Rats and mice can be adorable if they are your well-behaved pet, or if they are singing cartoon characters in a heartwarming tale of one Russian mouse family who overcomes adversity while immigrating to New York City and later, Goes West. Otherwise, they're disgusting cesspools of disease, unwelcome interlopers in your indoor sanctuary. And, given that they are tiny, nearly infinite in number, and above all want to break into your house, eat everything, and have babies behind your radiator, chances are good that at some point in your adult life, you'll have an unwelcome rodent guest. And all the screaming in the world won't make your mom appear to get rid of it for you.
Muster up the courage to do what needs to be done. They've probably already pooped in your coffee and made furious rat-love on your favorite sweater. They've probably put their restaurant waste covered feet all over your cutlery. This will not stand. Abandon all affection for the Mouskowitz family of cartoon-land. You can't coexist with them; they will ruin all of your things and possibly cause an electrical fire. They have to go.
First, determine what you're up against: wild mice, house mice, or rats. If you get a visual of your interloper, take note of how big it is — if it's shorter than 5-6 inches with smallish feet and a tail about as long as its head and body combined, you're dealing with a mouse. If it's longer than 5-6 inches, with oversized feet and devil-eyes and spewed out from the bowels of Hell, you're dealing with a rat. Visual evidence isn't required to identify the presence of a mouse or rat, though. For example, if you find large rodent turds (longer than a quarter inch or so), you're probably dealing with a rat. I've you've heard them but haven't seen them or their droppings, sprinkle baby or talcum powder along the floors near your walls and check back periodically for footprints. Rats can leave footprints that are up to 3" wide, but mouse feet are usually less than half an inch wide. If you're living in a city and hearing scurrying in the walls and finding big tooth marks on things, err on the side of rat.
Decide what method you're going to use to eliminate them. Think of the mouse or rat like a relationship that has become untenable — you can get rid of it quickly and coldly or succumb to your less-base emotions and try to keep it alive for awhile, knowing full well that eventually it will die because of something feeble and embarrassing (the mouse or rat will probably die of getting its limbs stuck underneath dumpster wheels or drowning in garbage water; the relationship will probably die over a bickering match over why you think baseball is not boring). There's the "humane" way of live-trapping and release, and then there's the horrifying but effective "kill it and have nightmares about it for weeks" way.
It's much easier to justify live trapping a mouse than a rat, because mice did not cause the bubonic plague and thus don't have the blood of millions of dead Europeans on their hands and mice are much smaller and less likely to give you rabies. Thankfully, live-trapping a mouse is pretty easy. Find a long cardboard tube — paper towel tubes work well here, and flatten a portion of it so that you can set the tube down on the flattened portion and it won't roll. Next, take a little dab of peanut butter or seeds or other mouse-friendly foods and place it inside the tube, on the flattened surface, on one end of the tube. Next, grab a large bucket (at least 10 gallons) and place it on the floor next to a low table or other surface, like a shelf. Balance the baited tube so that the baited end hangs over the edge of the counter or table. The idea here is to convince the mouse to run into the tube (mice love tubes), thus putting too much weight on one end and falling into the waiting bucket below. Once this happens, release the mouse at least a mile from where you live or in your ex boyfriend's foyer to ensure it never returns to your house. Of course, if you fill the bucket halfway with water, this method of trapping a mouse can also be lethal, if that's what you prefer.
Now, let's talk deadly rodent solutions (Deadly Rodent Solutions is the name of the thrash metal band that I haven't formed yet, so don't steal please). Snap traps, while old fashioned and low tech, seem to have gotten the best results from the people I informally surveyed. Buy some at your local hardware store, bait them with food that rats or mice would find delicious, and set them up along a wall, as neither mice nor rats have very good vision and usually prefer to get around using walls as a guide. Mice tend to be drawn in by seeds or peanut butter; rats prefer hot dogs, bacon, or your own tears of frustration. Snap traps don't always kill the rodent immediately, and so you might have to finish the job yourself (recommended method: wrap in garbage bag, yell "I AM THE WARRIOR AND THIS IS THE FINAL BATTLE!" to psych yourself up, and hit with hammer), but snap traps are more immediately deadly than, say, sticky paper, and less likely to kill your neighbor's toy poodle than poison. Forget about electronic traps — a male cohort has been having an all-out war with rats for the better part of two years now, and all he's caught in his expensive electronic traps is an adolescent robin. Poisons kill rodents, but they often die in hard to reach places like inside the wall next to your headboard, which will cause your entire house to smell like John Wayne Gacy's porch for weeks. It's important to note before setting any sort of deadly trap or poison that these methods don't discriminate, so don't leave them anywhere that might lead to their being encountered by a domesticated pet or a child.
Never handle a rodent intruder with your bare hands, dead or alive. Don work thick work gloves and thoroughly clean the area where the mouse or rat has been captured and then take a piping hot shower while trying not to imagine a rat climbing up through the drain.
If you have a cat, your problems are minimized in a number of ways — you don't have to do the dirty work of killing a tiny wriggling thing with your hands or a hammer, you don't risk having that particular mouse or rat return, and you'll give your cat the very greatest day of its entire life of murder dreams deferred. Just let your pet do what nature intended and wait for it to lovingly place the mangled carcass at the door to your bedroom. This is your cat giving you a present. ("Thank you for feeding me and cleaning up my poop for all these years. I believe this will make us even.") If you don't have a kitty but your mouse problem is persistent, consider borrowing a cat from a friend. My brother and his wife own a particularly fierce giant black cat who is so adept at mouse control that they sometimes lend him to their catless neighbors. Look him up if you're in St. Paul. His name is Ray and he will kill all of the mice. The cat has a wonderful time, the mice are eliminated without the use of poison or traps, and nature exists as it was designed to. Dogs, especially terriers, have been known to kill rats, so if you've got one, put its yappiness to good use. If this were the magical world of Harry Potter, an owl would solve a rodent problem extremely easily, as they're better at controlling vermin than cats or dogs.
Now that you've gotten rid of your tiny enemies, keep them from coming back. Mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime and rats can get through a hole that's less than an inch in diameter, because, again, rats were designed by Lucifer himself on a particularly gassy day. You're going to want to close those holes by shoving them full of steel wool (if the holes originate outdoors, you should mix broken glass in some concrete and fill them that way, otherwise rats will bite through your fucking walls). Food should always be stored away from the floor in glass or metal containers (both mice and rats can bite through plastic; rats can bite through drywall and electrical wire). Garbage should be discarded in a heavy metal container. I was horrified to learn that Norwegian rats can grow to be 16 inches long and can climb into your house through water pipes, so, there's another compelling reason to leave the toilet seat down. (They can also jump up to three feet. Sweet dreams.)
Of course, if your place is infested (like my current roommate's old apartment building) you should call the city's Animal Care and Control. Here in Chicago, we have our own Bureau of Rodent Control, but they're mostly useless unless you're former Mayor Richard Daley's second cousin who got all C's at Northern Illinois University and really needs a $80K per year job with the City right out of college. Other cities may be more effective at controlling rodents. Ask around.
Now, what did we learn today? While we can thank rodents for the continued existence of mammals in the face of the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs, nowadays they're mostly a pain in the ass. It's much easier to prevent rodent infestation than to combat it once you're being besieged by them, but if you've already found a rat, your life isn't hopeless. You've probably already got The Black Death, but it's not hopeless. Using a little pluck, some gloves, and a lot of gag reflex control, you'll get through this. And your cat might finally live out its dream of murdering something tiny.
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