Wildlife: Not for animal lovers

Living in Northern Virginia, in a suburb of Washington DC, has it good side and it’s bad. It is, to be a sure, beautiful country. When I first visited DC, I came on a business trip from Japan. I had imagined Virginia as a rural land of tobacco, plantations and a bunch of hayseeds. Boy, was I ever wrong. The taxi ride from Dulles International to the city revealed a country that was quite arboreal. There was no mistaking the suburban housing, the office buildings and shopping centers, but it was beautifully arranged, mixed in unobtrusively with the natural greenery of the area.

When I landed my current teaching gig in DC a few years later, I knew I wanted to live and commute from Virginia. A lot of people prefer to live in the city, but most of these people are the true hayseeds. I was born and raised in LA, lived near San Fransisco for three years, and in Tokyo off and on for about ten years. I know metropolitan when I see it, and DC is not metropolitan. It has its monuments and its government buildings, but the city is basically dead by 12 midnight. Yes, Georgetown is rockin’ ’til the wee hours, especially on the weekends, but Georgetown is to DC what Westwood is to LA, a fun dynamic college town within the city proper.

Of course, Virginia is not very metropolitan either. But it doesn’t pretend to be. The bars close at 12 midnight, there are lots of police on the road making it a rather secure area, and young men and women I do not know will greet me with a “Good afternoon, sir” when I walk by them on local streets. Yes, Virginia is a part of the south, nice and quaint, but as I said, it doesn’t pretend to be urbane, which is all nice and comfy for M and me, with one exception.


I live near the Vienna Metro station, in a community of townhouses that is next to a county park, the same park where Robert Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence agent, made drop-offs to Russian spies. But this not the kind of wildlife that bothers me. This area is chock-full of critters, from deer and possums to cardinals and blue jays. And in general they stay on their side of the street. Except for squirrels. I have come to view them as rats with furry tails. They climb on our roof, chew on the ledges and drain pipes and even made a hole into our attic causing hundreds of dollars of damage. Grrrr…. No feeding the squirrels, please.

Field mice are also an issue. They usually stay in the field, but when they smell food–like when young people in the neighborhood have parties and don’t clean up after themselves as well as they should–they will come to investigate. And, man they know how to find a hole. I found mice droppings in our basement next to the washing machine recently. M wanted them out immediately, of course–you never know what disease rodents might harbor–but when I suggested traps, she wanted humane traps, one where we could catch the critter and release it safely back to the woods in the park. I tried to convince M that mice are smart and persistent, and that the only good mouse were dead one, but she wouldn’t hear of it. First I plugged up every hole and crack I could find inside the walls and outside. I used a thing called Great Stuff that is a foam-like compound that sprays from a can, expands and hardens to a consistency that feels like really hard styrofoam. I had hoped that the mice traveled in and out of the house and that I had sealed them out, but I still found fresh mice droppings the next day. In fact, there seemed to be more than before. Ugh! I wondered if I had trapped the mice in by sealing the holes, a thought I soon confirmed when I caught my first glimpse of a mouse scurrying away from a hole I had sealed when I turned on the basement light. It was probably trying to find the original hole. mouse trap

So we went to buy a humane trap at Home Depot that trapped mice in an enclosure from which they cannot escape. Or so the box said. I found out the next day that a little peanut butter–as the instructions explained–will quickly attract a mouse, but the trap door was another story. It was tossed to the side as if the mouse was taunting us–Hah! You think this puny door is gonna keep me in? This mouse checked in but it still checked out of this little rodent motel.

Convinced that I was right, M relented and I set up four small snap traps baited with chunky peanut butter in the basement along the walls where the mouse or mice were obviously travelling. M was lamenting a bit, but I assured her that it was either them or us. And since we pay the mortgage, it was them. The very next morning I found three very dead mice. M was having a fit, so I quickly wrapped the mice in sheets and sheets of newspaper, shoved them into a plastic bag, then into a plastic bag, and then finally into a plastic bag, which I then tossed into the garbage can. I must have washed my hands for about eight minutes. The good news is that I have not seen another set of mice droppings since–its been almost a week–so I think we are rid of our rodent problem for the time being.

Unfortunately, M is now developing a relationship with a rabbit that visits our backyard every morning and late afternoon. I don’t think its a wild hare, but rather an escaped pet, for it’s too fat to have grown in the woods. She feeds it lettuce, cabbage and the occasional carrot. Some days, she will feed it a variety spring greens, including arugula and basil. It’s no wonder that Pyonkichi–yes, M has given it a name–keeps coming back. On a hot day like today, it was stretched out like Cleopatra in our backyard, relaxing after a fine meal of greens. Pyonkichi is obviously getting very comfortable. I keep telling M to stop feeding it because it will start leaving pellets around our yard, and the vegetables she leaves out will only attract a new set of unwanted critters. She acts as though I can no longer speak Japanese.

I’m now hoping some mice will show up so she’ll realize the problems of feeding animals that don’t belong to us. Well, almost hoping…