Earning her keep…and then some

I’m well aware that on a traditional homestead, everyone and everything should contribute to keeping the place running – including the animals. So,  I do sometimes feel a small degree of annoyance towards our resident feline:

I mean, seriously, that cat has never set foot outside since she was rescued from a field by my brother as an orphaned kitten. Jason fills her food dish every single morning. She’s even finagled her way into our bedroom and spends most nights curled up on my side of the bed purring away. Any time one of us is sitting down, she immediately jumps onto our lap and makes herself comfortable. She certainly lives a cushy life, in my opinion! There’s days when I’ll be running around the house getting things in order, or working my tail off in the garden, and I’ll see her snoozing away on the couch and ask myself, “how does she rate?”

I will give her this – she does a really good job at hunting down pests. One not-so-great part about living in older homes is that we tend to see those nasty house centipedes on an occasional basis. You know, the ones that keep twitching after you kill them. Ugh. However, Clarice has always been persistent in tracking them down and either cornering them for us or wounding them enough to slow them down so we can finish the dirty deed. She does the same with earwigs, ants, and spiders – basically, any creepy-crawlers that you wouldn’t want in the house. She tends to ignore the harmless Box Alder beetles, though.

When we first moved in, we had a little problem with mice. Nothing out of control – we set some snap traps and caught two or three and pretty soon all signs of them disappeared. I think they maybe moved in when we moved in and had the doors open. Clarice had never seen a mouse a day in her life, so we were skeptical as to her effectiveness at guarding the house. However, one day we came home from work and found her sitting at the top of the stairs next to a dead mouse, proudly circling her kill. I guess there is something to be said about animal instincts!

Yesterday I was already feeling pretty proud of her – she’d helped me corner and kill a centipede on Tuesday. As we were eating supper last night, she kept going down in the basement and making a strange yowling noise. While we were a little confused, we figured she was just in a weird mood and let her be.

Sometime during the night (like, 3am sometime…) I woke up because I heard her rustling around in our bedroom. It sounded like she was batting something around, which was unusual because she’s typically in bed with us at that time of night, and even if she’s not, she’s not much for batting her toys around. Eventually, I realized that she was scratching at and under a little box that I keep near my side of the bed, and it occurred to me that she had probably cornered another centipede. Jason woke up as well, and hauled himself out of bed to help her take care of the invader. He flipped on the the light and lifted the box up quickly, ready to smash the creeper. The only problem was…it wasn’t a centipede.

It was a mouse.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly human beings move when there is something unpleasant in their general vicinity. I threw myself across the bed and hid on the other side, and Jason was up off the floor and on the mattress in an instant. I may or may not have uttered a famous curse word that my mom’s side of the family uses. Meanwhile, the mouse didn’t bolt across the room like we expected. It just sat there for a moment. Clarice didn’t go in for the kill right away, either. All four of us remained statue-like, not wanting to be the first to make a move.

The mouse casually began to pick it’s way along the wall, crawling over my journals and up onto and behind the trunk where I keep my extra winter clothes. Clarice followed it, but didn’t go to attack. I think maybe she knew she didn’t have a good angle or something? I don’t know. Jason and I were so stunned that all we could do was watch the darned thing play out until the mouse was wedged securely between the trunk and the wall.

The cat went into action then. She circled the trunk over and over, sticking her paw into the gap by the wall on one end and then quickly going to the other end to do the same. Obviously, no matter how far she reached or how fast she went from end to end, the mouse was out of her reach. Jason went to grab the broom and a bowl, and I commenced huddling on the bed unable to process the horror of the situation. The whole thing would have worked out splendidly, had the cat realized that Jason wanted her to stay at one end of the trunk and guard it while he tried to pull out the other end and catch the vermin. She just kept going back and forth, and eventually, Jason realized he was going to have to try something different. He pulled the trunk out just enough to get a good aim with the broom handle…and, well, I’ll spare you the gory details. There is one less mouse in the world as of 3:30am this morning…

Obviously, after this traumatic jolt out of a sound sleep, I wasn’t willing to get back into bed until we’d set traps in all of the usual places and checked under the furniture in our bedroom for the late mouse’s cousins. We didn’t find any, managed to set traps without snapping our fingers in our tired stupor, and tucked ourselves back into bed.

Just as we were falling asleep again, we realized that the beast had been awoken in our docile cat. There was some, er, carnage still on the floor behind the trunk, and I think the scent was driving her crazy and making her think that the mouse was still back there. She was circling, scratching, sniffing, and all sorts of predator-like things. In an effort to calm her down and let us get some sleep, Jason coaxed her onto the bed and actually let her lay in the middle (gasp! He always banishes her to my side). She purred away for about 30 minutes, but just as we were finally falling asleep AGAIN she got up to work her rounds once more and fixated her attention on the trunk. I realized that she wasn’t going to leave it alone until we did something about the scent, so I grudgingly got out of bed, pulled the trunk out, doused the whole thing with vinegar (which is the best non-toxic way to neutralize odors, in case you didn’t know) and wiped the mess up. This seemed to do the trick, because she commenced with checking the whole house once more (I could hear her sniffing) and then finally settled into bed for the night. She did give the trunk a good going over when we woke up, but that was the extent of it.

When we left for work, she was still on the prowl; sniffing along all the walls and in the basement. I’m really, really hoping this is just due to her being on “high alert” and doesn’t mean there’s a whole army of vermin lurking in the walls. In addition to the traps, I’ll be setting out some cotton balls moistened with peppermint essential oil (a scent that mice hate). Between that and the traps, we should be able to keep the house clear. Even though I don’t like the fact that we had a mouse within arm’s reach of our bed, it was a big relief to see that Clarice is so persistent and attentive. I joked in the car on the ride to work that she and Jason were like a hunter with his hounds.

I might add that, while I was falling asleep for the final time, I was ruminating on cats and their instincts and thinking about lions stalking their prey. I had an odd dream which, among other things, involved huge mountain lions roaming the fields of Door County with their cubs. What a night!

 

 

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