July 26


Mice woke me by operating through my hair- I have never been the same since | Brigid Delaney


Cat Behavior

The thought of killing, especially poisoning, live animals seems unbelievably cruel. But its different for rodents

On Wednesday, around 3am, I hear someone stomping in my bedroom, wearing enormous boots.

” Argh! AGH !!!”

All I have to defend myself with is a hardback copy of Cloudstreet from the library, which I lunge at the person.

By the time I turn on the light, I realise it is much worse than a person: it is a mouse.

I have a phobia- Greek word meaning irrational fear or dread.

It’s always been there( had there been a rat in my cot ?) but it worsened 10 years ago camping in the west McDonnell Ranges during a mouse plague.

We were sleeping in swags on camp beds on the ground. Hundreds- or was it thousands?- of mice would come to the camp at night, trying to get into the food, and anywhere warm. It was like free immersion therapy: I would be woken by mouse operating through my hair, mice in the swag, mice crawling up my legs. Shine your torch on the ground and there was an inland sea of them, a gross moving mice-carpet on the ground.


Something in my psyche shattered on that trip and was never rebuilt.

I’ve not been the same since.

Sleepless and distressed after this latest mouse encounter. I fulfill two friends, Jenny and Cassie, for lunch on Anzac Day.

” I have a mouse! In the chamber of representatives !”

They roll their eyes. One mouse is hardly worth mentioning in the country.

” I have tonnes of them ,” said Jenny.” They’re so loud! It’s like they’re wearing hobnailed boots .”

” I keep getting woken by the traps running off in the night. I have to get up and dispose of them in the yard. If they’re not dead, I have to kill them .”

This killing is fascinatingly gruesome.” I used to hit them over the head with a brick but now I use a trowel because their eyes run …”

Jenny did this motion with her hands and face which we understand immediately to be a mouse flattened by a brick. I don’t know what a trowel is but it couldn’t be as bad as being bludgeoned by a brick and not still dying.

“Well,” said Cassie.” I had a rat .”

A Photograph: Bob Oliver/ Getty Images

We lean forward in horror. A rat is next level.

This rat, this fucker, bigger than anything Cassie, who is American had insured” outside Chicago”, came into the house at night and destroyed the kitchen. It got into the panty and chewed through plastic( THROUGH PLASTIC !!!) to get to food. It” destroyed the food in the pantry with efficiency in one go “.

It shat everywhere, it knocked stuff over. It took a few nights, but eventually the rat was trapped.

” How do you even exist ?” I wonder about Cassie.

On Sunday, I go to my friend Brad’s house for brunch and tell him about my mouse. He tells me that in his old house, the mice and rats used to come up from the river.

” There was this sound one night ,” said Brad, who is still traumatised. He pointed at the fruit bowl.” It was a rat rolling an orange on the floor .”

When he went to investigate, he found the orange with” bits gnawed out of it with rat teeth marks “.

Another time he saw a rat in the bedroom.” I’ll never forget the sound- it was somewhere between a groan and a scream .”

” The rat ?”

” No, me !”

Brad now lives in a brand new house.” Do you live in a new house because you’re less likely to get rats and mice ?”

” That is integral to the reason ,” admits Brad.

He tells me some people live with mice( maybe rats, who knows) because they don’t believe in killing them.

House Photograph: Paulo Oliveira/ Alamy Stock Photo

There’s no such thing as a clean kill, he reckons. If you poison them – you may not see their bodies but cats or birds could feed the rodent that has gone away to die, and then they may become poisoned too. There are some truths that are inconvenient.

The thought of killing, particularly poisoning, an animal seems incredibly cruel. But rodents are “othered” in a way that say, birds or possums are not.

At 7.20 am on Monday morning, a pest control man comes to the house. He strolls around with a bucket of poison and latex gloves and puts bait traps near the bed, bin and fridge, as well as in the roof.

Although he is probably not much older than 19 or 20, the presence of mice( or a mouse) in the house, has an infantalising effect on me. I ask him, in what I fear may be a little girl’s voice, to tell me a story about what happens to the mice. He replies almost lyrically,

” When the mouse takes the poison, it goes home to die, back to its own environment, usually down by the river .”

” Down by the river … that’s nice. And does it tell its friends and family before it dies , not to go to the house on the hill, because bad things happen there ?”

” Yes, the mouse tells all its family and friends to stay away from the house .”

” Ok, great !”

If the mouse don’t go, perhaps I can move to a newly built highrise apartment, somewhere, anywhere. They won’t be able to get me there.

Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist

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