Building an Excellent Mousetrap

Today, I had to build a mousetrap. Well, to be more specific, a vole trap. It’s a pretty funny story, but first you need to know some history.

Meet Gizmo:


Gizmo is a vole, a native rodent who was found by a guy in Healdsburg who cared enough about this tiny baby animal’s well-being to drive half an hour to our center in Petaluma. This minature bundle of fur needed a foster mommy, and the woman who is in charge of such things asked me if I’d be willing to take him home and hand feed him until he’s old enough to fend for himself. How could I resist that face? ūüôā

He’s been here with me for just over a week, and he’s the cutest little baby animal in the WHOLE WORLD. (Okay, so maybe I’m a bit biased, being his foster mama and all, but he really is SO CUTE). When he came to me, he was what I’d call a “juvenile” – he had fur, but his eyes weren’t fully open yet, and his little ears hadn’t separated from the rest of his body yet. Because he wasn’t yet old enough to eat on his own, I hand fed him with a syringe. The first couple of days, I fed him 8 times a day (every 2 – 3 hours, except at night; he was old enough to go 7 – 8 hours without being fed). Then, I cut him back to 6 feedings a day for a few days. Then down to four, and then three. Today, I only hand-fed him just once, because of a little excitement he gave us. More on that in just a bit. As I’ve cut back on his formula, I’ve introduced foods for him to eat on his own. First formula and rice cereal, then soft fruits, then rodent “block” (which looks sort of like tiny dog biscuits), and next rodent “mix,” which is a variety of seeds and grains and other strange things. Once I feel that he’s eating all of these things well, on his own, I’m going to go out and collect some native grasses and flowers for him, so he’ll be used to eating the things that he’ll be able to find for himself once he’s released back into the wild.

Here he is not long after I got him. Even in this photo, he looks noticeably younger than in the first one I posted, which was taken only two days after these others. So sweet:

Gizmo, sleeping

Feeding him with a syringe – he eats between .4 and .8 ccs of Esbilac formula per feeding:

Syringe feeding

This photo is a little bit blurry, but it gives a good idea of just how tiny he was. He’s still small, but in the time that I’ve had him, he’s nearly doubled his weight – from 7 grams to at least 13 grams (he weighed 13 yesterday, so probably today he weighs even more):

Gizmo and my hands

So, now I get to the funny story. Well, it’s funny now, although it had me in tears earlier in the day. All along, I’d known that he was an escape risk. I mean, tiny rodents? They can move FAST, and this one is not domesticated. Still, I hadn’t had any trouble. He managed to wriggle away from me once or twice when he was first here, but he was so young he didn’t get very far very fast. I thought I was taking precautions – I’ve been taking him into the bathtub when he needs to be weighed. I figured that way, if he got away from me, he’d be contained and easy to catch. But I didn’t figure on him getting away from me when I was holding him to feed. It always seemed like I had good control of him (holding him in a towel for both control, and to avoid squishing him).

Even so, that’s exactly what happened this morning. Escape, I mean. This morning, around 8:00, just as I was putting him back into his container after feeding him, he wriggled out of my grip, landed on the table, jumped down onto the floor, and was GONE. I wasn’t even entirely sure which direction he’d gone. I won’t go into too many details about my frantic attempts to search for him, but they included taking all the books off my HUGE bookshelf, so I could look behind it (he wasn’t there), pulling the printer off it’s shelf on my computer desk (he wasn’t there), and checking under all the other furniture in the room (he wasn’t there, either). I was pretty certain that there was no way for him to get out of the house, but that still left the daunting task of figuring out where he was in the house.

I put out some food on the floor, hoping to tempt him out of hiding, and I kept searching around. Finally, about an hour after he escaped, I discovered where he’d ended up – I heard him exploring the inside of my piano. ūüėÄ At first, I thought that was rather nightmarish – there was no way I felt good about moving the piano away from the wall. I was afraid of squishing him. But then I realized that this might not be a bad thing – it was actually a pretty good place to set up a trap.

I used towels to block off all the way around one edge and the top of the piano, leaving him only one escape route. Then, I used one of my son’s toy bins (about 10″ deep), and a ramp made out of legos to create a trap. I set the bin on an angle, with the ramp leading up to the rim. I set food inside, and some of the towels from his container (I thought he’d like that they had his smell on them, and would hopefully smell “safe”). My plan was that he’d climb up the ramp, and after going for the food would slide down into the bin. I wasn’t sure it was deep enough to really keep him from jumping out again once he figured out what was happening, but I hoped it would at least give me time to throw a towel over the top, and get him secured and into the bathtub to be captured properly. It seemed like a reasonable plan, anyway. I set my ingenious device next to the opening between the wall and the piano, put up a barricade around it (hopefully keeping him trapped in that area, if he happened to wander out and ignore my trap) and sat down to wait. Surely, soon he’d get hungry enough to sniff out the lovely food I had waiting for him.

I waited. And waited. And waited. Every so often, I could hear him moving around inside the piano, and twice he peeked his adorable little face out, but when he saw me, he got scared and ran back to hide. Finally, after a couple of hours of this, I decided that sitting around watching wasn’t really accomplishing anything, so I went across the room to use my computer while I waited. I figured that when/if he wandered into the trap, it would make enough noise that I’d be able to get over there and capture him before he knew any better.

Still, I waited. I heard noises from that side of the room periodically, but every time I looked, there was no sign of him. Around 2:30, I started getting worried about him. After all, he’d been out for several hours, and therefore, gone without food. He’s a spry little guy – surely in the category of “young adult” now – but I didn’t think it was good to go this many hours without eating. Plus, I hadn’t heard any noises from inside the piano in a while. What if he’d managed to get out of my “containment area?” He could be anywhere! I really REALLY didn’t want him getting outside. Not in my neighborhood – there are TONS of outdoor cats around here. I figured he’d be safe enough in the house, but still, I was horribly stressed out worrying about him, and hoping I’d be able to catch him. Because really, I love him. He’s a precious little creature, and even though he’s tiny and might seem insignificant, his life is important to me. I wanted to do my best by him, and give him a really good chance at a life.

Finally, I heard a bit of noise from that part of the room, so I knew he was still in the area, but it was getting to be 5:00. I’d fed him NINE hours previously, and I was starting to get really worried about him. He was being so quiet – what if he was wasting away from lack of food? I decided that I’d make him some new Esbilac and rice cereal (which seems to be his current favorite food). The old stuff had been there all day, and I hoped that fresh food would smell so yummy that he’d be encouraged to come out after it. So, I reached into the trap/bin and pulled out the little jar lids of food, only to notice that one of them had some tiny little droppings inside. What’s this? I could have sworn that I made all this food fresh this morning, and had discarded everything that was in his container overnight. So how did the droppings get in there?

A thought occured to me: Maybe he’s already in the trap?

I poked around in the towels, and sure enough – there he was. Sleeping away happily in the trap. WHAT THE HECK? I couldn’t believe that he’d been in there ALL THAT TIME! He must have climbed in hours before. I was watching and waiting, and he was in the trap all the while. I was worried that he might be hungry? OH NO! He had PLENTY of delicious food, and a lovely place to nap, and he was quite snug and happy, and had no idea that he was IN A TRAP and should have been trying to ESCAPE again!

Part of me wanted to scream – DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU PUT ME THROUGH? But mostly, I was just so freaking happy and relieved to have him safely contained again. YAY GIZMO!

It’s true that I felt like a bit of an idiot for not realizing he’d climbed into the trap, literally HOURS before I discovered him there. *facepalm* But, on the other hand, I felt pretty accomplished for having built a trap that was so extremely successful. More successful that I realized, in fact.

Gizmo is now back in his container, with all fresh food. I’m going to cut WAY back on the hand-feedings (which will now all take place with the two of us sitting in the bathtub). In any case, I’m so happy with his progress. He’s still not ready to be out in the world on his own (he’s eating too much formula and cereal, and not enough seeds), but he’s definitely growing up. That’s one of the coolest things about raising him – watching the changes, which have happened so rapidly. Right before my eyes, he went from being really vulnerable and tiny, to being a proper little rodent, scampering around inside my piano (which, were I a rodent, would be a lovely place to visit, I think). I’m guessing that he’ll be ready to be released in a week or two, and until then, I’ll be weaning him off of the formula, and making sure he’s eating enough “big boy” food.

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