Mouse factory

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Without my permission, my house has become host to a mouse factory. It is a quiet, professionally run operation, and secret.

The operation began last October and the factory has turned out one hundred ninety six rather appealing mice since the production line started.

I say secret because I have no idea where it operates. My County Extension Service informed me that mice seek shelter from the forthcoming winter's cold sometime in the fall. Any nearby occupied home will do, as long as no feline mammals are in residence. My house qualified.

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The mouse factory is silent and can be very busy. I hear no scratching in the walls, yet I am trapping one mouse a day in the attic at present in my Have-a-Heart mousetrap, and this is a time of lowered production. At its peak in December and January, I was capturing three and four mice a day, one at a time, in the same mousetrap. The work incentives that produce so many mice at that time of year have not been revealed to me.

My bait is a small dab of peanut butter, chunky style. I place a folded paper towel beneath the trap, aware that in cold weather the wire metal of the cage can draw heat from the living animal inside. When my mice find themselves incarcerated, they set up a noisy ratatatat by rattling the cage in some manner. This is to let me know they are not happy where they are and I can perform a rescue.

Early in the fall I detected some indecision on the part of factory management. On two occasions, the mice turned up sporting gray and white. However, some higher authority intervened and my mice have followed a brown and white color code ever since.

Mice are new to me and I am happy to relate what I have learned from this firsthand experience. It may be my last, because my wife is firmly against sharing her home with small creatures.

My mice apppear spotlessly clean, almost immaculate, which corresponds to the way my wife keeps house. The mice have tiny pink hands and feet. They wash their faces and hands much as a cat will. They also have the ability to pick up sunflower seeds and shell the seeds with their teeth. They then consume the kernel much as a child works on an ice cream cone, holding the meat vertically while munching down on the kernel until consumed. They will take a sunflower seed from my fingers, even though we have never met before. They can stand on their hind legs and make appealing overtures which, I suppose, are intended to secure their escape from captivity.

Research has revealed that mice have from five to eight litters a year. Young mice, those that are just old enough to cruise around for their own food, have short fingernails. Older mice can have very long fingernails - but long nails or short, my mice have been especially well mannered. They have not invaded the privacy of the house proper. At no time have I seen one in any of the living quarters, in a closet, bureau drawer, the television, or in the cupboard. No food has been missing and they have thoughtfully left alone my stored leather goods, which (I have been informed) are a mouse delicacy.

They squeak when excited and have extraordinary jumping ability. I have lost several who, overnight, jumped clear of the lip of the 22-inch-high barrel in which they were placed for safekeeping prior to release in the deep woods. The few that escaped did so after I left a warmed brick in the barrel to help them through a few very cold nights in the utility room. The brick served as a launching pad which brought freedom three inches closer. I replaced the brick with a small piece of terry cloth and the breakouts ended.

As has now become custom, I took my barrel into the woods today and laid it on its side to release one of the factory's products. It had spent the night munching on the sunflower seeds I had provided.

I was surprised when the mouse cautiously approached the open end and stopped to view the scene with suspicion. The usual reaction is a joyous scamper for freedom and cover, even if only to hide under a leaf. This mouse walked slowly around my shoe and let me stroke his soft, furry back. When I walked a few steps away, he climbed a few inches up a nearby sapling and stared at me.

There is only one way I can account for his behavior. He may have been a very young mouse who had never seen a woods before. I looked back once more. He was still clinging to the sapling and staring at me - reproachfully.

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