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Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
by Gene Owens

The mortality rate has dropped back to normal in my household, which means no lives were lost today.

Thank goodness. The insulation we tucked into the crack in the floor seems to have done its job. I’ve counted seven lives lost since that little mouse did a high dive last month from our attic into the toilet bowl.

It was an involuntary leap, the consequence of a misstep I took while attempting to insulate the water pipes in the attic. My foot came down on flimsy sheet rock instead of solid flooring, leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling above the toilet seat. While we were away for the weekend, the little mouse went traipsing through the attic insulation and suddenly found itself in mid-air. It apparently drowned, unable to climb out over the slippery porcelain.

Miss Peggy, the artisan in our household, fixed the ceiling lest the victim’s cousin come plunging into her hair as she worked the crossword. She also insisted that I evict any unwanted boarders that remained.

There was a time when I would have accepted that task without qualm. I grew up wringing chickens’ necks, pulling trapped rabbits out of rabbit boxes and executing them on the spot, and removing swallowed fish hooks from catfish innards without worrying about the agony I was causing.

But the years have brought a heightened respect for the lives of creatures who rank below us in the hierarchy of life. Nine years of communicating with a furry little mutt who still exhibits childish mischievousness and willfulness has convinced me that animals have feelings and emotions. So I sympathized with those mice.

Miss Peggy gave me two options: the traditional spring-loaded mouse trap that kills with one whack, or those sticky plastic traps that don’t kill at all, but leave the creature stuck to a pad. I opted for the sticky thing -- a modern version of the tarbaby that Bre’r Fox used to trap Bre’r Rabbit in one of my favorite Uncle Remus yarns.

We set a couple of them just before we went to bed.

Next morning, I went into the kitchen to find Mickey and Minnie helplessly stuck in one of the traps. Mickey was alert but helpless, his feet glued to the bottom. Minnie lay on her side, her head stuck to the pad.

“What are you going to do with them?” Miss Peggy asked.

I hadn’t thought that far ahead. But I had never wanted to kill them.

I raked them gently into a dustpan, placed them into the bed of my pickup, and drove out into the country. I thought about Mickey and Minnie back there in the cold air, being carted off to their destiny like Roman prisoners being paraded to their executions.

I found a rutted road that led into the woods, a decent distance from any house. It dead-ended at a chain-link fence around a Duke Power Company transformer. I figured I would free my prisoners and allow them to scamper into the wild, giving them a fighting chance of eluding the owls, hawks, foxes and cats that were their natural predators.

I used a thin stick to pry Mickey loose from the trap. Alas, his hind legs were stuck together, and there was no way he could scamper. I knew then that the two creatures could not survive on their own. There in that thicket of pines, with the aid of a stick of firewood, I played judge and executioner. I drove home mourning the departed..

Next day, another victim lay glued to his fate. It must have been Jerry who chose our house because Tom lived across the street and our mutt was more playful than vicious. I took Jerry into the back yard, administered a quick and merciful coup de grace. I entombed him in the neighborhood dumpster, using a newspaper for a shroud.

Enough! I told Miss Peggy. I was not cut out to be an executioner. At least the cheese-baited, spring-loaded trap is impersonal, and it puts them away before they know what hits them. So we set one.

Next day, we found a little gray corpse lying belly-up under the lethal spring. I dropped him into an empty Breyers Ice Cream carton and carried him to the dumpster.

The following day we caught another one. I forgot to set the trap that evening, but when we got up next morning, the mutt was sniffing suspiciously at the door to the laundry nook. I shined a flashlight under the dryer. I could see a black plastic trap that Miss Peggy had set and forgotten. I raked it out with a flat stick. Mickey and Minnie II were alive, alert and stuck. I took them out back and dispatched them to eternity.

By now it occurred to me that those mice were coming from outside the house. Miss Peggy remembered that there was a small space between the dryer’s vent hose and the crack in the floor through which it passed to the outside. We plugged the hole with fiberglass insulation from the attic.

Our home has now enjoyed three death-free days. I hope the little fellows never find their way through that insulation.

And I’m in the market for a better mouse trap. Maybe one that shuts the little varmints inside a wire cage equipped with tasty mouse food, a day’s supply of water, and an exercise drum for them to cavort in while they await their ride to freedom in the verdant countryside.

After all, what have those mice done to me?

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Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers last year named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He recently went into semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.


Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing


Write Gene Owens at 1004 Cobbs Glen Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at genepegg@bellsouth.net

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