I'm in a miserably hypocritical state these days. Fall has come, mice have invaded my home and my car, and I have had to commit myself to their destruction. As someone who has spent 25 years not eating meat and tens of thousands of dollars keeping animals I love alive through veterinary care, I now feel like one of the evilest people alive having to kill mice, who under other circumstances I would find utterly adorable and worthy of my protection. But I feel I have run out of options.
I spent countless hours a few years ago trying to mouse proof my house, digging a trench around the base of the house and burying aluminum flashing a foot deep and sticking up a foot to prevent their entry. I found other holes inside the home and sealed them with copper mesh and expanding foam. I have spent something like $500 on mouse deterring sonic devices. I spent another $100-200 for mouse deterring sprays, powders, and granules. None of my actions have ever kept them away, they have remained a recurring presence. And so with reluctance I have had to turn to far more severe measures: killing them in traps.
Killing them does not come easy. For many years I trapped and released mice using Havahart traps, but with the rise of the hantavirus that no longer seems like a wise or viable solution. The mice in my house are deer mice, and statistically 14% carry a very deadly Sin Nombre hantavirus; 36% of people who catch the hantavirus and show symptoms die within 5 weeks of exposure. All it takes to catch the virus is inhaling the aerosolized vapors from recent mouse urine or feces (recent being within one week). And mice produce a neverending supply of urine and droppings. You can simply walk into a room where a mouse has defecated within the last week and in five weeks you are dead; since this happens all the time and people do not die, clearly there are other factors reducing the odds, but the fact remains that is all it takes. Given that the risk of infection is so serious you are supposed to wear a P100 mask, goggles, gloves, and booties to be in the presence of these mice or their feces I do not see how one could safely transport and release the mice. If you have ever live caught mice you know that: the traps are not air tight (they need to breath), they defecate and urinate quite a lot once caught (out of fear or frustration), and you cannot release them in your own back yard (they will simply return to your house). As such, trying to live trap and release deer mice seems like a recipe for hantavirus infection. Killing seems required.
As for my mouse killing protocol, I have tried to make it as "fair" as possible, erecting the equivalent of warning signs at mouse height. Much like an East German border crossing of the 1960s, I do my best to scare the mice off before I demonstrate my uncompassionate, sadistic willingness to kill them. Each killing trap is placed within the presence of one or more deterrent products meant to warn him off. The mouse must ignore the ultrasonic sirens blaring only feet away and the almighty stench of the aromatic oils they are clinically proven to hate. Only after ignoring those do they reach the trap and die.
I keep trying to comfort myself with the knowledge that life is hypocrisy. Despite my avoiding meat and catching and releasing the odd bug, I accept that I am directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds or thousands of animals, insects, and other living creatures a year. I walk to get the mail and must crush bugs under foot without a thought. I drive down the road and dead insects cake themselves on the windshield. I eat carrots fresh from fields where no doubt tractors made roadkill of moles. Simply being alive requires the direct and indirect killing of teeming masses of other creatures; there's just no way around it. So, maybe I should face those realities and feel no special qualms about my direct involvement here... But it is not easy, it haunts me, grieves me. When I see their lifeless body I see my dog, I remember my hamster, I connect with my feeling cold when camping and just wanting to find a shelter. I wish them no harm, and yet I bring them death. And I say I grieve for them, and I do, but clearly not enough to not set the next trap; I feel like a monster. And I suppose that is good on some level, to feel so horrible. Blithely accepting the killing of those we can relate to has led to countless historical atrocities. I take slight comfort that I am not likely to be the next Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.
In perceived defense of my life, I kill. No activity is more fundamental to our natures than that, I suppose. What a pity that it comes to that.
With over four million dogs killed in American shelters every year, the bill of sale that comes with a kennel bought dog serves dual purpose as another dog's death warrant. There is an adequate supply of dogs, why then do consumers keep demanding more? Dogs are not a commodity, or at least they shouldn't be treated as one. A surplus of dogs cannot be stored, repurposed, or recycled; and they should not be thrown away, but they all too often are. Until and unless the senseless euthanization of homeless dogs is ended, we have no right to "produce" more than is needed.
Convincing the American public to participate in this reduction of supply has proven no easy task. People still buy dogs from breeders (and though it's beyond the scope of this article, they continue to choose not to neuter and spay their dogs). And so the question must be asked, why do people buy dogs from breeders when there are so many in need of adoption? The reasons appear to boil down to purchasers wanting a:
- Dog of a specific breed
- Kennel club registered dog of a specific breed
- Puppy of a specific breed
- Puppy (of any breed)
- Dog whose interaction history is known (for safety reasons)
- Dog whose genetic lineage is known (for health reasons)
And beyond people with these motivations there are no doubt many who are willfully ignorant of the scope of this horror, and have simply never considered adoption; they purchase their new warrantied TV from Best Buy, why wouldn't they purchase their new warrantied dog from a pet store.
Let's examine these issues in some slight detail, because many of them are in fact non-issues, merely an ignorance about what's available and meaningful. The remaining issues may not be satisfiable with a shelter dog, but neither can they justify the monstrous toll their satisfaction requires.
First let's eliminate the non-issues. About 25% of shelter dogs are pure breds, and if someone is looking for a rare breed not commonly found in a shelter there are dedicated breed specific rescue organizations eager to adopt out their clan. If someone wants a puppy of a specific (especially uncommon) breed (registered or not) then admittedly there can be serious supply problems. Shelters have no end of beautiful puppies available for adoption, many of them pure bred, but a pure bred puppy of a less common breed may be very hard or impossible to find. The fact is most dogs are abandoned as adults and thus there will always be a glut of adult dogs needing adoption. Insisting on a puppy of a pure line (registered or not), especially insisting on an acquisition time line of "now", forces a potential dog owner down the path of buying from a breeder. How many times I've heard this lousy excuse proffered along the lines of, "I wanted to get my boxer from a rescue group, but none of them had the pure bred puppy I was looking for in time for Christmas." Unwilling to wait for one to possibly become available, unwilling to bend on the puppy requirement, they give their many hundreds of dollars to a breeder and ensure that the professional or hobby breeder will go on satisfying the sick demand, quietly demanding the destruction of the mixed race and mixed age excess left in the shelters. Health and safety issues unrelated to breed preference are rendered moot by the facts that blank slate puppies of pure or mixed race are readily available; if health is a primary concern one would likely be better steering clear of the overly narrowed genes of pure lines and stick to mutts.
The only desires on this list which can't be reliably or adequately satisfied with adoptable dogs are the desires for a puppy of a rare breed or a puppy with a particular registered pedigree. And to those who insist upon these things I would simply say, "Tough." Life is about choices, and accepting limitations which are in our collective best interest. One may want a pure bred registered puppy. That's a fine thing to want. We humans want so many things, and there's nothing wrong with the wanting. But I am terribly sorry, the vast majority of you cannot see that particular desire satisfied. We humans continue to learn over the course of our long evolution that we cannot satisfy certain desires. Our freedoms end where others' freedoms begin. And we have been very successful in pulling ourselves up from our baser bootstraps; despite our desires we have learned to largely stop enslaving other people, raping our women folk, and stealing other people's land and property. Surely we can afford to recognize that animals deserve more than senseless euthanization. And the few who refuse to recognize that animals deserve something better can probably at least recognize there must be better ways to see their tax dollars spent than funding a potentially largely superfluous shelter system.
Our humanity requires us to do better than we are doing, requires us to curb our selfish belief that we have an inalienable right to have exactly what we want despite the monstrous cost. We must adopt our dogs rather than buy them from breeders or proxy pet stores. We must spay and neuter our pets to ensure we don't negligently help them contribute to their own problem. In the time it took you to read this article 46 dogs in America were euthanized because we have thus far failed to do enough.