• Paul D. Wilke

The Mousetrap Fiasco

Since starting this blog almost three years ago, I've mostly avoided telling any anecdotes from my daily life. First off, not much happens that's worth writing about. I suspect many find the writing here wind-baggy enough as it is. I don't need to bore you all to death with tedious tales from my life.

Second, I don't want to write directly about the people in my life on the off chance that they read this blog. Yeah, I know, that's a low-risk scenario, but still, better safe than sorry.

I'm going to break that rule this one time, if for no other reason than it's a story presenting a dilemma I've been unable to resolve. As for the worry of writing about people I work with, well, this is a story that reflects poorly on me, and I won’t name any names. And as you'll see, I’m the doofus here, not them.

Okay, first a little background. I work in a 100-year old building in downtown Paris, France. Like most old buildings in Paris, this one has some mice. Several months ago, I heard my co-workers talking about how one of the glue traps had finally caught a mouse.

Really? Glue traps? What did they do with the mouse, I asked? Well, they had just opened the window and set the glue trap, along with the still squirming mouse, outside on the window ledge. That was on Friday. It was now Monday of the next week.

I asked them to show me. Maybe the little fella was still alive. They took me to the window ledge in question. Nope, there the mouse was, stuck on that trap, but now very dead.

My colleagues thought it was hilarious. To me? Not so much. In fact, they found it kind of funny that I seemed bothered by that dead mouse on a glue trap.

"Really? Is a grown-ass man really upset about a dead mouse? Come on! Pathetic!"

A little more background: I'm vegetarian and almost, but not quite, a vegan. I have been for over seven years now. I do it for ethical reasons, which some find baffling. For me, seeing a dead mouse on a glue trap was not cool. I didn't like it.

After this, I determined to do something about it. The first thing I did was go around and pick up all the glue traps and throw them in the trash.

I was going to show my colleagues a better, more humane way to deal with our mouse problem. I wanted to be an example of another way, and one not ending with the death of a living creature.

I went online and bought a couple of humane mousetraps, paying for them out of pocket. They duly arrived about two weeks later, and I set them up around the office where the mouse sightings had been most frequent.

Okay, enough background.

Now, the fiasco.

First, the mice proceeded to dunk on me, not once, but three times. The food I left in the trap was duly eaten without springing shut the trap's door. There was something Wile E. Coyote about me those first few days, coming into the office each morning to check on my ACME traps only to find that the mice had scored on me again by eating the food. Of course, this was amusing to my co-workers, my good intentions thwarted by the very rodents I was trying to help.

Next, I tragically scored an own-goal. This part pains me to write. So I went on checking the traps daily for about a month. Other than those few times when the mice ate and escaped unscathed, nothing happened. Time passed, my attention moved on, and I slowly lost interest in checking the traps. Then the fall break at school sent many in my office on a bit of leave. The guy in the office next to mine took a week of vacation followed by a week of official travel. His office was empty for over two weeks.

Did I mention that I had left one of my traps in his office? Well, he returned and walked into my office that first morning back. He was carrying the cage. "Well, it looks like your trap finally caught a mouse," he said, smirking.

Yep, it sure had, but the mouse had starved to death because I hadn't been checking anymore.


Not much happened over the next few months. The mice, perhaps chastened by their mate's death from starvation, now avoided the traps entirely. Nothing worked. I moved them around the office and switched to some more mouse-friendly bait. I was certainly checking the traps every day now, as I should have been all along, but they weren't getting fooled again. I’m convinced they now sensed in some mouse sort of way that danger lurked near those tempting morsels. They kept the hell away.

Meanwhile, the mouse sightings continued to increase, many in broad daylight. The grumbling over my lack of results grew louder.

My boss mentioned that he had seen another mouse, the second in a week, scamper across the carpet in his office. He said that my traps were all fine and good, that he admired my "kind heart," but come on, they weren't working. More lethal methods needed to be applied. I demurred. He let it drop for the moment, but I could see where this was heading. My efforts might be vaguely admirable, but wouldn't be tolerated indefinitely.

Another co-worker scoffed that I was just virtue signaling, that I really didn't want to catch any mice, but to ostentatiously show everyone how morally superior I was by employing inefficient traps that didn't work instead of lethal ones that did.

I disagree, but I can see how it looks that way, given the course of events so far. The sad fact is I hadn't really war-gamed this out very well. Looking back, one might think I had received my talent for planning from Southpark's Underpants Gnomes.

Really, though, what's the difference between me and them?

Here was my master plan:

Phase 1. Catch the mouse

Phase 2. ?????????

Phase 3. Success!

Say I catch a mouse, what am I going to do with it? Let it go? Where? Do I take it out to the crowded park across the street and let it go in the dead of winter? It would almost surely die of exposure, just like the mouse on the glue trap that spurred me into action in the first place. Do I just take the mouse to another part of the building and secretly let it go, knowing it’ll probably just make his way back to the office?

I guess by doing so, I could claim victory by spinning the tale that the traps had actually worked, that no life was lost, and that our mouse problem was solved. But, come on, that would be bullshit! The problem I couldn't resolve was this: once I caught a mouse, I also became responsible for it. Unfortunately, I didn't have a viable way to handle that responsibility which achieved my goal of getting rid of the mice without hurting them. I wanted to show that killing wasn't the only option, but I failed to demonstrate how that could actually work in practice.

What a dumbass!

Then came the weekly staff meeting and the revolt. I should have seen it coming. Patience had finally run out. Several people talked about all the mice they had seen lately. The boss too. Someone asked him if he could have permission to apply his own methods to the mice infestation. Or, as he put it, "to catch the mouse and let it die of natural causes [on the window ledge] through unnatural means [the glue trap].” Hardy har har! In some pique of frustration, he claimed that "The glue traps worked before! What Chief’s (me) doing now isn't." The boss nodded solemnly and replied, "Absolutely, you have my permission to take whatever means you deem fit to solve your mouse problem. Go ahead, enough is enough."

I heard snickering and giggles break out in the room. I was the butt of the joke, and everyone knew it.




But what did I expect?

So what's my way forward? My approach was well-intentioned but not well thought out. My incompetent execution has me back to square one, with the caveat that I now look like a bleeding heart idiot. The glue traps are coming back, and there's not much I can do about it. There’s no case I can make to do otherwise. I had my chance and botched it completely. My credibility here is nil.

That's the trap I let myself fall into. I ended up feeding a stereotype people have of vegetarians as naive do-gooders. I did nothing to change that stereotype. No, in fact, I may have reinforced it.

Something else I've noticed over the years: for the most part, I haven't faced much overt hostility to my vegetarianism.

That said, mild contempt and subtle ridicule seem to lurk right below the surface when I tell people why I believe what I believe. People will put up with my ethical quirks, as long as I'm not too open about them, and as long as they don’t become inconvenient. If I try to practice what I preach, if I show what it means to not want to kill any living creature, even a mouse, then that contempt and ridicule bubbles back up to the surface.

When you’re the only in a group who thinks something is wrong, and you say so, then the group will kill you with humor, making a brave moral stand little more than a punchline. Once that’s the case, you’re done changing any minds. You can only fight mean humor with good humor, but there’s a cost to such compromises. When everything’s a joke, nothing is taken seriously.

I wrote in another article last year that the way to open minds about animal ethics was to quietly live the example, rather than getting in people's faces and preaching to them about it. I called it passive proselytizing, letting my lived example make a case for me over time. In this case, that lived example backfired on me spectacularly.

So, what do I do in this case?

Nothing, that's what.

I'll pull my traps since I have no good options for getting rid of a mouse if I catch one. I must at least be honest about that. At the same time, I will do nothing to help my colleagues catch mice on their own. I'll not purchase glue traps. If ordered by the boss to do so, I'll delegate the task to one of my subordinates. I won’t do it. That's the best I can do this time.

I'll learn from my mistakes and do better next time. In the meantime, I'll hope that the mice are as clever with those glue traps as they were with my cages.

I'm rooting for the little bastards.