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Posted on Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Trapped in an ongoing game of cat and mouse

By Heather Heath Chapman

I grew up in a wooden farmhouse that was crawling with mice. Some years were mousier than others, depending on the cat. During the worst winter I can remember, Clarence — a fat, old tabby — sat sullenly by while the mice claimed our kitchen as their kitchen and my room as their personal disco. The squeaky, scratchy partying went on all night, every night.

One morning, I woke to the tickle of a soft, gray lump playing near my toes. After I grabbed it and threw it as far as I could, I swore that someday I’d live in a mouse-free house.

I made the pledge again a decade later, in the first home — hovel, really — that I shared with my husband. One night I opened the silverware drawer and found chunks of dog food nestled among the forks. That was weird. And gross. But I didn’t give it too much thought.

The next day, I stepped out of the bath, pulled a towel from the cabinet, and sent a shower of dog food skittering across the floor. One quick look, and I discovered that our linens were covered with kibble and mouse poop. Two questions surfaced. First, how was I going to deal with what was clearly a profound infestation? And second, what were my immediate options for getting dry?

Our black Labrador snuffled around helpfully, cleaning up the mess.

That was the autumn when my husband and I learned that dog food should be stored in a plastic fortress. But, too late. The mice had already tucked away enough rations to feed their grandchildren’s grandchildren. All winter long, we found dog food in disconcerting places: underwear drawers, cream pitchers, the washing machine and--like a little peace offering--on my pillow. We moved out as soon as our lease was up.

These days, our family lives in a cozy brick house. It was rodent free when we moved in, and it stayed that way until December two years ago, when I found droppings in the drawer beneath the oven.

“No way,” I said, feeling affronted. This was exactly what I had pledged to avoid.

I baited the most enticing mousetrap ever — cheese, peanut butter and a Dora the Explorer fruit snack. On Christmas Eve, we heard a loud snap.

“There,” I said. “Not a creature is stirring.”

My friends told me that there was no way we’d had just one mouse — that I hadn’t simply caught the one and only culprit — but I told them to talk to the hand. Months went by without any trouble. I forgot about the Christmas Eve mouse.

A few weeks ago, I decided to clean out some drawers. My son’s desk was the first target, because I had no idea what was in there. (Old matchbox cars? Maybe diapers, from when we’d used the desk as a changing table?) I opened the first drawer with a flourish and was surprised to find a pile of shredded newspaper.

And, hey. There was the slipper I’d lost. And a mitten. And a Twizzler. And, peering out at me from a nesty place in the paper, two bright little eyes.

I have a lot of experience with mice, and I’ve never thought of myself as a squeamish person. So, in that moment, I did the coolest thing I could think of. I slammed the drawer shut and yelled, “Run!”

Then I danced a crazy tiptoe-running dance right out of the room, shunting my son to the side when he got in my way.

The hunt that followed was epic. It involved every conceivable type of rodent trap and culminated in a showdown: The mouse, trapped in a corner and clutching a fun-sized Mr. Goodbar; my husband, crouched in a ninja stance and wielding a set of barbecue tongs.

It turned out that my son had hidden some Halloween candy in his desk, and the mouse had been enjoying a resort-style life deep in the drawers. When we evicted him, we found a tiny toy bunny stashed among the sweets and shreds — a mouse’s little friend, perhaps.

“Awww,” my family said in unison, but I held up a hand for them to talk to. I didn't have the time or patience for sentiment.

I’d made a pledge long ago, and I planned to uphold it, one mouse at a time.

Heather Heath Chapman lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and two children. You may reach her at


Marge Biancke

Sun, Feb 6, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

Did you know that mice hate the smell of peppermint? Place a few drops of peppermint oil on a cottonball where you think the mice might be entering our house and that will keep them away. This has been working for me for years.


Sun, Feb 6, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

I have a detached garage where the mice love the garden supplies and seeds, hockey gear, etc. I also have a back porch where we store a lot of stuff including cat and human food. My shoes have made nice homes. One winter my brother from up north came to stay with us and he solved the problem - buy a box of fabric softener sheets. Stuff the sheets everywhere you don't want mice: drawers, shoes, containers. I also get mice in the house. The cat sometimes catches them - and then they get away. He doesn't know what to do with them so he brings them to us and drops them. I get a long baseboard I keep under the bed, funnel it toward an open door and chase the critter outside - where he'd much rather be after meeting the cat. I've also chased them into grocery bags and then dumped them outside. It takes about 5 minutes to catch them.


Sun, Feb 6, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

Then there was our cat who brought in a live mouse through the cat door (really stupid idea). The mouse went on to have babies in the sleeper sofa in the den. My daughter saw mama mouse with babies clinging to her. So we found the nest complete with cat food nearby. The couch went in the garage. Sadly the babies died as mama mouse somehow escaped the couch move. A day later the darn cat did catch the mouse. We got smart and got rid of the cat door.


Sat, Feb 5, 2011 : 5:26 a.m.

Oh my!! Could I ever tell you stories abut mice. We managed to out smart them on several adventures. It was a challenge to find out how they got in or how they got to the basement,where they hide their stash. Oh the stories. Cute article Heather. Keep yor traps up. They never give up!!

Ypsi Mama

Sat, Feb 5, 2011 : 12:35 a.m.

I am TERRIFIED of mice in a most unhealthy way. This crippling fear was only increased after one dropped on me from the rafters of our basement. After I got over my initial fit of hysteria, I decided that I was going to launch an all-out war on the critters that had invaded my home. We tried a slew of poisons, traps, and other home remedies. In the end what worked the best was the Ultrasonic Rodent Repellent, which emits high frequency sound waves that apparently sound "like a jackhammer" to mice and repel them this way. It's worked in two of our houses (yes, we've encounter the little buggers TWICE) and isn't unsafe for kids or pets.


Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 11:47 p.m.

We had a mouse invasion this winter, and one of our 3 cats has accounted for 5, while traps have done in 30ish. ( the other 2 cats are sweet, but useless as mousers). One of the 5 was found on our pillow as a 'gift'. Fortunately it was dead, as some of her other victims are played with alive.


Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 7:11 p.m.

Wow, I guess I'm just lucky to have owned cats that have been worth their weight in dead mice over the years. Heck, I even had one cat that caught the mice before they even got in the house. With my new kittens, who aren't allowed outside, they'll just have to have to wait for the mice to come to them. @Ann Arbor mom: I agree! Heather does have super powers to have picked up a live mouse.

Top Cat

Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

I found the mice somewhat tolerable until they started leaving their "calling cards" on my model train set. quote Bugs Bunny, "of course you know, this means War!" I've tried many devices and strategies to catch mice. There is no better device than a product called "The Tin Cat." The mice go in, they can't get out and they meet their maker. As for my fellow cats, most of them are worthless feedbags. They are worthy products of the modern welfare state.

Ann Arbor mom

Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

Heather: You. Picked. Up. A LIVE MOUSE. And threw it. You have super hero powers.

Lynn Liston

Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

Cats? My two boys think mousies are their friends. I was vacuuming and scared up a mouse who jumped *out of the cats' toy basket* where it had been snuggling in amongst their playthings. A welcome house guest, no doubt. So when I see the two of them closing in on a spot in the kitchen I know they aren't hunting. They are eagerly awaiting their next play date.


Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

Cats? Ha! I once chased a mouse in the general direction of my tabby who cooly looked at me as if to say, "You need to do something about this mouse problem." But seriously folks, rodents are programmed to stay away from an area that contains predator (cat, dog) urine. My cats aren't motivated enough to chase down a rabbit but they have perfumed my garden with plenty of urine and I have zero problems with rabbits in the garden. I suspect a mouse in the house would be considered, by the felines, as mildly amusing yet we haven't seen one for quite some time.


Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 1:13 p.m.

Cats. Get a pair of cats and let them do their job. Over the 18 years I've lived in my house mice have tried, and failed, to find a home here. Every time they get chased out by my cats. Some cats are better hunters than others, which is why I like to keep at least two cats on hand, I find pairs are better hunters. Right now I have two kittens, both of which are blind in one eye, but even those two managed their first kill in December. Less than a year old and they've already earned their keep!