Monday, June 29, 2009

Why You Can't Save the Mouse

by Julia Buckley
When I was a newlywed, I woke one day to find that our cats had triangulated a mouse. They sat around it watchfully, planning murder.

I was horrified. It was the first mouse I had ever seen outside of a pet shop (yes, I was a sheltered thing). I begged my husband to save it before the cats could do their worst.

“What?” he asked in disbelief. “This is the benefit of cats. They catch your mice for you.”

“But it’s cruel to just let them kill it. Just save it in a jar and we’ll put it outside.”

“If you put it outside, it will come right back in whatever hole it used the first time.”

I must have given him a persuasive look, because he sighed and went into our kitchen for an old Tupperware container. He approached the mouse and tried to trap it under the plastic. Once. Again. Again. The mouse was having none of it, and every time it saw him coming it would dart away; in his effort to “save” it, Jeff managed to brain it with the corner of the container several times. In fact, whether it was from the stress or from the Tupperware smackings, the little mouse died. I actually saw it breathe its last tiny breath.

The cats stalked away, disgusted.

I was sad. “We were trying to save it,” I insisted.

Since then I’ve learned that you can’t save the mouse. Our house is very old and most likely has a million wonderful mouse holes. Usually our three cats (two of whom are very good mousers) won’t bother me with the ethical dilemma: they do their murdering in private and then proudly bring me the corpse. There is never even a dot of blood on these mice. I can only guess that they die of fear.

The other day a small dead mouse was placed on my son’s pillow. There was much familial horror, many expressions of disgust, and some appropriate disinfecting. Today, I emerged from my office to see Mr. Mulliner, our youngest and suddenly most determined mouser, batting something around near my slippers.

For some unknown reason, the mice try to hide in my footwear. Last Christmas one hid in my winter boot before Mulliner rooted him out. Today my slippers were a last oasis. Can they smell my compassion in my shoes?

Mulliner got him out. “Stop it,” I said. “Mulliner, stop it.”

Naturally I know the cat can’t understand me, and if he attributed any sense at all to my words, it was probably the message, “Well done. Continue murdering.”

That, in fact, is what he did, but with seemingly gentle velvet slaps that somehow sent the mouse into a tiny cardiac arrest. It died quietly, with mouse dignity.

My sons, brave as the cat mousers, did me the favor of removing the corpse.

Since about twenty years have gone by since my first mouse incident, when I tried to save a little mouse life, I realize I’ve hardened a bit. I do not, in fact, want mice wandering around my house if it’s at all possible to prevent it. Mr. Mulliner is on the job, as is the aging Pibby Tails. I know I can’t stop the processes of nature, but like all of the squeamish (which I suppose can be translated into “weak”), I wish that Darwin’s theory did not ever have to be demonstrated on my dining room floor.

But when these events occur (and thanks to the plentiful holes in our house, they will keep occurring), I must admit that I intend to step aside and let the cats do their job. I feel guilty, but I am asserting my territorial rights.

The perpetrator, Mr. Mulliner, most likely thinking of mice.

Mouse image link here.


Marilynne said...

It sounds like the beginning of a kid's mystery to me.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love Mr. Mulliner!

As I'm writing this, I'm watching my daughter play with our two cats with a big, feathery contraption. They're treating the game like a life and death hunting expedition. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Liss said...

I have witnessed - more than once - tag team mousing from my two cats. Horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Each cat had a different style of mousing and I realized that the mousing style fit how that cat plays.

Sadly - I am the one who has to deal with corpse removal after these episodes.

Julia Buckley said...

Marilynne--not a bad idea. Although my kids have plenty of books where the MOUSE is the hero--but it's all in perception, I guess. :)

Elizabeth, those feather games really hone their skills. Mulliner is quick with the claws, as we've found out when he attacks from under the bed.

Liss, yes--they definitely work together and the poor mouse never has a chance. Scary. When we first got our Beagle, we heard him whining in the other room, and we went in to find the cats had formed a triangle around HIM. I'm not sure what they were planning. :0

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