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Rodents from Hell 

Without warning they invaded, countless millions of them — an entire neighborhood engulfed by revolting, disease-ridden pestilence!

click to enlarge CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Christopher Gardner

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Everyone loves Mickey Mouse. He’s cute and playful and harmless. He even has good manners. Many of today’s adults adored him when they were kids, and still have a special place in their hearts for the lovable Disney character. But Mickey, of course, never left droppings on their kitchen counters, or ate through the cereal boxes in their cabinets, or nested in their attics, or ran across their beds in the middle of the night — while they were in the beds. No, there is nothing at all charming about the hordes of mice that, several months ago, began an all-out assault on San Luis Obispo’s Laguna Lake neighborhood. The term “infestation� doesn’t quite capture the scope of this astonishing siege, which was as unexpected as it was overwhelming. July, nothing. August, nothing. September, nothing. But beginning in October, some mysterious force let loose on the unsuspecting residents of this tranquil residential neighborhood — my neighborhood — a plague of biblical proportions.

THE SWARMING MASSES
“We were sitting in the dining room playing Scrabble one evening and we watched as this mouse casually walks out from behind a cabinet, stands centered in the doorway, looks in the kitchen, looks at us, ambles one way and then another,� recalls Theo Jones, a 28-year resident of the southern Laguna Lake neighborhood bordered by Madonna Road, Oceanaire Drive, the Dalidio property, and Los Osos Valley Road. “Well, we leaped up and it took off. Since then we’ve had them running across the fireplace, watching television with us, enjoying our Christmas lights. “It’s such a gory thought,� Jones continues, “but our cats have easily killed 10 or 15. I tell you, I’ve seen more dead mice. One strange thing was I found a little presentation of dead mice by my car door, all lined up the same direction. I asked my roommate, who said maybe they froze to death. I said, ‘What? Waiting to get into the car?’ Finally I realized we have a very sweet cat presenting them to us.� Rilla Betz also lives in the neighborhood. “Yes, I have pesky rodents — big time!� she nearly shouts. “My cat has caught some, the neighbor cats come here and catch them. I have put out d-Con and traps. The ones in the walls seem to be gone, but I still get some in the garage every few days and often find dead ones out back in the morning. My cat brings me treasures and plunks them in the middle of the living room for us!� Novelist Marysia Maziarz Dickson and SLO’s first poet laureate Ray Clark Dickson live in a charming house not far from a San Luis Obispo Creek tributary with their own champion mouser, Kitty Koscuiszko. “A few months ago we had some friends visiting, and Ray was reading some of his poetry,� remembers Marysia. “Well, one of our guests had a little boy with her, all dressed up in a little tie. He listened so politely to Ray read, and when Ray finished, the little boy said, ‘I hate to tell you this, put the whole time Ray was reading there was a little mouse running back and forth.’ And that’s how we learned we had a mouse problem — the first in eleven years of living here. “I reached into the dish drainer for a cup and a mouse ran across my hand!� Marysia recounts with a shudder. “Then I was doing my wash and I reached into the washing machine and there was a dead mouse in there. I was in the garage getting a roll of paper towels and there was a mouse in the center of the roll. That was no fun! It’s been nightmarish! Ray and I each have a drawer in the bathroom — mine’s the bottom — and I opened it up to get something and there was a mouse in there! Well, I slammed it shut and haven’t opened it since, and that was three weeks ago. Another time I was brushing my teeth and looked down on the floor and saw what looked like the end of a comb, and reached down for it and realized it was a mouse. It took off running for the kitchen. “Oh, and their droppings have been everywhere,� she continues. “All over the kitchen! We bought a bunch of that d-Con. After it was all gone we went back a second time to Long’s. There was a young man standing in front of all the stuff, looking at one package after another, his brow furrowed in thought. I asked him if I could just get in there for a second to grab some d-Con and he asked if it worked and then said, ‘Well, I live on the lake and my wife is practically hysterical because a mouse ran across our bed.’ “I had taken the last of the d-Con — Long’s was practically sold out of everything — and, oh, this young man was so upset at the lack of selection that he asked to see the manager. We offered to let him have one of the three d-Con’s we picked up, but he didn’t want it. The neighbors have been buying all that stuff up!� Many Laguna Lake residents are reluctant to discuss the problem. After all, a stigma still attaches to people whose homes are infested with vermin; they must be slovenly, filthy, lazy white-trash morons. Other residents are relieved to know they are not alone. “We’re glad to know this issue with mice invading our house is not an issue of our cleanliness, but that everyone is having the same problem,� says George Michael. “My roommates and I have had issues with mice since the end of November.� “Man, have there been mice around!� exclaims Virginia Gibson. “Just today I cleaned up two carcasses out by our sliding glass door! We don’t have a problem at our house because of our two cats, which by the way are now toying with them and are bored with the meal they make. But the neighbors have stories: multiple sightings, traps full. Our neighbor across the street has had the exterminator over about half a dozen times to no avail.

THEY HAD TO COME FROM SOMEWHERE
Rilla Betz: I heard that one reason there are so many mice is that the Dalidio property is no longer being farmed and so the mice are not being eliminated as before. I also wonder if all the building — Costco, Home Depot — has relocated the mice. When your home field is paved over, where else to go but nice warm houses with plenty of food!� Virginia Gibson: “First we thought they came because the state had been spraying for West Nile mosquitoes and maybe those mosquitoes were feeding on mice. Then my husband and I concluded they were fleeing from their Home Depot nest. Last week our other neighbor was riding his bike and said he saw them crossing Oceanaire, heading southwest [toward Home Depot], into the neighborhood, possibly from the Laguna drainage canal.� Richard Phillips via voicemail: “Yeah, we’re all having a lot of mice problems, and I’ll tell you what the problem is: It’s the Dalidio property. The guy [Ernie Dalidio], I guess he’s not farming anymore and I think that’s sort of an act of rebellion against what’s going on with that piece of property. My theory is that since he stopped growing, or stopped Zaca [Farms] from growing, we’ve been inundated with all these mice. And I don’t know what to do about it except just keep killing them. I’ve killed 30 on my property.� Theo Jones (scoffing): “I think that’s a bunch of crap. If we stub our toe, we’d blame Dalidio. I think it’s all the commotion that occurred at Costco and Home Depot. There’s been a lot of dirt movement.�

THE BATTLE ENGAGED
“We’ve been overloaded,� says Van Curaza. “We’ve killed over two dozen. We don’t leave our cutting board out anymore. It’s in the back of our stove sitting on end, and we’ve got minimum silverware now because there’s no reason to have a bunch of it in the drawer because you just have to keep washing it all. It’s been a real hassle. It was war for months. We couldn’t use poison because of the dog, and we were using the sticky traps until we realized it was costing us $2.50 a mouse. We got those ‘snap traps’ and I started trying to figure out the mice’s patterns. I’d watch them, study them, to see where they were going. I finally figured out they were living in this console TV and an old armchair that an ex-roommate had. “One day we put a snap trap inside the TV console and a couple minutes later we heard it snap. I couldn’t believe it! It had snapped on two mice! We emptied the trap and put it back in, and about two minutes later we heard it snap again. We took it out and it had killed two mice again! We killed four mice in two snaps in the span of about 10 minutes!� Adam McCloughloch lives on Oceanaire with cousins Leroy and Earl. “I’ve only been here for four months and I think the mice were living here before we moved in,� he begins. “The problem is the mice would just come in because the house was vacant, so they were accustomed to having the place to themselves. They saw us as the new guys. They’d run around while we were watching TV, and at one point one came into the backyard while we were barbecuing and just sat on its back haunches and hung out with us. We executed it with a croquet mallet. Another time we caught one with those sticky traps and we took it and hung it on the back fence and shot it with a .22 rifle — from inside the house so the neighbors wouldn’t hear the shot. It’s probably still there,� he guesses, heading for the backyard. Sure enough. He holds it up for inspection, its little head blown half off. As crafty as the McCloughloch cousins have been, the Great White Hunter of Laguna Lake has to be Steve Eabry, a fixture around San Luis best known for pedaling his recumbent bike everywhere he goes. He might not be as outlandish as the McCloughloch cousins, but what he lacks in viciousness he makes up for in efficiency and volume. “The invasion started in October, when I caught plus-or-minus 20 before I started writing down the totals on November 4,� says Eabry, who sent New Times a bar graph charting his battle, which peaked between late November and mid-December. All told, Eabry has killed well over 150 mice with snap traps in his garage. “I’ve been here for 20 years and never had more than a half-dozen any year, and many years without any,� he says. “Even Aslan, the resident cat who turned 20 years old this past summer, got three! “Perhaps the peak has passed,� Eabry speculates. “We’ve gotten just four since the rain. The heavy rains likely took a toll, then with brush knocked down, owls and foxes can see them better, and a full creek cuts us off from the eucalyptus grove.� Diane Anthony, another long-time Oceanaire resident, agrees with Eabry’s assessment. “I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years,� she says. “We might get a couple of mice a year, or a rat or gopher in the yard, but not like this. I use live traps and got about 15 so far, and my cat has killed about 30. I don’t mind living in a world with animals — as long as they stay outside. I’d like to call the Pied Piper.� Donna M. Wilson, who has lived in the area for 10 years, isn’t sure even the Pied Piper would make a difference: “It’s the whole neighborhood. I know because I can walk down the street and see dead mice on the sidewalk. If I had known this could happen, I never would have moved in. I had a student living here but she moved out because she couldn’t handle it. The mice were in my bathroom, my den. I don’t know how they got in. I left for a while, went to stay with a friend because it was making me so jumpy.� Virginia Gibson’s husband Dave recalls his own jumpy incident: “My neighbor just came to my door and explained to me that our family cat (we actually have two) has been leaving mouse parts on his back doorstep. I could tell by the way he explained it that he thought that I could, or should, do something about it. I explained to him that there has been a large mouse problem in the neighborhood for some time. He repeated how our cat leaves them dismembered in his backyard. By this time I realized he thought I was responsible and wanted me to do something about it. I got upset at his lack of understanding, told him I would shoot the cat, and briskly closed the door. Of course I wouldn’t really shoot the cats. Anyway I got too upset about something so lame and went next door to apologize and try to put this mouse problem into perspective. Long story short, I hate these mices to pieces.�

TRICKY LITTLE BUGGERS
Kirk Erwin is branch manager of the pest-control company Orkin, a man who knows his rodents. “A mouse can produce between 40 and 60 offspring a year,� Erwin informs. “The offspring can be fertile within 60 days. It takes just 18 to 21 days from gestation, and some mice can become pregnant again within 48 hours of giving birth to a litter.� They can also jump 12 inches high. How’s that for a vertical leap! And at my house I’ve watched them walking on my speaker wires, slipping under a door with only a quarter-inch clearance, and seemingly disappearing into thin air. The key to getting them, says Erwin, is to never give up: “I once had a mouse I could not catch. I think he was a Harvard graduate. He got lazy after a week, though, and I got him with a glue strip.� Exterminators are definitely working overtime. “Since the middle of 2005, I think this is the busiest Brezden’s has ever been,� says Devon LyBurtus, who works for the local firm Brezden Pest Control. “There’ve been so many calls we can barely finish our regular routes. If we set traps inside a house, we’re supposed to go back every day until we remove them.� LyBurtus heads out to an appointment on Oceanaire Drive, a house that just happens to be a rental unit owned by SLO City Councilmember Allen Settle. “Poison bait is the main thing to prevent the population from increasing,� he explains. “At this house they were chewing holes through the walls behind the dishwasher, coming up under the sink, coming up through the pipes in the laundry room, coming in under the bathtub. They’re one of the smartest animals, so they’re hard to catch. They usually travel along walls, and they’re very curious. For this house, I plugged up all the places they could get in, then we trapped the ones inside, tented the place to kill the remainders, and now we’ve got seven bait boxes around the house.� Each bait box is stocked once a week with three pieces of poison Ditrac Blox, which measure one inch square by two inches long. That means Settle’s mouse population is consuming 21 pieces, or 42 square inches of the poison, each week. Literally hundreds of mice are dying each week at the councilman’s house. “The poison is activated by water,� LyBurtus goes on, “so as soon as they drink water, they begin to bleed internally.� Nasty business. At my house on Seaward Street I use snap traps, which I thought were killing the mice instantly. But it turns out they usually suffocate in the traps. I’m not sure how they die on the sticky traps. Maybe they just wear themselves out trying to get off. Between my two cats and my snap traps, I thought I had the problem licked, but just the other day I found a sprung trap but no mouse in it. I looked closer and saw a tiny mouse foot gnawed off at the ankle.

Glen Starkey lives with two cats, a dog, and — now — a three-legged mouse. Express your concern at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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