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Mouse Matters

Not long ago, I wrote about letting a mouse in to be a pet. It dug out a hole in the corner of the cage, under the sleeping rack. I’d set out blobs of bread and smears of peanut butter for it in two feeding stations. It also would eat elbow macaroni, and small pieces of the scrap meats that the kops feed us. Two other mice showed up and dug out a hole in the opposite corner of the cage, through concrete, somehow, this time. These two were smaller and a slightly lighter shade of grey, but they quickly got bigger and identical to the original. We would mostly see them at night, racing in and out of the shadows, or chasing each other around. We originally thought that the two latecomers were unrelated to the first mouse, and that the first mouse was a male by the way it chased and seemed to bully the other two. This seems to have been wrong. More likely is that the first mouse was a female and that the other two were her pups.

The inmates next door, and probably others, complained about the influx of other mice, causing maintenance to stuff paper under the outside door, cutting off entrance. Our three mice, being well fed and afraid of the light, rarely ventured out into the big cage, and quickly returned when they did. There is always light out there, and usually a mop-inmate moving around or the kops.

I never saw more than 3 mice at a time until I was able to definitely count 4. The deaf guy I live with insisted he counted six, but he is unreliable and fairly ignorant. Even so, they were eating more, though not much more particularly telling was the disappearance of the water. I did experiments on the rate of evaporation to make accurate account of the rate of water consumption. More turds were being swept up every day too. Also, the deaf guy complained of finding mouse turds under his sleeping pad, and of finding mice in his rack as he slept. The turds were a minor annoyance to me, as I have to sweep and mop the floor every day anyway so I can do pushups without getting too filthy. The deaf guy would not follow my suggestion that he put his laundry bag off the floor or away from his rack so that it would not severe as a ladder to board his rack. Instead, he insisted that they climbed the slippery steel to get onto and in his blankets. This was clearly impossible for them. Also, I had caught the very first mouse and found that it had to be well rested to just barely be able to jump out of the waste basket, which was lower than the bottom sleeping rack. He did alert me to watch for these mice climbing the blade-shaped leg of a plastic chair by pinching it between its paws. They were always confounded in getting onto the seat of the chair because there were two inches of impassible vertical, flat plastic in the path to the seat. The sleeping racks had this same type of barrier even if the mice could climb a blade of the Angle iron leg.

The deaf guy got cold, to, and put up a sheet, as a curtain, to block the cold air that descended from the slit window. This provided the mice with a ladder with a ladder up to my rack. One found its way up to me despite my already sealing the space between the rack and the wall so that nothing could fall down this 7-foot long crack to the floor, such as pen, pencil, remote or books. First I found turds, then a mouse, twice. I did finally seal it well enough that they could no longer get in the rack at night, but it was time to get rid of them. I would catch them, and the deaf guy would empty them out of a peanut butter jar outside as he went to work at his mop-job in the morning.

Preparation and planning took quite some time. Mostly because we were having to fight the prison kops for both materials and the privacy with which to use them. The kops could not know what we were doing because all of our necessary tools and materials were stolen from the kops, or otherwise prohibited. The other inmates couldn’t know either, having the mentality of pitchforks and torches. The mob of them, I have noticed more than once, is quick to howl “Disease! Pestilence!” etc, at the sight of a mere rodent, yet may themselves be often observed to reach into the toilet water, or defecate, then eat, without washing their hands. (The one next door is afraid that they have rabies. More likely, they would carry the hanta virus.) My own objection was that I would smear their feces inside my boots, which were black. The mice liked to climb in, gnaw on a pebble of bread it had brought in privacy, and probably defecate. I began hanging my boots on the wall. They would climb up clothes to get in these boots, if possible, and leave turds as proof that they’d been up there. One time, I was banging my rubber shoes for food pellets and a mouse fell out. Finally I made a plan and began working. First, I glued two-loops onto the ceiling, then unthreaded some thick nylon line from my sleeping pad. One end was tied to a trash bag stolen from the kops. The bag was flattened out on the floor beside the toilet where the kops couldn’t see it. I’d already moved the feeding station, a ½ pint milk carton, to that spot. Now it was on top of the bag. The string fed up to the ceiling, then over to the next loop above my top rack. I could sit up there, writing, reading or watching television, dark or light, until the hungriest mouse chose to snag the bread pellet out of the milk carton and run for safety with it. I’d see movement, wait til the mouse ducked inside the box, then yank the bag, mouse and feeding station off the floor. The first mouse was able to climb out because I was unwilling to break my neck getting down wrangle it into the jar. Also, I had to adjust my technique two ways: I had to continually jangle the string while I got down from the top rack to keep the mouse from creating a fold and climbing out on it, and; I had to attach the bag to the string I two places to keep the lips higher to climb. After these adjustments, I caught the mice. Each time I caught one of the two or three that would v=cavort across the cage at one time, another would come out to play. I had to stay up all night, filling jars and milk cartons with mice, one after another. At the end of the first night, I had caught nine mice to throw outside, and there remained at least one more which had been scared off by the deaf guy’s thrashing about before waking to go to work. I crammed them all into one peanut butter jar to set loose, and then slept.

The next night, I stayed up all night again, just to catch four more, which were very wary of the trap. They didn’t want to cross the flattened bag to get to the feeding station. They would sneak up to it from every angle. Finally, one would cross, climb onto the box, look in, and then finally go in and get caught. Others would sneak up and test the trap by suddenly leaping into the air, bouncing off the wall, landing on top of the milk carton, tipping it onto its other side, then scampering away to judge any reaction. Finally, hunger would over-ride their fear. They would have to go inside to eat. Then I would catch them.

After finally catching number 13 of the seemingly identical mice, we waited two more days and nights to find out if any more would come out to forage. None did, so the deaf guy said he would plug up their holes. He has wanted to just plug up their holes and let them die in there. He had some crap that he thought would even trap the stink of rotting corpses. It was nothing but a fiber supplement that he was supposed to be eating. He mixed some up, mashed it into both mouse holes and let it dry. A few hours later, while he was sleeping I saw movement: it was a tiny mouse acting like a vacuum; slowly searching the floor for tiny particles of food. It had finally gotten hungry enough to chew its way out and try to find its own food for the first time. It didn’t even have sense enough to run until I had already sneaked up on it. I caught it in my Styrofoam cup. It was slow and too small to jump out of the waste basket. Before the deaf guy woke up, another one showed up. It was a sibling, tiny and naïve. The deaf guy woke up and scared it with his hollering, fast movements and by chasing it around. Number 15 took half an hour to catch even though I had the deaf guy plug its hole to prevent escape.

That was weeks ago. We decided to keep this pair. They are very shy, having spent the weekend in the trash basket before we decided to let them return to their nest. The deaf guy seems to have been able to keep these mice a secret, since the inmates haven’t erupted, yet. It’s amazing that closely related mice can incest for generations and show no deformity. The paper blocking the outside door is gone. More mice will come foraging in here this spring. There was only a few token days of winter. If they gnaw out the blockage in the big hole, I’ll know that its, time to start catching mice again.

It turns out that their constant chasing each other around is the males after the females. More than 3 times, I’ve heard yelping that could only be a mouse losing a fight. Otherwise, they are completely unheard, except for gnawing and scratching. The first 13 would take the margarine cup under the rack and gnaw noisily on it, for the drop of peanut butter that I’d smear in there. The last two mice have shown no interest in it. One or the other will now occasionally come out to forage during the day, but not often. In the waste basket, they would huddle under cover and sleep, barely eating. I rarely see one at night. The balls of bread disappear. These two don’t like pasta, either, but have taken small cubes of the scrap meat. Cheese is not eaten either. I can’t see how they get enough protein for growth from just refined wheat. The 13 mice before them wouldn’t eat sunflower seeds, making me wonder what’s wrong with them and shouldn’t I eat them.

2-15-2017: I saw some more prison-cage wildlife. It looked like it had drowned in the white margarine cup. That I have stuck to the floor for a water dish. A tiny, 12-millimeter-spread wolf spider was floating in it. When I jiggled the cup, (it’s got a stick in it that is taped to a table leg so the mice cant tip it over or run with it under the rack) he ran halfway up the edge, like a water strider. I left him there, ambush-hunting for whatever would come to drink, even though a mouse may ambush him.

That was 1 day ago. Last night, I left 2 pieces of “chicken fried steak (breaded gutmeat)” in the feeding station milk box, along with 2 tiny balls of bread. One bread ball was in my rubber shoe this morning, half eaten. One was still in the box. A blob of crap was under the table. I fished it out with my shower shoe. It was one of the missing gut meat balls. This tiny wolf spider was feeding on it after one of the mice dragged it out and left it behind. We almost never see these animals, unless we look closely, and it’s amazing that they survive in winter on, apparently, nothing but the crumbs we leave behind. I left it there for him to snack on. The next day, I saw that a mosquito had found its way deep inside these concrete coffins to try and get out through the bullet proof slit window. It’s February 16th, for god’s sake! Winter is supposed to kill these insects off in October and keep them dead until they can repopulate from the south in April! Now they apparently breed all year round, thanks to global warming being good for business.

2-21-17: One of the mice somehow levitated up to the top rack with me last night while I was watching television in the dark. Something made a scrabbling noise. I looked behind my writing materials leaning up against the wall. There it was. We stared at each other for a long time then it decided to find a better hiding place when I blew on it a few times. It ran to the foot of the rack and hid amongst a pile of socks. I should have left it alone, but I didn’t want its turds up here I pulled away the socks. After another staring match and more blowing, it finally panicked and dove over the side. It fell almost five feet and ran away as if uninjured. This should have taught it to stay down for a while. Only a couple of hours later, it, or its sibling, appeared in the crack that I’d lined with paper between the rack and the wall. I was almost asleep when this paper next to my head rattled. I lifted up my envelope box. The mouse lay in the cracked as if hiding before it made the dash to the window slit hiding place. It stared at me for three seconds, then flipped around and dove back down the way it had come. I checked, it had to have climbed up bare metal to snag that paper and crawl under my envelope box. I plugged this hole. Now I wait for the mice to figure a new way to get up here.

This morning, I noticed that one of them was out foraging in the other cages, too. The kops racked all the doors at 4am so we could stumble blindly into the big cage to get our food tray from the bean-hole. Other zombies missed this, but this panicked little mouse ran right under their noses from three cages away to run back into mine and dive down its hole to safety. Also, at least one of them has begun eating the peanut butter, now that it’s an adult. And, thanks to global warming, it’s as good as spring time. I expect a whole herd of mice to come in under the outside door to vacuum-up all the inmates’ Raman noodles crumbs. I’ll be unplugging our second rodent condo soon!