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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mouse Killer

by MAB (bio)

Since we moved to an apartment in Amsterdam nearly a year ago, we've had a little mouse problem. Apparently it's nearly impossible to not harbor a few of the pests when living in this old city with its old buildings. One of the many perks, I guess, of living the exciting international life.

One of the first things I did was go out and buy a couple of those old-fashioned mouse traps. The kind that are difficult to set and apparently don't work very well. At least not with our mice. I would wake up in the morning to find they had cleaned off whatever I put out as bait but nothing was ever caught. 

After a few weeks of inadvertently feeding them off the traps, I stopped my attempts and decided to just let them be. I figured they were just cleaning the crumbs off our floor anyway. But over time I got this nagging feeling that these mice were direct descendants of the mice (or was it just the rats?) that helped spread the Plague. No, there are no fleas so my fears are irrational, but still mice are supposed to be dirty right?

Anyway, two days ago I entered our shower room (showers and bathrooms are separate here, long story) which is all tile and leaves little egress for adventurous rodents. While flossing I caught a glimpse of a wee mouse from the corner of my eye. It was trapped in a tiled corner with no where to go.

"I got you now," I thought to myself. So I went around the corner to grab a trusty broom. Heading back in to the shower room, I saw the mouse race into the bathroom which is also tiled and devoid of mouse holes. As I opened the door, it made to escape so I gave it a few good whacks.

So, there it lay close to freedom but now quite dead. That's when mixed emotions set in. I had talked to my daughter about the mice from time to time and told her I would kill one if I had the chance. She begged me not to since they were "sooo cute." Fortunately, she doesn't know what I did and there are plenty more mice to scamper by when we least expect it.

The experience of dispatching a mouse with my bare hands broom got me thinking about the effects of  violence. I've been fascinated and saddened by the studies implying that long range and automatic weapons, as well as bomb dropping, can make soldiers and society callous to the death and destruction they cause. Add to that the desensitization of an environment where violence is a daily occurrence (or portrayed as such in the media) and I think there could be a real impact on psyche. My wife would want me to add video game and movie/television violence as another problem, but that's a little too close to home for a men's blog.

Obviously, it's a big leap to go from mouse killer to callous homicide (which I don't want to imply is what soldiers do), but what makes it right or wrong for someone to kill a mouse? What about a snake or a spider? Maybe it depends perhaps on whether it's a harmless snake or a rattler near a playground or a black widow in the shed? What about bacteria or a virus? Is there a line somewhere?

For many I think the line is at or near mammal unless you are hunting or fishing for food. Speaking of which, I have a good friend who became vegan as a teenager after catching, killing and then eating fish during a camp out. That night he couldn't sleep as he was wracked with guilt about taking another creature's life without necessity. And no, this is not one of those 'friend' stories that are really about me. I don't think I could be vegan for more than two hours.

I think that as a teenager I wouldn't have had much trouble killing a mouse. But now I watch movies with my kids, such as The Tale of Despereaux and Ratatouille, and it's hard not to imagine these animals with emotions, fears, families, and little lives filled with intrigue. I guess such movies could be this generation's Bambi. But my tenuous emotional connection to animals is tempered with a rational side that is exposed to real-life stories about the fallacy of anthropomorphic thought, such as this one about insects eating themselves.

Anyway, for me, at least, killing a mouse is a complicated subject, so I wonder what your thoughts are?

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