He’s not a new pet. He’s a field mouse, probably an adolescent, who came in under the door using that almost supernatural ability mice have to flatten themselves and squeeze through any space. You’d think he would’ve chosen a house with less cats. Any house in the neighborhood would probably fit that bill – since this house has seven.
And yet, only one cat alerted me to THE MOUSE’s presence. Nonny, my tabby Siamese whose hobbies include chewing up sweaters and pulling bristles out of the broom, spent an entire day staring at the broom closet door. This could mean many things coming from Nonny. It could be that she spies the bristles of the broom under the door and hopes to give them a good tug. It could mean a wolf spider has managed to take refuge out of the way of her grabby little paws. Or it could just be that the door looks interesting today. I would’ve never supposed that when I opened the closet door, there would be a very small, fat mouse sitting on the chess set. But there he was sitting pretty as you please and apparently not deterred by cats or humans. He was cleaning his little face. This is all within spitting distance of Mr. Cat, a reformed feral colony cat who was known in the past to have terrorized chipmunks, squirrels and once a raccoon.
Mr. Cat does nothing. He sees the mouse. He does not care. Perhaps he thinks that there are mice in every closet. Perhaps there are. Nonny peers at the mouse. Now visible to her, he looks very shoddy indeed. He has no feathers or bells. He is not orange or pink. He is small and brown and he just sits. Until I try to catch him with a small box. Then he runs behind the boxes of board games and peers warily at me.
The mouse is not the first ‘critter’ to make his way indoors. Last year, a small garden snake made his way in through the garage, into the mudroom, and took up residence under the laundry hamper. Again, it was Nonny that let me know about the intruder. Of course, after a day of being pawed at by a Siamese cat gone cross-eyed with interest, the snake was in no mood to be caught in Tupperware and relocated to the relative safety of the garden. Relative because the garden is not a safe place for small things scaled and furry. There are feral cats, neighbors’ dogs, neighborhood children, and, of course, Fionna, a tabby yard cat known for tormenting songbirds, mice, and even small ducks. I once saw her chase a Pekinese across three lawns. She is not a cat with which a mouse would like to reckon.
There’s no real way to keep mice (or in my case, small green garden snakes) out of your house. No matter how secure your door or sturdy your door seal. If the glaring eyes (and smell) of seven cats doesn’t deter a mouse from scooting under my garage door, then there is probably little that will. So I’ve decided to buy new door seals and to make sure that my garden is more attractive to wildlife than my den.
There are quite a few ways to make your yard and garden a haven for animals. Here are just a few ideas, but a quick search online will turn up many more:
- Plant pet-friendly: Not only do pet-friendly plants like lemon and bee balm, catnip, and thyme smell great, but they are friendly to both neighborhood pets and to wildlife. Bright blooming plants also attract hummingbirds and bees and make your garden a more interesting place for you and your pets. You can find a full list of pet-friendly plants on the ASPCA’s website.
- Put up feeders for birds and squirrels: You may even want to consider a bat box. I have one and bats are wonderful at keeping down the number of aggressive garden insects, like Japanese and Box-Elder beetles. If you do decide to have bird feeders and houses, be sure to squirrel-proof them. If you don’t, the squirrels will modify them for their own use by nibbling the openings to make them large enough to accommodate a squirrel or pull them down. I’ve found the best way to co-exist with squirrels is to offer them their own feeder with mixes they prefer. They tend to leave the bird-feeder and houses in peace if they have their own space.
- Toad houses: When you’re creating a friendly space for the small and fuzzy wildlife in your area, don’t forget about toads. It’s easy to create a space for them by burying a garden pot (turned on its side) to the half-way mark in a shaded area. Toads can use it to shelter in the heat of the day – although I find chipmunks and squirrels use them for siestas as well.
- Mulch: If you use mulch, make sure it is pet-friendly. Cocoa mulch is toxic to some pets, like dogs, and pine mulch is an irritant to many animals if ingested. That being said, a nice mulch bed is a great place for mice and small animals like squirrels or ground hogs to burrow during the colder days of autumn and winter. And hopefully, they’ll find it a more attractive place to build a nest instead of in your garage.
- Fencing: If you have garden fences, make sure they have a bit of space at the bottom for non-climbing critters, like frogs and toads, to pass through. Of course, if your fence serves as a barrier for a yard-pet, this may not be possible.
- Consider mowing your lawn a little less: Longer grass provides a nice habitat for rabbits, ground squirrels, and field mice. It is also necessary for butterflies, who lay their eggs on the grass blades. Letting leaves lay through the winter and mulching them in the summer is also a great way to protect your lawn through colder months while providing a place for small animals to burrow.
- Weeds: Someone once wrote that a “weed is just an unloved flower,” and many flowering weeds are quite beautiful. Native plants are also hardier than most non-native flowers and shrubs, and have the added benefit of attracting butterflies, bats, and other pollinators, as well as being nourishing to local wildlife. Before you hack down that offensive dandelion, you might want to consider that its flower provides food for bees and hummingbirds and that its leaves and stalk are both edible and nutritious.
- Feeding critters: Some cities have ordinances against feral feeding and some neighborhoods also discourage feeding birds, but I find nothing as satisfying as leaving out seed, corn, and even kibble for the wildlife in my neighborhood during the winter. Sometimes a little extra forage is the difference between life and death for a young animal or bird facing its first winter.
There are many other ways you can help the animals who live in your neighborhood. You might want to check with your local wildlife society, ask a neighborhood what kind of things they’ve done over the years, or visit some wildlife appreciation societies online.
Wild animals, birds, bees, and insects are as much a part of a neighborhood as the people who live there. And just as you’d get to know a new neighbor, you might want to take some time to learn more about the animals that make their home near you. With winter coming, the animals could especially use your help. This is the time of year that I harvest my garden and start planning my garden for next year. So it’s a great time to consider changes and to add some wildlife-friendly options.