Close encounters of a furred kind

I experienced that memorable moment of transition, a violent initiation from naïveté into a dark new world filled with awareness, too much awareness, when for the first time I laid eyes on a dainty little pile of mouse turds. “What is that?” I distinctly recall asking. That was my moment.

The creatures come in droves. They poop in droves. They gnaw and forage in droves. They all vanish.

I called a friend, pleading for him to withhold judgment. “I am neat and tidy,” I swore. “You know that! …I don’t know why they are here! I am not dirty!” The shame was stifling.

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My friend explained that mice just…well…happen. I felt comforted.

Hyde Park-based Craig Thomas Pest Control’s website succinctly explains a few things: “A prolific breeder, the House Mouse is sexually mature at two months old, has a gestation period of only three weeks, and averages five to eight young per litter, but potentially up to 15. Each female may give birth to eight litters. The life span can be from two to three years. The House Mouse is a nibbler, consuming small quantities of food at many feedings. They are curious, and tend to investigate new objects that are placed in their environment. Favored foods may be grains, dried fruits, nuts and sweet materials. They are known reservoirs of diseases such as rickettsial pox (mites), typhus (fleas), and filth problems with salmonella, tapeworm, roundworm, and others parasites.”

The website goes on to say that mice can infiltrate a hole as small as a quarter-inch in diameter, and that they find packing boxes, wood piles or heavy outside vegetation ideal living quarters. These micro-rodents prefer to remain against “vertical surfaces” which have contact with their body’s “guard hairs.” In other words, they enjoy tight little spaces.

Upon flashlight inspection, it became apparent to me that they were making their way through a cavernous hole underneath my kitchen-sink cabinet. Hoisting up my stove hood, I found mounds of rodent excrement. There was worse. Leaning in closer with the flashlight for a more careful look, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Large, blinking eyes were staring right back.

“What is that?” I screeched. Naturally, I knew what it was, but the encounter was a shock anyway.

After identifying the mouse dung among my flatware and other drawers as terroristic rodent biohazard waste, I knew that immediate action was of the essence. Here’s what I did, and how it all shook out for me.

 

This is total war

Foam spray insulation (Dow Great Stuff Pro Gaps & Cracks 24 oz. Gun Foam Spray, $8.97 off amazon.com) filled in the holes. The mice eventually chewed through it after a few weeks. There were tiny little dead mouse bodies on my kitchen floor, each with its own pool of blood seeping from its little mouse mouth. They had been poisoned by the polyurethane compound. The insulation had also been effective in seaming the edge-line of my sink cabinet.

Dryer sheets (Gain Dryer Sheets, Island Fresh 120 ct., $6.99) have been lauded as an effective if temporary scent deterrent to rodents. I don’t know whether this use was the result of an urban myth or some marketing person’s brilliant eureka in the bathtub.

I laid dryer sheets out in each drawer and cabinet where I was finding droppings. It worked like a charm for well over a month until the scent faded. Then I began to find droppings once again. I replaced the dryer sheets. I am willing to spend the few bucks a month to keep those varmints away from my honey-spoon collection.

Steel-wool mesh to stuff the cracks and holes also worked. The mice can’t gnaw through metal. However, I am confident that they will be back, having figured a way to adapt to our steel-wool mesh. I got the steel-wool pack from Hannaford for under $5.

Rodent poisons, which were really not for me, are available either online or at the hardware store.

Old-fashioned mouse traps (a dollar a pack at Dollar General) proved a bit too old-fashioned in dealing with the modern mouse. The mice cleverly pinched the cheese out of the allegedly efficient death traps. They made off with the bait from every trap, not setting off a single one.

Glue traps are a nifty solution if you can bear to make eye contact with the trapped creature you are about to condemn. True Value sells Stick-Em 4-Pack Glue Mouse Traps for $4.29.

Fortunately, the combination of carpentry work, steel wool and dryer sheets seem to be holding the wee creatures at bay for now.

Larry Watson of Rosendale, who has battled the little bulgy-eyed buggers, filled a five-gallon bucket with water. He put a bar through a coffee can and set the contraption on top of the bucket, creating a water mill. He topped the can spinning on its side with peanut butter. Watson laid claim to seven dead mice at once, which he disposed of by emptying the bucket.

 

Other creatures

A friend who lives in Mount Tremper attributes the rats (rattus rattus) that have invaded her old house to the presence of a chicken coop the neighbor down the road keeps outside his house. Rats are like mice, only worse. Nobody in his or her right mind would describe an undomesticated rat as cute. They are bigger, meaner, and they cause a bigger stench when their bodies decompose after they are poisoned.

If you have mice, console yourself that they are not rats.

Despite their fun-to-watch, clown-like antics, squirrel infestations can be overwhelming. P.J. Preuss, the preservation officer for Historic Huguenot Street, said that many of the early Dutch settler homes under his care are under siege by the fluffy grey acrobats. Preuss attributed the onslaught to this “strange winter.”

“They have been taking up in structures and buildings, and from our point-of-view damaged the historic fabric and materials,” said Preuss. “Like the trim work, whatever they chew to get in and then when they do get in they do a lot of damage to our collections and antiques.”

One house required remediation from a pest control company, and the other seven homes and 30 structures are being carefully watched by the preservation officer. “You can see them working you can see their activity like wood chips, evidence around the buildings,” Preuss noted.

Companies like New Paltz-based Wildlife Busters remove menacing wildlife safely, using traps to avoid harming the animals. Owner-operator Ben Munger said simply, “I am pro-wildlife. I am pro-universe.”

Munger phone-consulted with me about yet another menace I was facing: a raccoon.

At night, I would hear what sounded like a pack of wildebeests clawing and gnawing their way through my ceiling. A mouse lingering from Chernobyl, I wondered? I even heard the hefty creature urinate. Yes, I did.

In the end, loads of patience and a Have-a-Heart trap did the trick. Munger has voiced serious concerns about hygiene. Roundworm is present in the scat of the raccoon typically. That’s bad. The infection can, even going airborne, affect house members. Munger suggested sanitization services to clean up after this inconsiderate and unwanted house guest.

“Raccoons and other wildlife are going to have their babies in the spring, very soon. If you hear anything in your walls, in your ceilings, you notice any egress outside of your house, your attic vents,” advised Munger, “these are all places where animals will enter. It’s not always that easy to get them out. Just takes some time, strategy and patience.”

Munger said the costs of mitigation range considerably. He factors in pitches of roofs, landscapes of houses, etc. Munger looks for wire-chewing, structural damage, droppings, blocked vents from nesting animals. Munger goes the extra step, offering sanitization and decontamination. He will do attic or structure restoration to repair animal damage, a procedure which includes closing off all the holes through which the animals might re-enter to return to their nests. Wildlife Busters has a great informational website at wildlifebusters.com.

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