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Fire the first shot on bedbugs, rats and mice

I recently encountered a mouse scooting across our yard, and, acting on instinct, I dropped a big rock on the critter and canceled its program. When I came into the house, my two grown daughters, visiting for the day, accused me of cruelty to innocent furry little creatures. "That poor mouse wasn't hurting you. It was probably a mother returning to her baby mice. And what are those babies going to do now?"

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), possibly the most brilliant man who ever lived (PhDs in music, theology, doctor of medicine, philosopher, organ builder, concert organist, clergyman and medical missionary) believed in what he called "the reverence for life." He never harmed a living creature. If a mosquito landed on him (mosquitoes carried malaria in Africa) he'd just brush the little bug off. The great man operated a hospital built with his own funds in the jungles of Africa for the last 50 years of his life.

Though I'm an ardent admirer of Albert Schweitzer, I'm no Schweitzer myself. My philosophy on little creatures is "live and let live -- if you don't harm me, I won't harm you. But if you are a threat to me, I'm going to fire the first shot."

So how could that poor helpless mouse be a threat to me? A little history is in order here. In the 1300's a form of the bubonic plague called the "Black Death," one of the worst epidemics known to man, killed a fourth of the population in Europe. Millions died in a short period of time. The plague was transmitted to human beings chiefly by fleas from infected rats. An epidemic in a seaport was especially dangerous because rats traveled first class from country to country on ships and trains. So rat control is disease control. The term "dirty rotten rat" should not be considered an insult as much as a medical term.

I believe that whatever rats will do, their little cousins, the mice, will do it too. And while that little mouse wasn't up to any mischief when I saw her, she was thinking about it and as soon as it got cold out, she was planning on moving into the warmth of our house, the dirty rotten little rat. No thanks -- we don't want the bubonic plague in our house so I fired the first shot.

With mosquitoes, whap -- no questions asked. I've never had one land on my skin with the intent of making honey or pollinating my flowers. If they're after me, I'm after them. Sorry Schweitzer.

Lately, the scourge of the year has been bedbugs -- in hotels, motels, homes and sleeping bags. These savage little bugs, like head lice, feed on the blood of human beings. Though they don't transmit diseases, they cause mental, physical and economic pain wherever they show up. I hate to admit it, but I've had experience with bedbugs. Years ago Raquel and I rented a furnished apartment. The apartment came with everything included, including bedbugs. First there were welts, then blood spots on the sheets, but no sign of the bugs. They usually hide during the day in the seams of mattresses and under box springs. To find them we had to snap on the lights in the middle of the night when the creeps were snacking -- on us. Then we'd tip the mattress and box springs on edge and find their little colony.

Our landlord said we must have brought them when we moved in because he never had them before. Sure, sure. He bought us a can of Black Flag to do our own extermination. So we did. We tipped the mattress and box springs up and poured the juice to the bugs -- day and night for weeks. Meanwhile, we slept on army surplus cots and squirmed whenever we felt an itch. Eventually, we won.

Now the current crop of bedbugs moves from hotels and motels to your home in your luggage. These days it is suggested you have a professional exterminator do the job when you have them.

If you (and my daughters) choose to follow the humane "reverence of life" approach of Albert Schweitzer, I solute you -- more power to you. But please don't park your luggage under one of our beds. As for me and my household -- let the rats, mice and bugs beware -- don't tread on us.