“Get some traps and kill the little fucker,” my friend Sally said in a pragmatic tone.
She was referring to the rat-size mouse living in the water-heater closet on the patio outside the sliding glass door to my bedroom, 10 feet from my bed.
Two days before this, I had been awakened in the night by a loud bang on that door. I grabbed two weapons from my nightstand, a stun gun and hammer. The condo-community where I live recently had had a rash of break-ins. However, when I flicked on the patio’s light, sitting up on its haunches and waving its tiny arms at my housecat was an amusing, though huge, desert mouse. From outside, this rascally rodent was teasing the confused kitty on the inside. The cat jumped up and, again, banged against the plate glass trying to get at it. The mouse scurried away and squeezed under the closet’s door.
“Good guard cat,” I said sleepily and went back to bed.
Never one with a murderous temperament, after telling my friend this story I didn’t have the heart to follow her advice to “kill the little fucker.” I’d seen too many cartoons anthropomorphizing mice as good guys — Mickey, Mighty, Jerry. I’ve never hated “meeces to pieces,” as Mr. Jinks the cat used to ungrammatically say on The Huckleberry Hound Show. Yet I did need to take action. So I hatched a humanitarian scheme to scare it off with a broom. When that didn’t work I went to Plan B: a garden hose to flood its little lair. But the furry freeloader knew it had a good thing going and kept returning. The broom and water blitzkrieg did little more than clean up its feces and urine. To the happy mouse, then, I was more maid than mad.
Cats, rodents and mankind have been symbiotically coexisting since humans stopped being hunter-gatherers and became farmers, with storehouses of grain. Cats protected this food supply from the rats and mice. People, in turn, coddled and worshipped cats. And civilization grew and prospered. Today, there are about 85 million domestic cats in America, 315 million people and more rats and mice than people.
But such rodents have also helped spread disease in the world — bubonic plague, for example, which killed roughly one-third of all Europeans in the 14th century. Which brings us to the point.
“Mosher, one word: hantavirus,” my friend Sally said to slap me to my senses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, through 2011, 587 cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome have been reported in the United States, 20 in Nevada, with a 36 percent death rate. The virus is spread through the air near the feces and urine of infected rodents.
Five minutes after Sally pointed this out I was in my car, Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita” blaring from the radio, on my way to buy rat traps. Later, after almost losing two fingers while rigging the damn things, I carefully put them in the water-heater closet. By the next morning the traps had been suspiciously moved but not set off. And all the bait (peanut butter) had disappeared. Smart little fucker.
Now, at night, the cat and I sit on the patio waiting for our friend to return — me, in a protective breathing mask and rubber gloves, and my cat, the best mousetrap ever invented, getting in touch with his inner lion. Just like in the cartoons.
CHIP MOSHER is a simple classroom teacher.