Indeed, mice seem to love the warm environment of Washington DC’s high powered workplaces—where there are always lots of food scraps, piles of paper to serve as nesting places and utility conduits, described as “subway tunnels to the tiny.” According to the article, “President Andrew Johnson was known to feed mice at his desk. . . [and] . . . Jimmy Carter grew furious when the General Services Administration and the Interior Department argued over which agency was responsible for the dead mouse he smelled in the walls of the Oval Office.” Some office workers want mice nuked while others plead not to hurt them. Some employees will even spring the mouse traps, “. . . turning mouse bait into mouse hors d’oeurves.”
This situation is particularly problematic at the Dupont Circle headquarters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). One PETA employee was so upset at seeing mouse droppings that she asked to work from home, whereupon Ingrid Newkirk, PETA founder, told her to “man up.”
“They are one-200th your size and they are harmless,” said Newkirk.
Harmless? Newkirk obviously has never seen what happens when mice get too numerous. My husband witnessed a mouse swarm in Australia and it was not pretty—see this video clip to get an idea. They cover the ground, eating everything, then form huge piles where they eat each other. They will crawl over pigs and basically eat them alive.
Rat sightings in offices create more concern—even animal lovers who want to spare the mouse agree that rats are true vermin and must be eliminated. Rats are bigger, they eat more, can be more vicious, and they spread disease.
I am reminded of Bill Gammage’s wonderful book, The Biggest Estate on Earth, which describes the land management techniques of Australian Aborigines. The Aboriginal peoples sculpted and shaped the land and waters to create an abundance of plant and animal life, but they also took steps to avoid over-abundance. If the kangeroos or eels got too numerous, they engaged in wholesale slaughter—maybe this is why the plains Indians ran the buffalo off cliffs. If mankind manages affairs to create abundance, we also have the responsibility to keep the species in balance.
Here on the farm, we keep the mice at bay by encouraging a population of wild cats. We feed them a little raw milk each morning to keep them fit, but not enough to make them lazy. Since we have grain around the farm in tubs, bins and animal feeders, the cats are absolutely essential to keep the mice population down. And if the cats get too numerous, we get rid of some. That’s man’s role—to encourage abundance but also balance—and what better way to do this than with competing species of animals, rather than poisons. And thank goodness for predators! Without them, no food production would be possible.
If you have mice or rats in your house, you really need to get rid of them before they take over. Even when few in number, mouse droppings can be as allergenic as mold. The first step is to clean up all clutter and keep food stored in mouse-proof containers, such as good old-fashioned glass.
Mice can get in through openings around pipes. A great trick is to stuff these openings with fine steel wool—it works beautifully. Any remaining mice should be trapped. I like the Intruder type mouse traps—the old fashioned wire traps frighten me—too easy to get your fingers snapped under the wires. There are also traps that catch mice alive so you can put them outdoors (they’ll make a nice morsel for the next hawk that flies by). The worst choice is the type of trap that the mice stick to—you may find not a mouse but a mouse foot or leg, leaving the amputated mouse to die in agony behind a wall. Then you might need to call the General Services Administration or the Interior Department to get the body out.
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