Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie

I hate meeces to pieces!

Recognize that? You’re dating yourself if you do. That expression comes from a cartoon program, The Huckleberry Hound Show, that ran from 1958 to 1961. In particular, it derives from a segment of the show called Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks—Mr. Jinks being the cat who hated the two meeces (mice), named Pixie and Dixie.  (The label in this photo is incorrect, incidentally–the cat’s proper name is ‘Mr. Jinks’ with a ‘ks’.)

Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx

And, actually, I don’t hate meeces. At eight or nine years old, I used to look after my friend Ann’s pet white mice when she went away on holiday. I like mice, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs, so having a ‘moose loose aboot the hoose’ (as the Scottish might say) would not be a huge problem for me, except for their unsanitary habits.

Also their destructive propensities—chewing indiscriminately, and carving out nests in places we’d rather they didn’t.

Also their ability to breed in a short time frame, and increase their nuisance potential.

Also their ability to carry disease to humans.

two mice

I’ve heard it said that mice are incontinent, but another source tells me that it’s worse than that. Mice will constantly urinate—on purpose–to mark out their territory.

And as for mice carrying diseases which can be life-threatening to humans, the ‘house mouse’ is a primary carrier of Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, which can be acquired by individuals who are exposed to fresh urine, saliva, droppings or nesting materials.

Then there’s the potential for salmonella infection when a mouse has contaminated a working surface where food is prepared.

While hantavirus is also mouse-borne, and is an extremely serious and sometimes fatal illness, it doesn’t appear to come from the garden-variety house-mouse. Hantavirus comes to us from deer mice.

In any case, mice and humans cannot cohabit happily—at least not from the human perspective.

An important thing to bear in mind is that while one might see only one mouse, the odds are pretty good that there will be more than one in residence. A mouse litter consists of six babies who will all mature in six weeks, so an infestation can happen rather quickly.


And since their teeth do not stop growing, a mouse must wear them down by chewing on things. If they’re nesting in walls or burrowing into insulation around large appliances–areas where there might also be wiring or tubing–it could be a serious problem.

Mice in nest

I keep my dish towels in a drawer in the kitchen, and it appeared to me they were using it for their toilet. I’ve taken to storing my dish towels elsewhere while we deal with the unhygienic interlopers.

Imagine wiping your dishes with cloths upon which a mouse has pooped and peed. Not good. Disgusting at best, dangerous at worst.

After finding the poop in the drawer, and hearing suspicious noises from the dog’s stainless-steel food dish when we weren’t nearby, we knew that there were small critters helping themselves to Willie’s leftovers. We also knew that murder needed to be done–it was them or us–but I for one didn’t fancy ‘doing the hit’ myself.

My husband set a trap near the dog food, and I got up the next morning to find a mouse with his one paw caught in the trap. He’d dragged the trap into the middle of the kitchen floor, trying to get out of it.

After exclaiming the requisite, “Oh no…this is AWFUL!” (a sentiment doubtless shared by the victim) I scooped him and the trap up in the dustpan, grabbed a pencil, and made for the back door. Then I wedged the pencil point under the trap wire holding his paw, and released him into the wild. He limped a bit, but he still had three good paws and that would have to do. I noticed that he was a fat little thing. Been living very well, apparently.

And no doubt there were more where he came from.

Thought perhaps I should borrow a cat. Wish I had my own. Have to confess that I don’t like a cat’s method of keeping the vermin population down, but perhaps ‘needs must.’ It’s greatly tempting to just hire a hit-man (hit-cat?) and fuhgeddaboudit.

Cat and mouse

Cats seem to enjoy playing with their prey, which I imagine to be a kind of torture. I think about the terror of the poor mouse when under the power and control of a cat. In normal daily life, fear does not seem to feature strongly in a mouse’s makeup; they are intrepid explorers, and will approach humans under the right circumstances. But a cat batting a mouse around, chasing and nibbling on it–as inclination directs–would likely be a nightmarish experience for the smaller of the two.

This extract from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno gives us another explanation for why a cat toys with its prey…

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry,


For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

Nice to think that the cat’s motive in tormenting a mouse prior to biting its head off is to give the mouse a sporting chance to escape. I somehow doubt that this thought is foremost in the feline mind, however.

In any case, a cat-in-residence might be a useful deterrent to a mouse-in-residence.  The latter will not like the smell of the former, and might consider a moonlight flit on that basis alone.  A nice and easy solution–no bones broken and no blood spilt.

My feelings for mice are much in sympathy with the thoughts expressed in this excerpt from the poem, To a Mouse, on Turning her up in Her Nest with the Plough, by Scottish poet Robert Burns:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!

Yes, they steal our food (or dog food), but the poor beasties must live. I just wish that they would choose to live elsewhere than in my kitchen. It seems that they might be nesting behind the built-in dishwasher, where we cannot get at them.

Unlike a cat, I do not like to torture mice. I suffer when I find one in the trap still alive. It wouldn’t be so bad if their necks were snapped and they died instantly, but that hasn’t happened on at least two occasions. We use traps because we don’t like the idea of poison.

I was sitting in the family room the other evening, after evicting the one mouse we’d caught, and another mouse came out and had a look at me. Cheeky beggar. He knew I wouldn’t do anything more than shout at him to get lost. Which I did. No point in getting up; he was gone in a split second.

But I’m hoping he’s permanently gone now. My husband re-set the trap, and I heard a loud ‘snap’ yesterday evening. He went to check–I refused to look–and this time the trap wire came down on the poor wee beastie’s neck, and he went to Mousie Heaven instantaneously. I didn’t look, even then, for fear that there would be some signs of life and possible continuance of suffering—which would then be compounded by my own, empathetic suffering.  At that point I just wanted to fuhgeddaboudit.

I had been looking at humane traps on Amazon that same day. Humane mouse traps entice the beastie into a container that one can take outside. Much better, I think.

Will go ahead with the purchase if there are indications of a continued mouse presence in our home. Mouse murder is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for some of us. Eviction is infinitely preferable.

Wonder if it is now safe to return my dish towels to the drawer? In the interests of prudence, I shall remain vigilant yet a while…