Of Mice and Men (or Housekeepers)

An interesting story from the old forum:

“There’s a problem with the laundry,” called Drema, the housekeeper. “Could you come downstairs and take a look at it?”

I hurried down the basement stairs to find Drema holding a blanket that she had taken from the dryer. The blanket was splattered with brownish red stains.

“What is this?” asked Drema. “The blanket wasn’t like this when I put it in the wash.” She rubbed at one of the stains with a finger. The mark came off. “Do you think it’s rust?” She pointed at the rim of a washing machine that was slightly rusty. “And what’s that? Is that a ball of lint?” She reached into the dryer and came out with the largest ball of lint I’ve ever seen. She rolled it around in her fingers and suddenly – staring up at her – were the beady eyes and grimacing teeth of a dead rodent. Drema was holding the decapitated head of a dead mouse.

For a small woman, Drema has amazing lung capacity. She screamed and threw the mouse head into a trashcan.

“Where’s the rest of the body?” she demanded. “It has to be in the dryer. You clean it. I’m not touching it.”

I sighed and bent down to look at the dryer. There was another “ball of lint” inside the machine. I got a paper towel and picked it up. It was a second mouse head. I threw it away and looked again. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any bodies.

“Where are the bodies?” asked Drema. “Are they in the washing machine?”

I looked in the washing machine. There was nothing there.

After talking to Drema we decided that there had probably been two live mice in the washing machine when she dumped a queen sized blanket on top of them. Unable to surface because of the blanket, the mice drowned during the wash cycle. Their tiny bodies were then shredded during the spin cycle. The heads remained entangled with the blanket – but the rest of their bodies were torn apart washed away. While examining the floor we even found a mouse’s tail.

Needless to say, the laundry had to be done over again. Since we have two washing machines, Drema used the 2nd machine. I had to clean the first one. I poured a heavy concentration of bleach and soup into the machine and turned on the wash cycle. After draining the wash, I wiped down the interior. Bits of hair kept turning up on the paper towels – but no heads or tails or feet.

A call was put in to the local exterminator who came to check some of the traps that he’d scattered around the inn. A dead mouse was found stuck to a piece of sticky paper in distant the corner of the basement.

“Where there are two or three, there are probably more,” announced the exterminator.

“Oh geez,” groaned Drema who began dancing around in her open toed sandals. She looked around the basement as though she expected a horde of mice come scampering towards her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Vermin are an unfortunate fact of life. Buildings are not only wonderful homes for people, but they’re also potentially wonderful habitats for rodents, ground squirrels, snakes, and insects.

The space between walls and the dark recesses of the basement and attic offer nesting possibilities for a variety of creepy-crawly critters.

How to Recognize a Mouse Infestation

Droppings that look like a bit like black grains of plump wild rice, the sound of muffled squeaks and pattering feet, freshly gnawed marks, urine stains, tracks, and a musky smell are all indications that mice are active in your facility. (The dead mouse in the washing machine was a distinct clue). Mouse nests, made from finely shredded paper or other materials, may sometimes be found in hidden locations.

How to Control Your Mouse Population

The best way to control your mouse population is to actually mouse proof your facility. If you can successfully keep the mice out of your home by denying them access, you won’t have a problem.

This is easier said than done. Since mice can squeeze through openings that are just 1/4 of an inch wide, you will need to secure all openings.

Check your doors, windows, and screens to make sure they’re snugly installed. Cover window edges with metal to prevent gnawing. Fill cracks in the building foundation.

Since mice need food and shelter to survive, the elimination of food and/or hidden places to live will curtail or eliminate a mouse population.

Keep your kitchen clean! Dirty dishes piled in the sink, trash that hasn’t been emptied, and food left on the counters are an open invitation for hungry mice.

Use appropriate storage techniques to store your food. Put grains and flour in containers with tight fitting lids. Store bread in ziplock bags. If you put out cookies or other treats for guests, place them in glass jars with tight lids or on plates under heavy glass domes.

Set traps. There are many types of traps available ranging from wood-based snap traps to sticky paper and multiple capture live traps. Place these traps out of sight in dark corners, under furniture, and against walls. Traps may also be set on ledges or shelves especially in rooms where there is evidence of mouse activity.

If you’re leary about setting or inspecting traps, contact an exterminator.

Why Worry?

Why worry about a mouse infestation? The presence of mice implies a lack of sanitary conditions. If guests know or suspect that you have a mouse problem, your inn will lose business.

Rodent infestation has been linked to a number of contagious diseases that include typhyus, rickettsial pox, salmonellosis (acute food poisoning), typhoid, and dysenery.

Since mice like to build nests, they will gnaw away at your insulation, your electrical wiring, stored linens and comforters, and just anything else they come across. Mice who die inside the walls of your facility may also create secondary infestations from insects that feed or breed upon carcasses. Their rotting bodies will also create a distinct stench.

If you have a commercial kitchen, the presence of vermin will result in an order for closure from your local health department. Since some health departments routinely issue press releases to local papers, a forced closure could result in a permanent loss of business.

I am pleased to say that the incident I related took place over a year ago. An exterminator was immediately called. Additional traps were laid. Existing traps were inspected. The kitchen was thoroughly re-cleaned. A contractor helped to seal cracks. Our biggest problem turned out to be that the exterior cellar doors were rotting. The old plank doors were replaced with a galvanized steel door. No evidence of mouse infestation has been found since the new doors were installed.