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An aberration, a shadowy shade shift flashed in the corner of my eye. Struck with speculative terror, I began carefully examining my apartment. Yes, I found the scourge of city living: mice.

The pest guy arrived. The technician was a giant of a man. It seemed ironic that such a big guy would be the arch-enemy of tiny intruders. His instructions were clear. I needed to remove anything the mice might like to eat. He said a mouse has keen senses, best of all its sense of smell. In short, mice know where you are and can smell a scrumptious Clif Bar through its factory sealed plastic pouch. That explains the nibbled blueberry crisp. A closer look at my apartment uncovered little bits of the other end of the mouse’s digestive adventure. Indeed, I had unwanted roommates.

The technician looked me in the eye and said, “For mice, first it’s about food, then sex.” A mouse’s destiny is to find food, attract a mate, and make a family. A well-fed female can birth 25 to 50 pups per year. The pups are sexually mature in six weeks. If there is enough to eat, it’s time for Netflix and chill. Mice can live four years. Simple math says my situation can go from bad to awful in short order. I had to take immediate action.

The little scavengers scurry along baseboards, behind appliances and just about anywhere they feel protected. Over the millennia, a mouse’s predators came from above. Hence, mice avoid uncovered areas. Most of their work is accomplished at night. Mice dribble a signal trail full of pheromones and urine. These scented highways tell of territory, food availability and, you guessed it, sexual availability.

That is job one. Wipe the baseboards with a dilute mixture of bleach and water. Some say to spray a light mist of mint oil along the runways.Do the same to the countertops. The idea is to remove or obscure the mouse’s chemical signaling.

There are many types of mouse control devices.

The old Tom and Jerry mouse trap is the gold standard. They are quick, inexpensive, and disposable. There are many types from which to choose.

The Marquis de Sade adhesive traps are effective but horrendous. They rely upon an exceptionally sticky surface that smells like a mouse dinner. A mouse in search of food, passing by, or just curious will get stuck. A struggle further engages them with the surface. Their demise is slow. Generally, death comes from respiratory or heart failure, hypothermia or dehydration. Not a pretty picture.

Mouse “bait” is poison. Clever containers accompany the bait. The poison block is held in a way that is only accessible by mice. The little green blocks taste great to a mouse. After a nibble or two, the diner’s blood won’t clot. They slowly expire from internal bleeding. The poisoned mice become disoriented and take exposure risks, which makes them easy prey. The problem is that poison can harm their predators.

I tried ultrasonic deterrents. They emit scrambled ultrasonic sounds in the 22 to 65 kHz range. We can’t hear the squeaks but mice can, and that’s just the point. In stealth, they converse in the same frequencies. Mice sing “love ballads” in the ultrasonic range. These alluring tones are made by a near-supersonic airflow blown against the larynx. The conversations are simple: food and sex.

The machine’s electronic signals are weak. They can’t go through walls and can be absorbed by carpets and curtains. Their effectiveness is always in question. I liken them to the mouse equivalent of a very noisy bar. At some point, mousey couples say, “Let’s go somewhere else and have a quiet dinner and see what happens.” These ultrasonic devices are an irritant at best. The strong smell of food causes the noise to be tolerated long enough to grab a bite and scurry back into hiding.

The reoccurring theme is: no food, no mice. The technician put it so well. He stepped into a small room where things like rice, beans and (gulp) packaged Clif Bars were stored. He clapped his hands together in a preschool rhythm and said, “Tupperware, Tupperware, everything in Tupperware.” He further indicated that mice can gnaw through the plastic but generally get discouraged and go elsewhere.

I asked if placing things up on racks would help. He responded, “They love to climb.” We looked around for small holes through which mice could enter. Evidently, they only need a hole the size of the tip of you little finger. A properly motivated mouse can dislocate their shoulders and hips to squeeze through the tiniest of holes. We found gaps and holes, which were filled with copper scrub pad and spackle. “They can eventually get through that, but generally give up and go elsewhere.” He said.

Finally, in resignation, the massive technician said, “This house was built before the turn of the last century. It most probably has balloon framing which gives intruders an abundance of entry points and a superhighway between floors.”

We can’t keep mice out. They must decide to go elsewhere. Making your apartment unattractive is the overarching objective and food is the key. Mice are opportunists. They relentlessly search for the best place to set up housekeeping. The trick is to assure it isn’t your apartment.

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George Lipp has long lived in the Mission. He’s our volunteer extraordinaire – always out taking photos or running across crimes in progress.

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