I’ve reached the point where I can blog about the pests that inhabited our house when we first moved in. I’ve never considered myself to be squeamish, but dealing with the snakes, mice, spiders, and camelback crickets that we found here pushed me quite close to the edge. In light of everything else that was going on (having recently had a baby, moving countries, quitting my job, buying a house, spending nearly a month away from Chris while visiting family) finding so many unwanted guests living here with us was almost too much to handle.
Here are some photos of what we were dealing with:
A brown field mouse.
Black Rat Snake
Camelback Cricket, or Cave Cricket (a cousin of the Weta)
And last but not least, a type of black or very dark brown spider. I looked at photos online but, to be honest, I haven’t studied any of “our” spiders up close when I come in contact with them. My M.O is to smash, spray, or yell for Chris whenever I see them
There’s a big part of me that thinks it’s silly to have been so upset by these pests. I grew up surrounded by cornfields and soy beans. Pests are a part of life out in the country, and I knew that living surrounded by woods, as we are here, would mean the occasional rodent, bug, or snake. I just didn’t expend to find them in such large quantities.
I’ll begin with the mice.
When we first moved into our house, we had almost no furniture. The previous owner left a queen-sized sleeper sofa, a large china hutch, and a 6 chair dining table with an extension leaf. We arrived with our suitcases (4 of them), a queen sized blow-up mattress, a toddler blow-up mattress, and a portacrib. That was it. We had thought about sleeping on the pull-out sofa but quickly nixed that idea when, upon removing the cushions, Chris noticed a lot of “dirt”, as he put it. I took one look and knew that that “dirt” wasn’t dirt at all – it was mouse droppings. There were great big piles of it and the stuffing was sticking out in places. I thought, “Oh no – this isn’t a good sign” but, to be honest, the rest of the house looked fine… superficially. Yes, there was the dirt and grime that exists when a house has been inhabited by an elderly person who can’t always keep up on the chores, but the toilets, kitchen counters, and the floors were all neat and free of debris.
I quickly realized that getting rid of that sofa was going to be an expensive problem. We needed it gone ASAP (the last thing I wanted was a mouse crash pad in my home) but I knew we couldn’t donate it to any of the local charities. The rule for donation is to ask yourself, “Would I give this to a friend?” and I certainly would not have given that sofa to a friend. We could throw it out at the local dump, but that meant renting a large truck and, in the end, it was more economical and convenient to hire a junk hauler to deal with it. I requisitioned a pick-up on 1-800-Junk.com and a father-son team took it off our hands that same day. It was a great decision despite the cost.
If only the rest of our mouse troubles were so easily dealt with.
Chris assured me that the mouse droppings in the sofa were most likely old. He reminded me that we’d gotten an “all clear” from both the home inspector and the pest inspector. We later found that the pest inspector, who had been hired by the previous owner, had only checked for termites, nothing else, and the home inspector had completely missed the mice. He had noticed the presence of bugs, but apparently didn’t feel the need to notify us of them because (a) they weren’t the types of bugs to cause damage to the structure, and (b) he figured that with all of the spiderwebs it would be obvious we had some sort of spider problem. Well, yeah, but we didn’t realize how massive of a problem it was till we lived here, but more on that later.
Suffice to say that the droppings were not a sign of a past, now taken care of, mouse infestation. It was a present infestation. Very, very present. I had a mouse visitor the very next morning while I drank my tea. Me and Mr. Mouse had an up-close-and-personal encounter at 5:30am that ended with him running one way and me running the other in my slippered feet, bathrobe flapping behind me as I tried to keep my screams to a low decibel.
Over the next few days I killed more than 2 dozen mice. I bought snap traps and went after them with shoes, a fly swatter, and at one point caught one under Joe’s yellow sand pail. Chris came home to a note reading “There’s a mouse under the yellow pail in the kitchen doorway – you need to take care of it!” and found the yellow pail held in place by a tea kettle.
I found mouse droppings galore. I would reach a gloved hand holding a soapy rag into the kitchen cabinets and scrape it across the shelves, then lift up the rag and find it covered with little brown mouse pellets. I wore a respirator mask and couldn’t vacuum because of not wanting the poo to became airborne and get inhaled by my family.
I called the home inspector – we purchased an extended home inspection contract and man, was I glad that we’d done that. It included recommendations, repeat visits if needed, and help with fixing things or with giving advice on repairs. He agreed to come back out and the woman I spoke with (his wife, I believe) was incredibly sympathetic. She gave me the number of a pest company and I called them + 2 other companies toot sweet.
Long story short(er): all 3 companies told me that we had a major mouse problem. One inspector killed a mouse right in front of me, leaving a bloody, furry residue ground into the carpet. Another showed me video of our crawl space where there were mini-mountains of mouse droppings and walls covered with camelback crickets. Another pointed out the claw and teeth marks on some of our cabinet doors where mice had crawled there way up over the months… maybe even years.
Is your scalp crawling yet? Mine was. I was ready to move into a hotel and Chris had to really work to convince me not to!
The home inspector came back out and I think he got the picture that I was rather disturbed. The house had been inhabited up till 10 days before we took possession, so the excuse of “Well, the house was empty, the mice probably made themselves at home once the humans were out” didn’t pass muster. He agreed to pay half the costs of the extermination. I’d already spoken with our realtor and been told that we’d be lucky to get him to pay for anything, so covering half the fees was likely the best we could have had done. But I couldn’t help but feel a mite upset about the whole thing – had the infestation been noted before, we would have definitely had the previous owner take care of it. Now, we were left holding the bag. Part of why we’d chosen the extended home inspection package had been to get peace of mind regarding pest infestation, and yet there we were facing a big issue.
It took about 3 weeks for all of the mouse troubles to be cleared up. During that time, I was told (a) not to vacuum up any droppings, (b) not to keep more than 2 days’ worth of food in the house at any one time… meaning lots of trips to the grocery store, and (c) to put any and all garbage outside in a sealed container immediately – no leaving it in a trash bin under the sink.
Now imagine being home with 2 small children during all of this. Naturally, we wanted to play on the floor with toys, only the floor was covered in carpet and I couldn’t help but think of all the hidden mouse droppings buried in the fibers. I laid blankets out for us to play on, but of course Joe wanted to go everywhere. We would be playing and mice would sometimes run right across the floor – yes, across the floor, not hugging the edges – which made me feel that I couldn’t so much as leave the room with the boys playing in there. What if a mouse came up and bit Jack or scared Joe? Unlikely, but still possible.
For several mornings I would wake up to find mouse droppings on the counters or on the kids’ toys or, in some cases, on our new-to-us sofa. I’d get up early to clean everything all over again and throw out the snap traps (the exterminator used poison, but I still put out my own snap traps).
A little note: the exterminator had planned to use sticky traps. The problem with this was that I’ve seen mice stuck to these traps and heard the stories of them ripping their own skin off or pulling themselves across the floor while their hind legs are stuck. They eventually starve to death, but it’s your job to pick them up and put them in the garbage. I want the mice dead, but give me a quick… or at least quicker… death any day. The poison is contained in traps that cannot be opened with anything other than a key (I insisted on the pest tech giving me a demonstration for my own peace of mind) and while death isn’t immediate, it is quicker. It causes the mice to look for a water source which usually drives them outside. Then, they die. Yes, if you have a pet it’s a concern as the pet might eat the poisoned mouse and then be poisoned themselves, but we don’t have a pet and all of our neighbors with dogs keep them indoors and on a lead when walking them.
So, the mice were poisoned. As explained by the pest tech, we saw a decrease in mouse activity right away but then saw an uptick as the juvenile and baby mice came out looking for food. I felt like a bit of a cruel brute when I saw those hungry, orphaned, baby mice scampering around :-/ Oh well. The baby mice found the poison, too, I suspect, and eventually we saw them no more.
It seemed like all was better and, truth be told, I haven’t seen a mouse in over 6 months. But their presence is still felt. About a month after we got rid of them, I decided to remove all of the recessed lighting in the house. I wanted to give it a thorough scrubbing and spray paint the fixtures with a hard white enamel paint. All was rosy in the garden till I reached our master bath: I pulled down one of the fixtures and was right away showered with dried mouse droppings. Ack! It triggered some sort of acute stress reaction because I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and started to clean everything in sight. For the rest of the day, I was on edge and felt as though I’d been transported back to when we first moved in.
The mice also moved up our time schedule on ripping out the carpet. After 2 weeks of being here, I knew that I couldn’t stand the carpet any longer. Seeing how freely the mice roamed around and knowing that I couldn’t do any deep cleaning without making the mouse droppings airborne gave me the willies. Chris wasn’t quite on the same page as me, but when he heard my reasons and saw how important it was to me to get that carpet gone, he said, “OK – if that’s what we need to do, then lets do it” and he supported me 100%. I can’t say how much that meant to me – he was willing to spend the money, no questions asked. I had 3 different companies out to give quotes and I’ve not been the least bit sorry that we got rid of the carpet and had the floors re-done.
We found traces of the mice again when ripping up the carpet. Chris and I did that part on our own to cut costs. We had to have that big heavy china cabinet moved out and I decided to donate it. It was nice, but I realized that it was too formal for us. I tried selling it on Craigslist but do you know how many people are getting rid of china cabinets in the Williamsburg area? Lots. In the end I figured it was more expedient to simply give it away. When the volunteers arrived to haul it off, we found a carpet of mouse droppings underneath it in a perfect shape of the china cabinet’s base. I was grossed out, embarrassed, and had to do my Lamaze-style breathing to keep calm!
We live in the woods. I fully expect that at some point or another, we’ll have mousy visitors once more. I’ve even strongly considered buying a cat – something I never thought that I’d do – to help keep the mouse problem under control. I’m not quite there yet
In the end, this problem came with a few life lessons. Always look for the silver lining, right? I was reminded that it’s really hard for me to give up control and to admit that I’m not a super-human. I like to think that I can do everything on my own. When I got the prices on the extermination and regular bi-monthly treatments, I balked. I thought, “I can handle this myself, can’t I?” I also thought that I would be able to refinish the floors on my own. I thought that I could do a lot of things on my own. But in the end I learned that there are times when it’s worth every penny to have someone else do things for you. It was worth it to sign up for regular pest treatment. It was worth it to have someone else deal with refinishing our floors. It was worth it to pay someone to haul away the sofa rather than dealing with it on my own. I can’t do everything by myself, but I can outsource!
So, that’s the story of the mice. It made me sad to think that the previous owner, an elderly woman, had likely been living with them for quite some time. I’m glad that she doesn’t have to deal with them anymore… and neither do we!