Beliefnet
This essay first appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Inquiring Mind and is adapted from Barbara Gates, Buddhist in the City, forthcoming in 2001 from Shambhala Publications, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Barbara Gates.

When droppings began to appear on the stovetop, in the trays beneath the burners, and, on occasion, deposited in the cast-iron skillet, I had to admit we had a mouse. Every morning, I returned with my dog, Cleo, from predawn forays into the dark of the city streets. Before I could enjoy the warmth and coziness of home, I had to confront the night's damage--all over the kitchen, offerings of rodent scat. Our refuge had been invaded.

As a long-time student of Buddhism, a vegetarian, and a self-proclaimed ally of backyard creatures--an aspiring model for non-harming--I was at a stalemate. The mouse had to go. But talk of glue and poison traps made me wince. I refused to take steps to exterminate. Instead, each night, my husband, Patrick, and I meticulously stored all the edibles in the refrigerator, hoping that the now starving mouse would disappear. Yet each morning, we found further signs of our visitor's revelry. As I cooked breakfast for our daughter, Caitlin, and fed Cleo, I cleaned up the leavings.

One morning, when I found droppings in our favorite wedding gift, a wooden salad bowl, I reached my limit. I had to protect the health of my family. We were in danger.

I started my campaign against the mouse with a beeper, whose high-pitched frequency--not even detectable to dogs--was purportedly excruciating to the sensitive ears of rodents. But continued droppings on the stove defied my clever tricks.

Next, I tried Have-a-Heart traps, little plastic boxes baited with tempting morsels. When cheddar didn't seem to have the proper allure, I tried peanut butter. No matter what I tried, I couldn't seem to control this invader from the city streets.

[One morning] when I came back from my walk, I rushed around the house preparing for a trip out of town. Gathering bread and cereal for Caitlin's breakfast, I threw open the door of the fridge. There, amidst the tortillas, something twitched. Crying out, I leapt back. From the shelf, a furry rodent regarded me with dark, beady eyes. Its long, spiny tail quivered. I slammed the door closed.

Unwilling to leave town with this menace in my kitchen, I got on the phone. One answering machine directed me to the next, from the Animal Shelter to the Health Department. On the 24-hour police hotline, I finally got an actual voice. To my plea "There's a rodent in my refrigerator!" an officer calmly directed me to Vector Control. Vector Control (it sounded like a cross between "Ghostbusters" and "The X-Files") turned out to be the county agency that deals with "vectors"--organisms that carry and transmit disease-causing microorganisms.

When I called Vector Control to come and get the rodent, any pretense of equanimity, patience, or selflessness had been abandoned.

I finally reached this agency when they opened at 8:00 a.m., but the inspectors were all in the field monitoring an emergency sewer leak. By my third call, I had worked myself up to a pitch: "'No' is not acceptable. I have a 10-year-old and a dog, and I must leave town. This is an emergency!" (any pretense of equanimity, patience, or selflessness abandoned).

"Yes, ma'am," returned the bored voice of a receptionist, maybe paring her nails or stirring her coffee. "We'll send someone out soon's they get in."

By this time, I barely cared what they did with the mouse. As I anxiously awaited Vector Control, I conjured up pictures of the inspectors. I imagined two cold gray men (gray uniforms, gray pot bellies, doughy gray faces, with gray pistols in their holsters). I would hear their great gray boots banging up the wooden stairs of our Victorian house, a pitiless knocking on the front door.

But at 9:00 a.m. sharp I was startled by a single pristine ring. In the doorway stood a statuesque young woman--maybe six-foot-four, with long, dyed-blond hair, arched brows, painted eyes, cheeks bright with blush. I was taken aback. But here she was. She was, indeed, in uniform, a blue shirt with a badge, navy blue pants. I noticed a few insignia of her trade: dangling from her belt, a set of keys (jailer-size); in a holster, a formidable flashlight; and swinging from one hand, a large wire cage. "I'm from Vector Control," she introduced herself, holding out her other hand--all rings, with long, maroon, polished nails.

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