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There’s a mouse in my house...now what?

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Marcos Rodriguez of University Hardware in New York City explains which mousetraps are most popular among customers. (Photo by Amy Tennery/CNS)

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Marcos Rodriguez of University Hardware in New York City explains which mousetraps are most popular among customers. (Photo by Amy Tennery/CNS)

It was 11:30 p.m. when I noticed the intruder in my apartment. My heart froze.

He looked at me with beady, curious eyes, as though he hadn’t expected to see me at home. He wore a dark fur coat, and overgrown whiskers covered his face. I leaped to my feet and wondered, What is he going to do to my apartment? and, worse, What has he already done?

When the initial shock wore off, I saw that the little guy was kind of cute. Then I realized I had fallen victim to one of the more common New York apartment horror stories: mouse infestation.

Mouse problems have become so rampant in the city that New York actually opened a special rodent-control academy three years ago. My visitor blew his cover when he poked his head out from under my couch, as I sat with my feet curled under me, off the floor (thank God). As I looked at my shivering, terrified visitor—whose eardrums I probably blew with horrified screams—I knew I had to get rid of him, but I didn’t want to hurt or kill him.

I know that’s illogical. Mice can sicken you and your family. They can chew holes in your clothes and furniture. Their dander can exacerbate allergies and asthma, and perhaps worst of all, mice don’t operate alone. If you see one mouse in your home, there are most likely dozens more breeding furiously out of sight.

So what’s the most humane way to take care of a mouse problem? Industry experts are divided on the issue. Traditional traps make mincemeat of a mouse, but more innovative ones like box traps, which capture them, are expensive and can malfunction. And rodenticides—poisons for rodents—leave no chance for survival.

My apartment-dwelling peers strongly favor the sticky trap, also known as the glue trap. It’s a wooden plank coated with an ultra-strong adhesive. One classmate said he captured a mouse on a sticky trap then helped it escape by pouring vegetable oil on its feet and poking it with a pencil until it freed itself. This was no doubt a harrowing experience for the mouse, but it did escape unscathed, and my classmate no longer had a mouse problem.

Sticky traps, however, may not be the kindest mouse removal method.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claim that sticky traps rarely work as they’re intended. They can trap birds, sicken children and kill mice through thoroughly inhumane means. Mice often have heart attacks due to the stress of being trapped or, worse yet, survive for hours before succumbing to starvation and dehydration, says Tom Demersman, a sales associate with Do-It-Yourself Pest Control.

Snap traps, those with a spring that breaks the mouse’s neck or spine, seem crueler, but Demersman says they actually cause an instant, virtually painless, death.

“Once he gets stuck on there, he’s stuck,” says Demersman of glue traps. But with snap traps, “it’s like ‘Whack! You’re done.’ It doesn’t sound more humane, but it is.”

But what if I want to get rid of my mouse without killing it?

The kindest method of mouse containment seems to be the live trap, which captures the pest but keeps it safe and sound. The ramped mousetrap is the best of this variety, says Demersman. This type of trap locks a mouse in a holding cell, from which you can safely remove it later. You even can leave a treat for it to enjoy while it waits for you to find it.

But live traps come with their own set of problems, says Craig Riekena, a 20-year compliance manager at Bell Laboratories, a rodent-control manufacturing group.

“Live traps are great at making you feel good,” Riekena says, but are not great for ensuring a mouse’s health and well-being. Once a mouse is released into the wild, separated from his compatriots, his chances for survival diminish greatly.

“You have to drive him out to the woods,” once he’s captured, Riekena says. “Well, imagine if I drove you out into the middle of Africa. If they get lucky and find another mouse colony, they’ll kill him. Mice don’t accept outsiders. It feels good to drive it out to the woods, but it certainly doesn’t help the animal at all.”

So is there no chance my mouse could survive? PETA begs to differ.

The organization recommends live traps for humane mouse catching. For a cheaper alternative to pricey ramp traps, try placing oatmeal or a dab of peanut butter in a water drum, says PETA representative Ryan Huling.

This doesn’t address the problem of post-capture survival, so I’m beginning to think my only shot at saving my mouse’s life is to make it a permanent guest. After all, keeping a mouse as a pet isn’t fraught with the same challenges as taking in other accidental roommates like raccoons and ex-boyfriends.

Of course, the most humane way to handle a mouse problem is to avoid one in the first place, says Riekena. Watch out for open windows (I keep mine open constantly), and avoid leaving food around (let’s just say my dishes like to lounge sometimes). If I seal up my apartment and become a little tidier, I might avoid another intruder, says Riekena.

I haven’t seen my furry friend since our late-night encounter, so I’m waiting to decide on an appropriate trap. Still, I can’t shake Riekena’s parting words: “A general rule of thumb in this industry is, for every mouse you see, you probably have a half a dozen to a dozen more.”

Now where can I find the nearest hardware store?

E-mail: att2113@columbia.edu