I don’t know where Gareth Morgan lives but I assume it’s a huge, clean, wildlife-free mansion on Paraetai Drive or similar. I admire him for taking a stand on behalf of the country’s native birds who need all the help they can get on account of being really, really dumb. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a roadside pukeko that wasn’t actively trying to get under my tyres. The thing is, though, we can’t all make our fortunes by being the father of the kid who invented TradeMe and living in tidy inner-city suburbs. Some of us have to live in the rest of the country to keep churning out the beef and lamb that keeps the general population in free doctor’s visits for kids and benefits for the disadvantaged.
In short, many of us live in places where the idea of banning cats would be met with a blank stare and a response along the lines of, ‘You’re new here, aren’t you? Never lived in the country before, then?’
Last Thursday night all I wanted to do was get to bed. I hadn’t been feeling well and I had to work the next day. My sleep had been interrupted the night before by, among other things, Josh getting up in the middle of the night to set a mouse trap because he thought he’d heard rustling under the bed. Josh is far more nervy about noises in the night than I am; he’s always hearing completely imaginary stuff. So I paid no attention and was only mildly interested the next morning when he checked his trap which was empty of dead mice and also of the peanut butter that he’d set it with.
So this night I chucked myself down on the bed in happy anticipation of being asleep very quickly even though the light was still on because Josh insisted on re-setting his trap. And then the mouse ran along the base of the headboard with a detour across the top of my head. I did what any rational person would do and screeched while jumping five feet in the air from my lying down position. Josh came in to see who was killing me and started poking around dark corners which, as I helpfully pointed out, was a waste of time because mice are very small, very fast and great at hiding. He asked for a better suggestion, then.
‘I know’, sez I, ‘go and find one of those useless furballs that we pay to keep alive.’ So he came back a minute later with ginger Flame, muttering about making itself useful and earning its keep. He put Flame down and Flame immediately tried to leave which is the height of cat irony because of the great efforts he’ll go to at any other time to get into that room. One night a couple of weeks ago I was fast asleep minding my own business when the damn thing landed on my face, having somehow jumped through the tiny (and barely open) window above the bed, which must have involved a whole lot of hard work as it’s pretty high up from the outside. Flame and I were equally surprised at the moment of landing but only one of us has claws so I ended up with a scratch under my eye that was most attractively scabbed for days.
Anyhoo, I shut the door to keep Flame in and he started having a nice bath and the mouse situation didn’t look like improving any time soon. Luckily, the mouse moved and Flame heard it and got all focused and intense. He was nosing around under the bed but couldn’t reach it.
‘I’ll just lift the bed up’, said Josh and, in the manner of Mr Incredible helping his wife vacuum, hoisted it up on its side causing all the bedding to slide down onto the floor. Meanwhile, Flame was on the case. He was nosing around in a towel on the floor (I’ve been having these night sweats recently which the blood donor nurse diagnosed as either HIV or peri-menopause. The good news is I can still donate blood because I’m certain that I won’t be infecting any poor child with HIV and, as she pointed out, I’m unlikely to inflict menopause on them either). ‘Move the towel’ Josh said and, when I did, he jumped like a girl saying ‘Not in MY direction!’ Good grief.
With the towel out of the way it was clear that the mouse was behind the bedside table so I moved it, expecting the thing to jump directly up and land in my hair at any moment because they can do that, and Flame pounced. I got a glimpse of the tiny ginger mouse as I ran to open all the doors between Flame (and me, more to the point) and the outside world. Flame trotted past with his treasure and I handsomely apologised for calling him a useless furball.
Josh put the bed back down and I reorganised the blankets and finally lay down with the light off but I was kind of awake after all that. And I was thinking about mice.
If you follow me on Facebook (and if not, why not?) you may remember another mouse-under-bed situation a couple of years back. Daniel had been agitating to get pet mice. One evening a cat brought a mouse inside that Daniel managed to catch unharmed. I was sitting on my bed and he brought it in, asking if he could keep it. He opened his hands to show it to me and guess what? It jumped out faster than the speed of light and disappeared under my bed. Daniel spent the evening searching but it wasn’t to be found and I went to sleep thinking ‘Why do these things pick on me to happen to? Why do I always have to be the one with a mouse under my bed?’ By the next day I was certain that it would have found its way outside because our bedroom doesn’t provide much in the way of food or water but Josh, the nervy one as previously mentioned, kept insisting that it was still there. A couple of days later I found what looked like mouse droppings on the duvet but I convinced myself it was…I don’t know…something else. Then one night I woke and sat up in confusion because I’d thought I’d felt something on my forehead. Next to me Josh was doing the same. ‘It’s that mouse!’ he said. ‘Don’t be silly’, said I, ‘it’s just a moth or something’. And went back to sleep. But in the morning when he pointed out the he woke up because he felt something running across his forehead then a bare second later so did I, I had to grudgingly (is there any other way?) admit that he was probably right. So we put both useless furballs to work and eventually flushed out Daniel’s briefly-owned pet.
Daniel saved up his birthday money and bought all the apparatus and two pet mice. In a cage, I will say I found them quite appealing. They were tame and even Cassie, two at the time, could hold them and let them play on her arms happily enough. He got two girls because they’re less smelly than boys but even so I’d occasionally put the cage in the garage overnight if Daniel had been a bit slack about cleaning it.
One morning after being told to clean the cage he brought it in from the garage and said, ‘There are BABIES in there!’ ‘There can’t be’, I said. ‘You can only have babies with a mummy mouse and a daddy mouse, and you don’t have a daddy mouse. Remember we talked about this?’
But he was right. There in the food tray was a bundle of tiny pink bald babies. Two mummy mice can, in fact, reproduce. ‘A wild mouse must have got to them through the bars’, the pet shop lady later told me. ‘It happens quite often’. Well that would have been handy to know earlier, wouldn’t it?
The babies mostly stayed in their little nest but I found the behaviour of the two adults fascinating. They both cared for the new mice and for a long time, until I managed to peek in at the right moment and see them feeding, we couldn’t even tell which was the mother because they seemed equally at home looking after the babies. Daniel, of course, wanted to keep one of the babies and I said he could as long as we were sure it was another girl.
Out of four living babies two had, by this time, disappeared. They were small enough to fit between the bars of the cage. One left, never to be seen again. The other preferred to hang out in the vicinity of the cage, just popping back through the bars every now and again for a bite to eat. It eventually disappeared too, maybe into the great blue beyond and maybe into the cat. Either worked for me.
So I asked Uncle Google for advice about sexing the mice – and boy, was I glad none of the kids was looking over my shoulder when I typed that in. Who knew? It takes all sorts. Once I’d waded through the results that were definitely and in no way what I was looking for I found some useful sites. Almost as disturbing as the dodgy stuff, though, was how intense some of these people are about mice. You know how there’s the show dog culture, Crufts and all that, where people live and breathe blood lines and breeding and paying for a particular father to duff up a particular mother (except they have fancy jargon words) and they have hairstylists and whatnot? Well, there are people in the world who do all that with mice. Maybe not so much the hairstylists but definitely all the rest. With mice, I tell you! Between that and the unwanted and only slightly related sites that Google served up I got quite an education that day, let me tell you.
Despite the very clear diagrams I thought it would be best to get the pet shop lady’s expert opinion because, being all of about three weeks old, a male baby mouse would by now be all set to get on with knocking up any other mice around and at this stage I was still foolishly thinking I could keep a lid on the whole situation. So I put the remaining two into a yoghurt container and went to the pet shop.
The resident mouse expert carefully tipped them into a clear plastic box to get a good look and for the first time I realised quite how different a genetically wild mouse is from a domesticated pet. They were MANIC. They were like the Lotto balls in the big wheel except without the paddle thing moving them. They were like a bouncy castle full of toddlers all hopped up on red fizzy drink. They were insane and they were bouncing off the walls and roof and did not stop for a nanosecond. Even the shop lady was impressed, and we had quite an admiring crowd by now too.
After making her best guess – not easy under the circumstances – and diagnosing them as probably girls and definitely wild, she lifted the corner of the lid to transfer them back to my yoghurt pot. And this is where it all got derailed. One of them jumped, so fast that none of us even saw it move, through the tiny gap and headed off along the counter.
Now this particular pet shop is sort of pleasantly cluttered with all sorts of interesting things so once the mouse was out it had all manner of places to hide. It ran around the counter for a bit and hopped off, doing a circuit or two of the packaged worms aisle before disappearing into a kitty litter display. By this time it was all hands on deck as the entire staff and several customers leapt around with goldfish nets and ice cream containers. We kept seeing it but as it was faster than the human eye nobody could get it. I had a customer on one side of me watching in calm amusement who said ‘Not a beloved pet, I hope?’ and a lady on the other side clutching one of those ridiculous handbag dogs, jumping up and down screeching ‘A mouse! A mouse!’
It was now past time for me to be picking up the kids from school and, as much as I didn’t want to have to tell Daniel that I’d lost his pet, I couldn’t hang around any longer even though it was all very entertaining. At least, I thought, there’d be plenty here for it to eat. And off I went, leaving them to it. I put the last mousling back in the nest at home and didn’t say a word to Daniel. By the time he noticed that he was down to one he just assumed it had struck out to make its fortune the way the other two had. And then the last one went too.
It was best all round, really. They gave new meaning to the word ‘wild’. Whoever the fly-by-night father was, he had some awesomely dominant genes. I suppose it might have been the great-great-great-etc-grandchild of one of Daniel’s mice that returned to the ancestral home and got itself under my bed.
In the last week alone Flame has brought us gifts of two (thankfully) dead rats, three mice and parts of a rabbit. Down here in the heartland we have a special name for animals like this; we call them pests. Like I say, I wish native birds well and all that. But I really think that before he spouts off any more about getting rid of cats Gareth Morgan should walk a mile in my shoes. Or sleep a night in my bed (not, you know, with me in it). Because until you’ve had the exciting experience of having a mouse run across your face in the dark, you really don’t appreciate cats half enough.
Oh, and I promised you men.