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Chester Diehl checks under the stove, Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 2010

A Better Mousetrap

Living too close to nature

by Madeline Strong Diehl

From the November, 2010 issue

Chester, our loyal rat terrier, was the first member of our family to see the mouse. He suddenly bolted upright and stood in a state of total readiness, a look of utter perplexity fixed on his face. In his four years with us, Chester has seen a lot of things come out of our stove: pot roasts, pies, Toll House cookies. But never before had he seen a mouse come out, stand in the middle of the kitchen floor, and squeak "Oh-oh!" in mouse language.

There ensued a chase of heroic proportions as Chester pursued the mouse through the front hall, into the living room, past where I sat in the dining room, and back into the kitchen. The mouse then disappeared back under the stove with a triumphant, defiant chirp that set Chester into a fit of outraged barking.

You might think that being chased by a dog twenty times its size might send a mouse packing, but no. The mouse came out two more times that day in escapades of increasing daring. The chase always ended with the mouse disappearing into its redoubt under the stove and Chester skidding across the floor and smashing his nose into the oven door. Tail drooping, he would return to where I sat.

According to Wikipedia, rat terriers were "bred for speed to control vermin" and "cherished as loyal and efficient killers of vermin on twentieth-century farms." But as I watched him barely miss his mark day after day, I began to question Chester's resolve.

So I asked my husband to kill the mouse.

"I don't believe in killing mice," my husband said, and opened the screen door, saying the mouse had probably entered our house by mistake and just needed to find its way out again.

"Are you kidding? Now that it knows how many Dorito crumbs our kids drop all over the house? It's here to stay. We have to kill it."

"Why should I have to kill it? I thought you were

...continued below...

a feminist. You are just as capable of killing it as me."

"I am under a lot of stress."

"Well, maybe I'm under a lot of stress, too. Besides, you know way more about the mouse now than I do. You know about all of its personal habits and what it likes to do all day. I think you are in a much better position to plot the murder than me."

I am a Quaker. I do not like the idea of killing mice, either. So I decided to try a philosophy of peaceful coexistence. "Live and let live," I reminded myself the next day as I heard the wineglasses clinking against each other in the dining room, where the mouse was climbing up our wine rack to get to the peaches on top. Now accustomed to these "mouse alarms," Chester nobly launched himself into the fray. Once again unsuccessful, he plopped himself down on the floor next to my desk with a disgusted sigh.

I went out for an appointment and came back again, hoping that Chester had finally done the deed. Instead, I found three mouse turds on my desk.

"This is not acceptable," I told Chester. "This mouse has just crossed over the line."

The next day the mouse crept out from under the stove as usual, and as usual Chester chased it unsuccessfully. Then, within an hour, it came back out again--only it seemed to have doubled in size.

Maybe my mouse was a chipmunk? Before I could get a good look, Chester lunged. I heard the telltale sound of his nose banging against the stove as his quarry escaped underneath.

Over the next few days I heard a metallic clanging as the creature squeezed through small pipes and passageways. And day by day, Chester's self-esteem eroded. He became a nervous wreck and startled at every sound. During his naps--once the highlight of his day--his legs moved in nightmares as he chased some prey, only to wake suddenly, yelping (and crashing into a stove, no doubt). He had always greeted me perkily when I woke up each morning, but one day he was nowhere to be found. "Chester, are you ready to go for a walk?" I called, trying to flush him out. A heavy sigh issued from the foot of my bed, where an indistinct lump burrowed deeper under the covers.

Great. Now the mouse had sent my dog into a clinical depression.

Chester stopped chasing the mouse that day, and in fact he did not seem to even see it anymore.


"Live traps," my neighbor Marilyn said when I told her about my dilemma. Yes! That was it! I could humanely catch the mouse, then drive several miles out of town and release it in a farm field where it could pass the rest of its days living an idyllic pastoral life.

Unfortunately there'd just been a cold snap, and Ace Barnes Hardware was out of mouse-sized Havaheart traps the day I went in. Doug Dick, Ace's man in the vermin-disposal department, told me he thought live traps were a cop-out, anyway. "People in town feel sorry for the mice and buy live traps because they don't want to kill them," said Dick, who grew up in the country. "People'll drive the mice out miles away, but then they [the mice] just come right back. And what makes city people think the people out in the country want their mice, anyway?"

When I asked his advice, he recommended I just buy a plain, old-fashioned Victor mousetrap at a price of $1.99 for two (and made in America!). I ended up buying two different sizes because I still felt very confused about exactly how big our mouse was, and whether or not it was actually a chipmunk.

When I got home, my husband was there. "I finally saw the mouse," he told me. "And the chipmunk. It turns out we have both."

There was some wrangling over who would take on the negative karma of baiting the traps. I finally gave in the first night, and there was nothing in them the next morning--no cheese, either. But we set the traps again that night, and the next day my husband reported we had caught the mouse. As for the chipmunk, we never heard a chirp out of it again. We assume it found its way back outside.

Meanwhile, even without the use of antidepressants, Chester has more or less returned to his old self--he's even chasing squirrels again. But now I'm noticing a familiar pattern: he will get right up to the point where he could take down his quarry, then just barely miss. I no longer think this is just coincidence.    (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2010.]


On December 8, 2010, Thomas Taylor wrote:
Thanks for printing the piece by Madeline Strong Diehl about Chester the rat terrier and his apparent reluctance to catch rodents. It reminded us of our scottie dog, Agatha, who moved on to doggie heaven some years ago. She kept our house rodent-free as long as she was with us. After catching a mouse, she would be discovered sitting proudly by the front door with the corpse displayed at her feet when we arrived home. The longest scottie/rodent battle we can recall was not with a mouse, but with a gerbil who escaped from its cage and lived under our base-board heaters for several weeks. It was the best month of Agatha's life as the gerbil would taunt her by gradually advancing out into the room and then disappearing under the heater while Agatha pounced and crashed nose-first with a metalic bang. I think she took our laughter personally, so when she finally had her little gerbil trophy to display, she looked particularly triumphant. Now, with no scottie to replace Agatha, once more we rely on the trusty Victor snappy-traps to keep our house rodent-free. Nowhere near as much fun. Don't let Chester read this.

On January 4, 2011, Madeline Diehl wrote:
In regards to Thomas Taylor's spurious comments, which seem to cast aspersions on my dog's character, I DID indeed show his letter to Chester, and Chester referred me to my father, who owned Chester for several years in Illinois before Chester came to live with us. In a phone call to my father, he reported that Chester used to be a fearless hunter, who "could take down animals twice his size," up until the day Chester caught a large possum. This was not a pleasurable experience for Chester, and so he sensibly adopted his present more tolerant posture towards animals which might turn out to be more fierce than they look at first. I think this only speaks well for Chester's common sense, and if Thomas Taylor wants to take further issue, well, he knows where to find me.

On January 5, 2011, Lori wrote:
Would you like to borrow one of our cats? They make excellent mousetraps, and it's a eco-friendly, neighbor-friendly solution! No "casting of aspersions" intended toward Chester. Please tell him I said hello, and would he like to live with a cat?

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