65. Good Rodents, Bad Rodents

Dear Tera,

In some respects, humanoids are beyond comprehension.  Their behaviour is inconsistent in the extreme.

At some times of year, for example, they cut down trees and chop them into logs for the fireplace.  At other times, they drag trees into their homes and festoon them with lights and baubles.

The same ambivalence about rodents.  There is no consistency.

When they are at the cottage, the humanoids get very excited when a beaver swims by after the sun goes down.  They call to one another and gather by the water’s edge – silently so as not to disturb a special guest.  I’m not allowed to disturb the review. 

At such times, I am locked up in the cottage.  There’s an irony for you:  they won’t let me in the cottage during the day.  But come nightfall, if a beaver swims by, I’m ordered indoors.

Do humanoids afford such consideration for all rodents at the cottage?  No they do not. 

It’s business as usual for squirrels, chipmunks and mice.  We chase the squirrels up the trees.  We are allowed to chase the chipmunks to their holes in the ground, but not allowed to dig after them.

And mice?  The rules here seem very mixed.  The humanoids do not like mice.  They lay traps for them, primed with peanut butter.  We are not allowed to touch the peanut butter.  We are not allowed to sniff at the results when the peanut butter attracts a mouse. 

But I somehow get the feeling that we dogs are somehow blamed for allowing the mice into the cottage in the first place.  It’s as if we have somehow failed in our responsibility to secure the perimeter and keep wildlife outdoors. 

This brings me, now, to the rodent rules at home.  Again, no consistency.  Lily and I chase squirrels. We make it a point of pride to keep the squirrels away from the bird feeders as much as possible. 

Nor are mice welcome in the city residence.  From time to time, the peanut butter and the traps are set – with strict warnings to us that we are to play with neither.

So imagine my astonishment, then, when our recently-expanded family actually welcomed rodents into the house.  Gerbils, the kids called them.  Sort of like white mice with tufted tails.

But instead of laying traps with peanut butter, the humanoids petted and fawned over them – gave them more attention than they even gave to such a noble and deserving animal as a dog.

They even gave names to these new guests:  “Jimmy” and “Hoffa.”  I had my own names for them:  the bigger one I called “Chew Toy” and the smaller one, “Appetizer.”

I could tell that the Mom had great ambivalence about having rodents in the house.  Alpha seemed very concerned that the number of rodents might multiply quickly.

But it seems that they were indeed both male.  They became members of the family. They lived in a cage that was kept high on the dresser, first in the girls’ room, then in the Pup’s.  The cage had numerous tubes and platforms, a running wheel, a feeding dish and a gravity drip water bottle. 

The kids fed them, cleaned their cage, spent lots of time letting them run up and down their arms.  I know they would not have allowed this to happen with mice, chipmunks, squirrels, or beavers.  But for gerbils, the regular rules seem to be turned upside down.

And I was fascinated as well.  I could spend hours sitting below the dresser staring at them as they exercised up and down their plastic play tubes and around and around in their wheel. 

The wheel squeaked through the night.  The cage was put in the bathroom where the noise would be less bothersome to sleeping humanoids.  I could almost become nocturnal myself, hypnotized as I was with the sight and, above all, the smell of two rodents, welcome guests, in the bosom of the family.

Lily seemed to be less fixated.  But then, she has never been framed by the same fearful symmetry.  At Windsor Park, for example, she will chase squirrels up a tree and, once they are in the upper branches, she will trot away to the next distraction. Not me.  I will sit at the base of the trunk and wait.  Maybe I can lure them into coming back down.  In my dealings with rodents, I am utterly and inflexibly consistent.

And so, if our household no longer has gerbils, consider it a restoration of balance – a removal of inconsistency. 

There are tears.  There are recriminations.  There is mystery. 

Who left the cage on the bedroom floor?  Who is red in tooth and claw? 

Nobody knows.  Nobody tells.

                                    Burning bright in the shadows of the night,


The Contest

            Many of Zoscha’s readers have observed that she often sprinkles her prose with various quotes, parodies and allusions.  If you can identify a reference, send your contest entry to oscar@oldottawasouth.ca, using “Zoscha’s contest” in your title line.  Or drop a note off at the Firehall.

            Last June’s column didn’t elicit any responses.  Maybe readers got so relaxed at the cottage they forgot to post the entry.  Or maybe the non-literary illusion fooled you.  The title of the article and the central metaphor comes from the book, Pig and the Python; How to Prosper from the Aging Baby Boom, by David Cork and Susan Lightstone.