Cambrian: Opinion

Building a better mousetrap isn’t as easy as it sounds

Abby the cat stays vigilant for any potential intruders of the rodent variety.
Abby the cat stays vigilant for any potential intruders of the rodent variety.

Before my husband, John, and I retired to Cambria’s backcountry in the Santa Lucia Mountains, I read a column in The Cambrian about wood rats building nests in a ranch truck. That story was written by Lee Wintz who, before his death, wrote the monthly column called Notes from the Hill about life in Cambria’s backcountry. It was the precursor of the current Mountain Musings column Michele Oksen and I have shared since 2007. Let us just say that Lee’s story was my first hint at what was in store for us, once we moved here permanently.

Lee was right. If you move into rodent country, these charming little rats and mice will view everything you bring with you or build as new B&B options, now open for business. For our first year-and-a-half here, we lived in a fifth-wheel trailer. We were challenged daily by mice trying to sneak into the trailer, so we bought Tin Cats, humane mouse traps, for our catch-and-release program. However, mice are pretty determined, once they decide they want to live inside, and they taught us the new game of “human and mouse” that kept us busy, stopping up even the tiniest tunnels into the trailer.

In spite of Lee Wintz’s story about the rat’s nest in his truck, I never expected to find mice inside the cab of our truck because we keep it safely in our garage. But … when we were ferrying friends around Sedona, Arizona, last fall, one of them asked for a tissue. When he pulled one out of the box in our truck, it was all sort of shredded. Uh oh. Later, on closer inspection, we discovered mouse droppings in the tissue box. That was a clue. As I started checking around with a more discerning eye and nose, I found additional evidence of mouse habitation.

Desperate, we did the unthinkable. We set mousetraps on the floor of the front and back seats. How do you explain to passengers in your vehicle that they’d better “mind their feet” to be sure they don’t accidentally set off the rather obvious mousetraps? Awkward.

In spite of the traps, I still heard mice scurrying around in the truck, somewhere out of sight. When we asked our mechanic how to keep the mice out of the truck, he said to put bars of Irish Spring in the truck — that mice hate that “fragrance.” Frankly, I find eau d’Irish Spring almost as unpleasant as the smell of mouse pee, at least in such a confined, hermetically sealed space as a truck.

After months and months, we think we might possibly have the truck mouse free, but we still set the traps and suffer the Irish Spring.

After we moved into our house, we found that we had openings that could be breached. However, with wire mesh barriers, we’ve been able to keep the mice outside in their more traditional mouse housing. Everything was going pretty smoothly until about a month ago when mice found a new way to sneak into the house by hitching a ride, if involuntary, with our cat Abby. Even though we adopted her last year, she has just recently started serious hunting in our fenced yard.

One day, when we let her back into the house and were clearly not paying enough attention, she bounced into the house with a mouse gift in her mouth. She promptly dropped the mouse, which scurried under my recliner. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t seem to corral the little hitchhiker. When our Australian shepherd Blue came in, he almost knocked the chair over, trying to go after the mouse.

Time passed, but the mouse was still working on building a new life somewhere in our house. We had to leave for a short vacation, knowing the little critter was loose in the house, doing things we didn’t really want to think about. It was still missing when we returned, but it did finally show up later. I’ll spare you the gory details.

As far as mice are concerned, our life has changed forever. In the truck, John has to check the mousetraps all the time, definitely not my job, and I find myself listening for the pitter patter of tiny feet and sniffing the air for the inevitable. At the sliding door to our living room, we always have to check Abby’s mouth for “foreign bodies” before we can let her back into the house. “Say ah, Abby.” Currently, we seem to have a successful strategy for coping with the mouse problem, but we dare not let down our guard.

Mountain Musings appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Email Marcia Rhoades at