“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, timorous beastie/O what a panic’s in thy breastie.”
~~ To A Mouse by Robert Burns
Aye, Bobby Burns--a kind, thoughtful Scot. In this poem he promises not to chase a tiny mouse with a “murd’ring pattle!” Most of us, though, aren’t kind to mice. We talk about getting rid of them, or doing away with them. People never say they’re going to murder the mice. And long ago, we knew that we had a mouse in our kitchen. He had left wee, round, black turds on our counters.
Yet there is no such thing as one mouse. House mice (mus musculus) come in herds. One female usually has 8 to 10 litters every year, with 6 to 14 pink, hairless pups each time. If we suppose 10 litters a year, each female averages around 100 pups per year. What if our mouse was a pregnant female?
Our Head Assassin promptly put a baited mouse trap in the cupboard under the sink and left for his office. I sat very still and very sad, sipping my tea. I decided that when I heard the trap spring, I would take the poor animal outside and let it go.
But as our poet wisely observed, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men/Gang aft agley.” The trap sprung, our mouse cried out, and I froze in my seat. The mouse began to moan. He moaned again, and I prayed that he would die quickly. But no. Moan, moan, rest. Moan, moan, rest.
I couldn’t stand it. I—a supposedly superior mammal—had conspired to kill what was probably an expectant mother. I yanked open the cupboard door where the mouse was moaning and reached for the trap. Terrified, it squeaked, jerked itself free, and darted behind the adjacent cupboard. Now it was between the wall and the cupboard. Safe.
I called my friend Barbara, who came with her teenage son, Larry, and Mousie Tung, their professional pussycat. We could all hear the rhythmic moaning of the mouse as soon as I removed the pots and pans from the cupboard where he'd gone.
The husky marmalade cat sniffed the entire cupboard, nosed the back wall for some time, then turned around and planted himself, as if prepared to wait. Larry said, “Unless we tear out the cupboard, we’ll never get that mouse. It’ll just have to die back there.”
And so it happened, as far as we know. Yes, it was just one mouse, but I’m supposed to be a caretaker of our planet where ALL lives matter.