you can do it.
this whole thing
by a mouse.”
– Walt Disney
While buying catfood at the pet store, my never-a-dull-moment husband showed up next to me in the checkout line with a small squeaky cardboard box.
When I asked about the box, he told me he was “rescuing” two feeder mice, the kind raised for snake food. Peering into the box he whispered more to the mice than me, “No snakes will ever eat THESE mice.”
Once home Joseph decided the mice would homestead an old aquarium. We mounded paper pellets in the tank and watched their “mouse nature” unfold. Mice are unbelievably industrious and curious. About EVERYTHING. Nervous, too.
I stuck a hunk of wool in their home thinking they’d nest in it. They skirted it for an hour, never touching it, studying and staring. No, it hadn’t been there earlier. Yes, it appeared to be here now.
They were sure it had dropped from outer space. Engrossed they studied it. Standing stock still, their tiny brains would suddenly hit overload and they’d pop straight into the air. Boink-boink-boink.
Hours later, assured the wool wasn’t alive, they dragged it under a tiny upside-down basket, snuggled in and fell asleep.
Joseph decided the aquarium was too boring for these brainy little guys, so he built a bigger, better cage, a project that took him and our neighbor a whole week. This was a project I’d guess could, at most, take half a day, right? I mean, it’s four plexiglas walls with a screen on top. What could possibly take longer than that?
I must have forgotten for a moment who I married. Joseph doesn’t think small, he thinks big. Really, really big. When the mouse-house was finished, it took both Joseph and the neighbor to carry the enormous cage across the yard and into our living room. The cage was the size of our kitchen table and nearly three feet tall. It was Disneyland for mice.
These mice, you’ll remember, came home in an animal cracker box. They seemed quite happy in the ten gallon aquarium they first lived in so I hadn’t thought they needed more. I wasn’t expecting a mouse-house the size of a crate you’d ship a German Shepherd in.
But size alone doesn’t make a cool mouse-house. Joseph built toys for the mice. A two-tiered plexiglas shelf with a food dish on top and no direct entry. Rather he made challenging ways to get to the food: tiny string tightropes taughtly stretched end-to-end, a hanging knotted rope bolted from the cage roof.
The mice studied the ropes for 20 minutes. They stood on hind legs sniffing corn and grain up top. Then, by trial and error, they climbed the knot and leaped onto the second floor to eat, or took a running start and raced across the swinging tightropes to get there. They loved it.
He made stairways from egg cartons with the scoopy little egg-hollows as lumpy stairs. He connected plastic tubing and made tube tunnels. He even put a viewing platform up top so they could haughtily survey the living room, which they did. The Emporers of Mousedom.
Outside the cage another adventure unfolded: I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly fascinating this was for our cats. Don’t worry, the mice were safe. Joseph put sixteen one-by-two inch bars under the steel mesh reinforcing the top of the cage, fully expecting multiple cats would sit atop it. In his usual style, he built it strong enough to hold a fifty pound child.
Our cats hovered on the sides of the cage looking like cat-vulture bookends. Each cat silently bapped at the glass, sure they could catch them if they swatted quickly enough. The mice inside totally ignored them.
Our cats have ALWAYS slept in bed with us but the first mouse night found us cat-less on our bed. Finally at 2 a.m., we, too, got up from bed and sat with the cats in the living room under the glow of moonlight watching little mousies zipping and zapping beneath the purring, bapping cats atop their cage. For the first few weeks our cats slept near the cage delightedly whispering, “Mice in our home! We’ll never leave this paradise!”
And how did this affect the mice? Standing on their hind paws, they analytically sniff-sniff-sniffed all cat hair that appeared through the mesh roof holes. Never having known cats, the mice were completely unfazed by them.
One curious mouse did manage to goose a cat asleep on his roof by poking his teeny pointed nose into her furry exposed belly. I’m sure you’ve seen cats, even from a dead sleep, fall and land on their feet. I’m happy to report that sleeping cats, when startled straight up, also land on their feet.
Our girl cat landed wide-eyed on the cage top, then stared straight down into the mouse’s eyes. I swear the mouse had a smile on his face. Could there be any mouse-task more Olympian than goosing a cat?
Happy mice, guarded by cats, not eaten by snakes.