Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Mouse In The House

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! Most of you probably don't know that today is my birthday. I turn forty-seven fabulous years old, and I don't mind a bit! Seems like the older I get, the better I get: wiser, more sensible, more comfortable being me. Let's face it - many people in their twenties are idiots! I know I was. Most people in their thirties still have a lot to learn. But I think by the time you get half-way through your forties, you finally get a few things figured out, and you stop caring so much what other people think. It's a calmer, easier place to be. Something happened last night, though, that threatened to derail my happy birthday.

I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire - something I frequently do when the t.v. offerings are less than exciting - when favorite cat Junebug calmly plopped a dead mouse down in front of me, then laid down a foot or so away. I believe her thought at the time was something along the lines of, "You can have it, Kelly, I'm done with it." When I examined the poor creature closely and realized there was no bringing him back, my heart sank. The tone in the room immediately changed, and it's been off-kilter ever since.

I'd known for some months that we had a boarder: I kept finding mouse poops in the knife drawer. The knife drawer as litterbox was a mystery to me until it hit me that the cupboard holding the bags of cat food was directly underneath. As long as he wasn't eating my food, his presence didn't bother me. After a time, though, he stopped pooping in the knife drawer, and I didn't give him another thought.

We had a number of mouse boarders when I lived in the converted chicken coop. I always knew when the cats were after them by the way Buddy and Spanky would stake out spots in the laundry room and stare for hours at a small hole in the wall. Once in a while, all five cats would go racing off into the spare bedroom, or the living room, hot on the trail of some poor terrified creature. Most times, I was able to rescue the mouse and set him free outside.

But no one among the cats has done anything like Checkpoint Charlie here at the new place. It was as if we had no mice in the house at all. So I was stunned by the sudden appearance of that poor dead mouse. I looked at Junebug and asked, "Why did you hurt the mouse? It's not good when the mouse gets hurt." She looked up at me, uncertain about the flat tone in my voice. Over the course of the evening, I asked her that same question several times.

In a curious irony, earlier yesterday I had discovered the presence of a mouse - though not the critter himself - in the trunk of my car. I had gone to the trunk to retrieve a spare bag of cracked corn for the ducks. When I popped the lid, I noticed a mouse-sized hole in the bag, and a pile of corn husks on the floor nearby. Glancing at the duffle bag that I keep extra winter clothes in, I saw a pile of duffle bag shavings, as well. Someone had definitely made himself at home!

I went through the duffel bag but found nothing. Before cleaning up the corn husk mess, I grabbed my camera and took pictures of the evidence, so that I'd have something to show you later. Oddly, when I grabbed the same camera to take pictures of the dead mouse, hours later, I found that the damn thing had died on me in the interim. Minolta Freedom Zooms have a way of doing that, and I've gone through three or four of them in the last two years. You'd think I'd have learned after one or two camera deaths, but alas, I'm a creature of habit! I can say this, though: Minolta has done more to push me toward upgrading to a nice Canon digital than any t.v. advertisement!

In any case, it was too late at night to consider burying the mouse then, so I found a mouse-sized box, wrapped the little fellow in a tissue and tucked him into the box, then put the thing in the freezer until morning. I spent the rest of the evening searching Ebay for yet another Minolta Freedom Zoom Right To The Garbage Can, then staring blankly at Junebug as she lay on the family room floor. She kept glancing up at me in a manner that suggested she knew something was terribly wrong. Her behavior this morning confirmed that understanding.

Junebug's morning priority is kibble. It's the first, most important thing she wants, and every morning, she lets me know this, as though I'd somehow forgotten overnight. But she lingered next to me on the bed, purring as though to reassure me that things weren't as bad as they'd been the night before. Still in a dark frame of mind, I dragged myself to the kitchen and plunked some kibble in her dish. Instead of eating, though, she chose to join me in the bathroom. This was unprecedented. Junebug never passes up a chance to eat fresh kibble! But to my surprise, she jumped up on my lap and purred some more.

It's unlikely that she felt bad about the mouse - that had probably fallen off the radar the minute I put the little guy in the box. But what DID seem likely was that she picked up on my listless tone, and my heavy heart. And those things clearly bothered her. She even went so far as to jump up on the bed when I climbed back in, purring and head-butting in a clear attempt to raise my spirits. So far, she's been unsuccessful. I'm not sure why.

It's not as if I WANT to feel crappy. In fact, I was surprised to have awakened today in the same low frame of mind I was in last night; I assumed I'd sleep it off. But something about that small victim has stayed with me. I genuinely like field mice. They're cute, and they possess a certain assured audacity, attempting to live among us as though it's not a conflict of interest. As a walk down any pest-control aisle in any store will attest, though, most folks are not like me. Which makes me admire their ability to survive in spite of us all the more. I had no more problem sharing my cats' kibble with a mouse than I did sharing the trunk of my car. Call me strange, but that's what makes me the Critter Lady! And therein lay the problem.

I didn't start out in life as a Critter Lady. When I was a child, I never said, "When I grow up, I want to have cats and ducks, and let mice live in my house!" I actually came to critters rather late in the game. I had spent an intense year caring for a sickly, dying cat. The vet had privately given him three months to live - and that had been optimistic. But I poured heart and soul into his care. I did midnight sub-cutaneous saline treatments. I cooked rice in tuna water, just to tempt him to eat something that might firm up his constant diarrhea. I endlessly combed his coat when he became too sick to care for it himself. I did whatever it took, and then some. And my reward was that he chose to keep on going for over a year, exceeding the vet's prediction by ten months. It was the finest thing I've ever done.

When that cat died, I had a lot of pent-up critter-caring energy with no outlet. Slowly, over time, I acquired one cat, then two, then three, four, and five. I found the ducks, who charmed me into a level of involvement I never could have imagined at the time. I met a therapist, who led me to horse therapy, which led me to my now-long-standing association with that wonderful horse rescue facility, The Healing Barn. My life, my house, my heart, and my photo albums, are filled with the animals I've come to love so much. You would think that that would make being the Critter Lady a good and satisfying thing, and for the most part, it does. But caring for so many animals - and being on alert for problems 24/7, can be exhausting. Especially when you lose one.

Fiance John heard my tone on the phone last night, and offered to come stay with me because of it. I told him I'd like that, but he was absolutely NOT allowed to laugh when I told him why I was upset. To his credit, he didn't laugh. In fact, he reassured me that my caring about whether a field mouse lives or dies is one of the things he loves best about me. I'm very lucky to have found a man who gets me, who understands that ALL critters are a priority for me, no matter how small.

So it's been a rocky start to my forty-seventh year. I hope things improve from here! John and I will be going to our favorite Japanese restaurant tonight, where I plan to drink a big glass of plum wine and try to put this recent loss behind me. After all, there are still lots of critter who need my attention!

That's all for now, folks. I want to wish a Happy Birthday to all my fellow Scorpios - may all your birthdays be great ones! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

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