Spring I had found a tiny wreath of hairless baby bunnies dead out in the herb garden.  Was it possible the owl that sometimes roosted in the huge evergreens next door had picked their mother off? I decided to bury them. They were so small they could be scooped up into the shovel all at once. So my first bleary thought was, “are there new baby bunnies? Did one just come into the house?”

Of course it wasn’t a bunny. It was a mouse. And then another. And possibly another. Or maybe just the same mouse coming in and out. I had to forget about it until the dog died. Which she did one late August evening, at home, in my arms. My college aged neighbors came over and helped me wrap her up in a quilt for the night. My veterinary friend came the next morning to bring her to be cremated. We all cried. I was in a daze of grief.

And I was alone, without a companion animal. Or was I? In the days (and nights) that followed, it became increasingly clear I was not alone. And that I had to do something about the mouse/mice.

At this point I had been eating no animal products for over a year, except for the occasional flirtation with fish oil capsules, which come highly recommended on the Swank web site for MS. But for me they only seemed to promote the inflammatory response, so I had stopped them, and fallen back on my old favorite, ground flax (which in his book Dr. Swank recommends it for those who can’t tolerate cod live oil, only he calls it linseed oil, which is another name for flax).

When faced with what to do about the mice, I fell back on my standard line of ethical questioning. It was necessary to get them out of the house, but was it necessary to kill them in order to accomplish it? I didn’t think so. I looked on the internet and found there were many ways to catch mice, and a lot of them didn’t involve murdering them in the process. The funniest one had something to do with getting a mouse into a tumbler of whiskey so that it passed out drunk. On a less hilarious level, I discovered there were a number of live traps that could be purchased.

Armed with this knowledge, I enlisted a friend who helps me with errands to help me find such things. Even in we-love-to-hunt-everything-Idaho, there were two or three options available at stores for live traps. I started with a simple plexiglass rectangle that had a single door opening. You pushed in some bait to the other end, and the mouse would be able to push through the door toward the treat, but then not be able to get out.

At first my mind went right to the stereotype of the mouse with a piece of cheese, so I bummed a small bit off the boys across the street. And put the trap near where they had entered by the back door. No dice. Or mice, either.

One of my next door neighbors at the time was a wildlife major and she said that the favorite bait of any rodent turns out  to be peanut butter and oatmeal mixed together. So I didn’t have to worry about buying  or borrowing cheese anymore to attract the mouse. (I continued to refer to it in the singular, since that was more doable for me. One mouse at a time.)

The mouse wanted in to the antique pie-save in the dining room which is essentially my pantry. I would hope it was gone and then hear it, waking me from a nap or in the wee hours of the morning. Scritch schritch. I began to want to learn to think like a mouse, because I knew that was the way I could catch it.

At this same time of year the cedar chest in my dining room is covered with cardboard boxes filled with pears from my tree ripening in single file on beds of news sheet. I also had a toaster on this cedar chest, which has been covered by yet another cardboard box of pears. One afternoon I heard the mouse making its way along the edge of these boxes. I put on my best Jane Goodall stillness and listening and slowly crept closer to the cedar chest. Gingerly, I lifted a box off the toaster, half expecting to see one behind it. Instead, there were a pair of beady black eyes looking right up at me from one of the toaster slots. It was like the scene in ET when little Drew Barrymore and  ET see each other for the first time. I screamed, and if the mouse could have screamed, it would have been screaming. By the time I  slammed the cardboard box back down on the toaster, it was long gone.

But I didn’t know that. I carried the whole thing out to the barn and shook it, only to find that, of course, no mouse came tumbling out. So I was back to square one.

A pattern began to emerge. My close Jane Goodall listening had taught me that the mice like to run along the backs of things. Tunnels made against the wall, or between things. So, thinking like a mouse, I reasoned that if I placed one of these peanut butter oatmeal laden live traps in one of these virtual “mouse tunnels” I might get lucky. And I did.

I caught mouse number one, probably about three or four in the morning. It was hard to sleep after that. I felt sorry for it stuck in the trap. Soon after sunrise, I put my gardening gloves on, put the whole trap in a paper bag, and walked down to the high grass on the edge of a ball field about a block away. I shook the trap and the mouse came out. But instead of running away, it just sat there and looked at me.

mouse sketch 4

“Well, go on!!” I said to it. “Go find your friends. Just don’t come back to my house.”

me and mouse sketch

I thought that was that. But later I learned that it wasn’t. Mice let out too close to the house can return. Either this one did, or I had more than one mouse.

Mouse number two got caught in a different design of live trap I’d set in the drawer at the bottom of the oven. This time I wasn’t going to take any chances. I had asked my neighbors if they’d help me take the mouse farther away from my house than I could walk. One of them, who loved animals, and had carried my golden retriever back into the house when she couldn’t walk, had a motorcycle. He said he’d be glad to help.  When I saw the mouse was caught in the trap, I asked if he’d come over and pick the whole thing up and take it with him, since I was afraid I might accidentally set the mouse free in attempting to pick this particular trap up.

So mouse number two got a motorcycle ride out to  a farm field.

But apparently, a few weeks later, it became apparent a mouse number three had been hiding upstairs and had made his way back down. He was more wary– and savvy– than mouse number one or mouse number two put together. Luckily I still had another of the plexi-glass traps, which he finally got tempted into behind the bookcase in my ktichen full of jars of beans and cookbooks in the early morning hours of a Saturday. Everyone who lives around me with a car (or a motorcycle) happened to be gone.  So I thought about where I might take a mouse that was farther away than the weeds on the edge of the ball field, and interesting enough that it wouldn’t want to follow me back home.

The old grain towers that were being dismantled a couple of blocks away and across a very busy street seemed like the perfect place. The poor guy was so scared he was shitting in the trap. I walked him past where there used to be blackberries, to an old outbuilding full of crevices and probably bits of lentils and wheat. When I pushed opened the door of the trap from the outside, he shot out of it like a cannonball, hit the ground running and that was the last I saw of him.

With a little creative thinking, I was able to relocate the mice I didn’t want in the house without killing them.  It wasn’t necessary. Wild mice are hardly cute little kittens or puppies or even baby bunnies or chicks. Several people I know were probably quite exasperated with me for the pains I took to allow animals they consider mere pests and carriers of disease to live, but if they did, they didn’t dare say so.

Soon after the mice were gone, I decided to adopt Romeo. We fixed the screen door so that the mice couldn’t get in.  But before that, I learned they can flatten themselves like a dime to get in under a door. I learned they are repelled by peppermint essential oil. I learned that cheese isn’t the thing they like the best. And I learned a little about how they must feel.  They gave me an important opportunity to experience a new version of what bravery can mean. And I learned that not only had I chosen to become vegan for my own health, but that situation by situation, I would be developing my own set of vegan ethics.

Maria (moonwatcher)


Leave a Comment

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Veronica February 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm

A lovely story! I am the same way – I’ve never been able to kill anything to get it out of my house (except roaches. Those things terrify me, but I make the husband kill them, ’cause again, terror). I even trap spiders and relocate them outdoors… I had a pet rat in college (Mrs. Brisby), and she was the sweetest, smartest thing ever, and I miss her dearly. I’ve brought a number of injured rats, mice, squirrels, birds, etc. to the vet or wildlife center to be taken care of (or put down humanely). For some reason, they tend to find me, knowing I’m a sucker… 😉

Regardless of the human’s view of an animal, it’s still a life and it’s not our place to judge its rank and worth. Every living thing deserves a chance and to be treated with respect, in life and death. (This is my soap box; I can go on and on, but think I’ll stop here.) 🙂 Anyway, I’m really glad you made the effort to trap and relocate the furry little devils. I know that they are ever grateful for your kindness.

Oh – and I love the drawings!


2 moonwatcher February 12, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Thanks so much for this great comment, Veronica. Loved hearing about Mrs. Brisby. I relocate spiders too. Even yellow jackets. And sounds like we are on the same soap box. 🙂 So glad you enjoyed the drawings too–I had fun with them. xoxo


3 Helen February 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

You can get the humane bug trapper from PETA’s site. I’m terrified of bugs, too, but if I see one, I relocate it using the humane bug trapper.
PETA also has instructions on making humane traps for roaches:
“If you would like to trap and release the roaches humanely, make your own live traps by taping newspaper to the outside of a glass jar, smearing Vaseline along the inside of the lip of the jar, and placing food (fruits, bread, vegetables) inside. You will find that the roaches who climb into the jar are unable to climb back out through the Vaseline, and you can release them outside.”


4 Nicole O'Shea February 12, 2014 at 5:52 pm

LOL at you and the mouse scaring each other like that scene in ET!

I love the drawings, too! I also love mice. (Well, not in my home, but in general, I think they are pretty cute!)

Thanks for this lovely post and thanks for caring for the mice. I cannot even kill insects in our house, I always have to find a way to get them in a cup with paper over it and take them outside. My husband is VERY SQUEAMISH, so all insect-ridding is up to me, and I have a lot of practice. (Note – if you try to pick a spider up with the eraser end of a pencil, it will just run up the pencil, and your arm. Fun times!)

Very interesting to hear about your journey from vegan inertia to a more chosen state, too. I can relate. Also cannot tolerate fish oils – tried. They don’t like me.




5 moonwatcher February 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Hi Nicole–glad you enjoyed the ET reference and the drawings! I like mice, too, but not as housemates–they definitely don’t pick up after themselves!! LOL I am so glad you appreciated the post. As you may have seen from my reply to Veronica, I, too, am a carrier of spiders to the out of doors, although I’ve never tried to have one crawl up a pencil. There’s a designated jar and piece of cardboard under the bathroom sink for the ones that end up in the bath tub. 🙂 I think the chosen state widens and deepens as we become more aware of when we ARE in a moral situation–there’s a lot to that freshman psych stuff about Kohlberg’s moral reasoning–if I am remembering correctly. Thanks for sharing your own debaucle with fish oils. xoxo


6 Ruth February 13, 2014 at 12:37 am

Loved the story. I haven’t had mice so far but I’ve got a very old house and a squirrel chewed his way into my attic last spring and then invited his friends the bats to come and party and then the bats found a few additional entrances of their own… I wouldn’t have minded so much if they’d all stayed in the attic, but of course they didn’t! This is the second time a squirrel has chewed it’s way in, but a first for a bat colony. Fortunately, there’s a nice “critter control” man here who works with the DNR. He does live trapping (We check the traps and call him if anything is caught) and then he releases the critters in the nature preserve. He also nets the bats that come down out of the attic. Since I’ve got bad knees and very high ceiling and the bats seem to like to hang behind the tops of the drapes when they aren’t swooping (the windows stop just below the ceilings), I really appreciated the “bat guy,” his ladder, and his butterfly net (and leather gloves and a holding container with air holes in which the bats are carted off to the the nature preserve, where there are established bat colonies in the caves plus some bat houses in the trees!). He made quite a few trips over here until we could get the house bat- and squirrel-proofed (fascinating process: they seal up all but a few exits, put one-way doors in those few spots so the critters can get out but not back in, then check back every week until all the critters are out, then remove the the exits and seal up those holes, too.) Unfortunately, the squirrel was too smart to enter the trap, so we’re still watching for new holes, just in case, but it looks like he’s moved into the attic of another old building nearby and taken his friends with him – we gave the landlord the bat guy’s number.


7 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 8:35 am

Wow, Ruth, I LOVED this story–thanks so much for sharing. Ingenious how they get them out alive–yes, it can be done!! Sounds like you had quite an adventure yourself. So glad you enjoyed the post!!


8 Mary DeSimone February 13, 2014 at 6:58 am

A girl after my own heart! I carry every bug, bee, spider, etc, back out to nature. Thanks for sharing your adventure. I can’t get the image of his motorcycle ride out of my head :-))


9 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 8:37 am

Thanks so much, Mary! It made me smile to think of how you remember the motorcycle ride. Here’s to carrying them all back out to nature. 🙂


10 Michele February 13, 2014 at 7:37 am

Oh, how I love this post! I don’t have a mouse issue where I live but I sympathize and know that I’d handle it the same way you did – as humanely as possible! As we say here in the south, “bless your heart.”


11 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 8:38 am

Welcome, Michele and thank you, both for nice comment, and for saying “bless your heart.” It’s an old-fashioned phrase, but I love it, and find it coming out of my mouth because sometimes there’s just no other way to say it! I do feel blessed. And back at ya!


12 Michael February 13, 2014 at 8:19 am

Very nice story 🙂


13 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 8:39 am

Thanks Michael!


14 Kristin February 13, 2014 at 8:38 am

My first pet ever was a rat. Sweetest, smartest little critter. I can just see you and little Mr. Mouse scaring the crap out of each other! Your motorcycle-riding friend taking him for a ride reminded me of The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. One of my favorite books when I was a kid!


15 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

Thanks for this great comment, Kristin! The Mouse and the Motocycle!! Thanks for jogging my memory about that one. 🙂


16 Cecilia February 13, 2014 at 11:17 am

I went vegan in October 2012. In January 2013 I had a long (and heated) discussion with my boyfriend about pets. I had decided that I wouldn’t have pets in the house because the idea didn’t go with my personal idea of being a vegan. My boyfriend asked: what if an animal chooses you? What if he decides to live with you?
I was thinking cats/dogs and said it would never happen.
In February 2013 I was away for 2 weeks and my flatmates didn’t clean or throw away the trash for 14 days.
I came back to a flat invaded by mice.
They had chosen me.
But I hadn’t chosen them.
Still I didn’t want to kill them. They were cold, looking for food, attracted by the dozen empty tuna fish tins my filthy flatmate kept accumulating.
That’s how I became an expert on mice.
I started thinking mouse-like, just like you.
I understood why they came in, what they liked, what they were afraid of. I trapped two, saw fear and despair in their eyes. I let them free. My flat smelled like mint for weeks. I found their way in and closed it. Last but not least I kicked out the tunafish eating, filthy flatmate … No more mice … Still it was a test for me, when everybody was telling me just to buy traps and kill them all, to use poison and such, … And sometimes I think I should have kicked out my ex flatmate much before and kept the mice instead! They were kind of cute!


17 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Wonderful story, Cecilia! Thanks for sharing it. I’d take a flat that smells like mint over one that smells like tuna fish any day! 🙂


18 helen February 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Too bad catseye has an ad under the story. I did the same sort of thing with an improvised trap. Took mousy a mile away near a rock fence and tall grass. The huge gray spider went airmail out the back door into the grass. Both were never heard from again.


19 moonwatcher February 13, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Oh gee, I didn’t see that Helen. Thanks for your comment sharing similar experiences. I smiled to read the spider went “airmail” out the back door into the grass. Mine get to seek refuge in the rose bush that’s right outside the back door. But I think they come in again first chance they get!


20 Molly (Based on a Sprue Story) February 14, 2014 at 4:47 am

Congratulations for handling the situation in a way that felt right to you! When I found a mouse in my first New York apartment, I flipped out and went to buy traps immediately. Every store I went into in my neighborhood had only the “sticky” kind of traps, not the “humane” traps (by which I mean the ones that kill immediately; NONE of the stores had the cage kind). I was feeling so queasy about the idea of mice getting into my pantry supplies that I did buy the glue traps. But I always felt horribly guilty about it, and I was very relieved when we never actually caught one. Since then, I just take steps to keep food in glass or plastic, and in my new apartment I’ve never seen a mouse. Maybe they’re there, but they aren’t bothering me. That’s definitely the way I prefer it!

P.S. I also saw that PureWow cauliflower recipe from your previous email and your version looks wonderful! I love what you did with the leftover marinade, too.


21 moonwatcher February 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

Hi Molly, I sympathize and understand that dilemma. I bet you were relieved they never made it into one of those traps. I’m thinking you probably don’t have any in your new place because mice are kinda noisy. So in this case, silence definitely is golden! 🙂 And so glad you liked my treatment of the PureWow cauliflower recipe, too!!


22 Lottie patton parker February 14, 2014 at 7:19 am

I catch the mice too but they don’t always survive and I do let them out close to the house. Have to try your method. Great story


23 Helen February 17, 2014 at 9:23 am

A really lovely story. Thanks so much for giving consideration to mice – people see them as pests, but they are animals just like us. So glad to hear about people like you who go through the trouble to save a life, no matter how big or small.


24 moonwatcher February 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

Welcome, Helen, thanks for your kind words and tips!!


25 Pam February 17, 2014 at 9:59 am

Hey! I linked to your blog from Susan’s site. I live in your neck of the woods (Troy, lol) and have found peppermint oil is a good mousey deterrent. I pour it on 3 or 4 cotton squares and put them in a small container set in the areas where I hear them. I get the oil at the health place in the mall in Moscow. I have been told that the local farmers use the oil on their harvesting equipment to deter varmints, but I don’t know if that is really true or not.


26 moonwatcher February 17, 2014 at 11:46 am

Welcome, “neighbor”!! So fun to hear from you Pam, and learn that we live so close by each other. Yes, peppermint oil is an excellent deterrent. After the mice were out, I set up cottonballs in the manner you describe. If you ever come into town, maybe we can meet up at the co-op sometime. Thanks for your comment!


27 Carol February 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm

I am so proud of you! I used to have pet mice,(they were golden color) and I loved them. They are sweet little animals and have no self defense except hiding. I wish people were not so ready to kill everything they don’t like. Especially in hellish ways like sticky traps.


28 moonwatcher February 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Wow, thank you, Carol, for this lovely comment, and welcome! I can enjoyed picturing your golden mice. And I very much appreciate your other observations. I’m just trying to make a little dent in the other direction in my own far from perfect way.


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