A story about compassion, growing up, and why you should never use glue mouse traps. (madlyinlovewithlife/flickr)

I didn’t mean to save you, Mr. Mouse, I meant to kill you. Brutally, or preferably, humanely — I intended to end your life. But my wussy, spineless heart wouldn’t let me. And now you haunt me.

This was all last February, around this time of year, before I became a dark-hearted killer.

That was when I heard scratching sounds coming from my kitchen. Gnawing, rummaging, scrabbling sounds. Then I discovered small flakes of cardboard food cartons in my pantry and a pile of nugget-like evidence. Mouse poo.

I procured a glue trap. The plan: mouse walks on, gets stuck, mouse dies. No mess, no trouble, right? I pushed the trap against the baseboard and left for the day.

That evening, I checked the trap. Empty. I fell into bed, and dreamed I was lost in a maze of cubicles. Maybe I wore gray fur suit.

Then, around 2 a.m., the scratching returned. More of a dragging sound. “Shhh … kkk.” Pause. “Shhh … kkk.”

I padded into the kitchen and saw the trap slowly moving across the floor like the heart-shaped piece of wood that glides across a Ouija board.

I didn’t mean to save you, Mr. Mouse, I meant to kill you. Brutally, or preferably, humanely — I intended to end your life. But my wussy, spineless heart wouldn’t let me.

I turned on the light. A mouse was in the trap. Rather, half in the trap. The little guy’s tail and back legs were affixed to the glue. But the mouse — let’s call it “Mr. Mouse” — had managed to free its front half. Now, with its hindquarters stuck fast, it dragged the entire trap across the red sea of my kitchen linoleum. Trying to escape like a convict from Alcatraz. Paddling to freedom.

Now, let’s back up to my childhood. I’ve always been an animal lover. My house was a way-station for abandoned or disadvantaged dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, and fowl. Ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I would say, “veterinarian,” or “cartoonist,” a job I imagined involved drawing soft, fuzzy creatures. I read stories — “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,” “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” “Stuart Little” — featuring the plights of talking, anthropomorphic mice who escaped from evil laboratories to hatch genius schemes beneath rose bushes. I loved mice. So cute! No way would I off a mouse.

Watching Mr. Mouse haul his sorry butt across my kitchen, I realized my mistake. Had I purchased a snap-trap or the Mouse-X-Laser Doomsday Device, any rodent I caught would have experienced instant death. But my Mr. Mouse was going to die slowly. This was cruel. Torture. Worse than water-boarding.

I had to save this mouse.

“Hey. Hang on,” I said to Mr. Mouse in my mind. OK, maybe out loud. “I’m going to rescue you.” I Googled “free,” “mouse,” “glue,” “trap” and learned that with rubber gloves, Q-tips, and cooking oil, I could save this mouse.

Unleashing my inner veterinarian, I slipped on the gloves and placed the glue-trap-plus-mouse in a box. I lubed up a Q-tip with canola oil, and holding Mr. Mouse gently with one hand, I used the swab to rub oil where the glue met its fur. Mr. Mouse squirmed. A puddle of mouse pee spread across the shiny glue. Worried the little guy would expire from terror, I worked more quickly.

The oil was dissolving the glue! Mr. Mouse finally settled down. Looked at me with its tiny black eyes. Searching me. I got the rear right leg free. Then the tail. Only the left leg remained stuck.

Suddenly, the mouse popped itself free and scampered away about as fast as something can scamper and still be visible to the human eye. Gone.

I felt like a hero. I had saved a living thing. Yet, I felt so guilty for subjecting Mr. Mouse to the trauma, I left him a little mound of food every few days. My idiot heart.

I never saw the mouse again. But I did find poo. I lived with the excrement, all winter long, and considered it a penance for my cruelty.

This winter, Mr. Mouse returned, bringing legions of reinforcements. I wanted to co-exist again. I truly did. But when I saw the mouse poo appear again, I felt different. I was sickened. Feces, urine, filth. Already my apartment was a psychic disaster area. The kitchen was cluttered with hand-me-down furniture and covered in stained linoleum. My chaotic living space represented my disordered life. Time to clean house. Time to grow up. Time to leave my mouse-loving ways behind.

I reread “Mrs. Frisby” one last time, bought a three-pack of simple, spring-loaded snap traps, and let my soft heart harden to the rodent world.

Half-asleep in bed, I now hear a “crack!”, the sound of snapping another bugger’s neck, painlessly, in a millisecond. So far I’ve killed about a dozen of them. No guilt. No crisis of conscience. Not yet.

Still, sometimes, I wonder if I’ve killed you, original Mr. Mouse. Have you escaped my death traps? And most importantly, when will you stop haunting my dreams?

Tags: Humor, Writing

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  • pointpanic

    HI Ethan . If you can spray some minty DR. Bronners catillian soap around areas where they may be coming in ,you might have less of a problem.Mice hate minty odors. ALso if you can find even the tiniest craks in walls or floor stuff some coarse steel wool into them . It’s coarse on their skin. they hate it.Good luck.

  • Jemimah

    Why? Seriously, why? Clean up the mouse leavings like you do the skin and hair that falls off of you. I simply don’t understand this need to demolish other living creatures just because they’re inconvenient. Why are humans are so set on controlling every last bit of our environment? I just don’t get it. Least you could do is feel a little remorse for killing something that’s just trying to get a meal and really not doing you any harm. I like the minty solution below much better!

    • Ethan Gilsdorf

      Jerimiah — Thanks for writing. I see you point, but the whole theme of my essay IS the remorse I felt and the struggle to co-exist with other living things. and that the deaths do haunt me.

      • andrey


        If your remorse is to have any actual consequences (other than making you feel bad), I suggest you get some of these:
        They’re reusable, don’t break, and you get to observe the mouse safely and at close range. We’ve caught several this way, and taken them to a wooded area far from any human residences.

        • Futo Buddy

          in MA thats illegal. not sure about other places. you should read what the mass dept of wildlife says about why moving critters is a bad idea and why its illegal. personally i give no quarter to vermin but i always save spiders and put them outside. I applaud the author for switching to more humane traps. lol it illustrates the whole thing about “a better mousetrap” the old snap traps are still the best. they have some now that are in a little box so you dont have to look at the mouse.

    • gorilla monsoon

      Kill baby kill, any way you can. Why would anyone have remorse for destroying a carrier of disease? They are not cute little pets. They could bring back Plague.

    • Futo Buddy

      if you get a tick do you leave it on there? do you swat mosquitos or let them have at you?

  • Anonymous

    these vermin cause disease. read darwin to understand you need to do what it takes to survive. period.

  • Jennifer

    I recommend a cat.

    • gorilla monsoon

      Excellent plan. Mice are vermin but cats love to eat them. If you cannot have a cat, mouse traps are imperative. We do not want another plague here.

  • Disqus

    I find your closing completely disingenuous. If you had actually cared about not killing these things you would have “cleaned house” and put your food items in proper containers, and the mice would’ve left on their own, since your space is merely a food source for them.

    You have no guilt about taking their lives away. There are many ways to humanely keep mice out of your space, but you chose–chose–to kill them.

    • Futo Buddy

      whats important is that he did it in a humane way.

  • Willa

    Use a Havahart trap and take mouse for a long drive. I did this and no mice in months.

    • Futo Buddy

      yeah they live in that guys house now

  • Futo Buddy

    he learned about being humane thats good.

  • Noble Smith

    When we lived in Seattle we had mice, and I would catch them in these humane traps and let them out in the park near our house. But they kept coming back. And then somebody told me they can find their way back home from over a mile away! So I had to take 15 of the little guys on a long trip to a very nice new abode at a different park. But they just kept coming, pooping everywhere.

    Our new house had rats. And there was no way to catch them. They were too smart. And they pooped everywhere on the counters and were even crawling on our pet rats’ cage, scaring the poor little fancy rats out of their minds!!! Believe me, we kept our house very clean, but they had found a way into the house (they can get through a hole the size of a quarter). One of them even jumped out at my wife from the top of the cupboard. It was insane. I started setting traps, and the rats were so smart they would scuffle gravel onto the traps to spring them, and then eat the peanut butter. I thought I had some of the NIMH rats invading our place. It cost us several thousand dollars to hire someone to seal off all of the cracks in our foundation (with this steel wool stuff), and even then I finally had to hire someone to set up poison traps. Very difficult for me as I am nearly a life-long vegetarian and lover of the little rodents. But they were destroying our house! They actually tore out the ductwork insulation to use it to make nests. They were in the walls, trying to chew into our kids’ bedrooms.

    Anyway, I totally sympathize with Ethan’s plight. And the image of that little mouse scuffling across the floor attached to the glue thing has to be one of the funniest/saddest sights ever.