Of Mice and…Neighbor BoysPosted by Paula Mullen, ALDF's Executive Assistant on June 17, 2009
When I was ten years old, my family moved out to the country, and my friend and I would play down by a big pond that both of our families shared. While playing on my family’s side of the pond one day, my friend and I discovered a nest of baby mice, hidden in the tall weeds. They were tiny and pink and hairless, and their eyes were still closed.
I had always liked mice and rats since I was very young. In fact, far from being afraid of them, I thought they were cute and quite fascinating. So, I couldn’t resist peeking at the babies occasionally throughout the day, although I knew enough not to get too close, touch them or otherwise disturb the nest. My little brother came outside and we showed the mice to him; later, he left to go hang out with the 12-year-old neighbor boy.
In the late afternoon, after my friend had gone home, I decided to check on the mice one last time before dinner. The previous ten years of my life had not adequately prepared me for what I discovered: each baby mouse had been cut open, from throat to tail, and their insides now spilled out into the nest, the place that had once been their nursery.
At first, I was frozen with fear; I could not breathe, or move, or think. Then, an odd sense of numbness began to wash over me (shock, perhaps). For I was old enough to realize that the cuts were too precise to have been made by a wild animal. No, this had been done by a human being. I slowly lifted my head up, and began to scan my surroundings. I half expected to see someone with a knife walking toward me.
By the time I made it back to the house and found my mother, I was shaking uncontrollably. She was predictably furious, both because she abhorred animal cruelty, particularly to baby animals, and because of how traumatized I was. So, my tough-as-nails mother stormed over to the neighbors’ house to tell them what their son had done. For he had indeed done it; my brother, who was only six at the time and could not have known what the older boy would do, had told him about the mice. The boy had come back to the pond alone, after we had all gone into the house, and killed the babies. He admitted it proudly to his parents, who both turned to my mother and said, “What’s the big deal? They’re just mice.” Livid, she told them that he was forbidden to harm or kill any animals on our property.
From that day forward, I’m pretty sure the neighbors thought my mother was a bleeding heart lunatic.
And from that point on, any belief I previously had that the world was a safe place was gone forever. I thought of what the mother mouse must have gone through; what kind of distress was she in when she discovered her dead babies? I thought of the pain the babies had suffered; did they die quickly, or did he purposely prolong their torture with each slice of the knife? The feeling of safety I had felt before, which had been so constant that I had never known I could feel differently, was now suddenly and jarringly in question. For if someone who lived right next door to me could do something so sadistic, what could he, or some other sociopath, do to my cat? My dog? To me?
I know how sensitive mice and rats are because I handled many while working in the animal shelter world, and I adopted two baby rats while in college. Today, when I read about animal cruelty that involves these inquisitive, intelligent little beings, I may as well be reading about medieval torture straight out of the Dark Ages. Whether I’m reading about those used in research labs (where they are excluded from even the minimal legal protection provided by the Animal Welfare Act), or those used in crush videos, or those who are the victims of sticky glue traps and other “pest extermination” techniques, the nauseous feeling I get brings me right back to my 10-year-old self on that summer day. In those instances, I try to remember that unlike that younger version of me, I am now empowered as an adult to do something about the cruelty that is perpetrated against these smallest of animals.
A good friend of ALDF and the animals, Clifford Gagel, recently told me about a time when he stood up for animals despite the tenseness of the situation. He ended the story by saying, “I don’t fear those who place cruelty above compassion.” I wish I had known those courageous words as a young girl, especially on that terrible day so many years ago. But I’ll take that battle cry with me now into the fight to win legal protection for all animals, no matter how small, or unpopular, those animals may be.
Additional reading (and reasons to be cautiously optimistic):
"An End to Toxicity Testing on Animals," June 8, 2009, ALDF blog by Joyce Tischler
There is some good news to report for animals used in toxicity testing, as Joyce Tischler explains in her recent blog.
"Animal Experiments Could End in a Generation," June 5, 2009, The Times (UK)
Scientists in the UK consider eliminating animal research.
"Their Calling is Defending Rats, Yet These Folks Aren’t Lawyers," May 16, 2009, The Wall Street Journal
Recently, the plight of mice and rats in laboratories was discussed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.