Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.

Dear the post calvin,

I have tiny animals living in my house. Some on purpose, but most of them not on purpose. I have now captured TWO bats (and released them into the wild, which probably means that they are back in my attic or wherever, so really I could’ve just captured the same bat twice and released it only for it to come back again), and then I was cleaning my basement and found a bunch of acorns hidden in random places. (I did not hide them, to be clear.) I don’t have a great track record with humanely trapping mice (I tried, and then forgot to check the trap a lot, so I starved at least 3 mice, which seems way less humane than just killing them instantly). Mostly I just only want the tiny animals that I have on purpose living in my house, and I don’t want any others to be able to get in. Thoughts?

Unintentional Snow White

Well, Snow, I have a lot of thoughts.

Here’s the cold hard truth: unless you own the home that you are currently sharing with your woodland friends, there’s not much you can do to keep them out. If you own, there’s probably a service in your area that will get rid of your current roommates and then protect you against any future invasions. If you own and have a yard or a balcony or something, you can put a bat box outdoors and try to make it seem more enticing than your home: stuff it full of strawberries and dead bugs and paint a big sign on it that says “Cool Bat Digs” or something.

But I’m guessing you don’t own. If you did, you wouldn’t be asking a millennial for what amounts to homeownership advice. And if you rent, these options are likely closed to you. (If not, stop reading and go back to that first paragraph and you’re all set.)

So your house is basically a warmer, more hospitable extension of these creatures’ natural habitat.  When you can’t do anything to prevent them from getting into your house, the only path forward is to learn to cohabitate.  This can be especially frustrating if you are paying rent for a place and the animals are freeloaders. I might suggest leaving a little “pay what you can” tray next to your bagged food items (basically just mice restaurants) and in your attic (your bat Holiday Inn) to shame the little folks into carrying their own. No promises regarding the efficacy of this strategy, but I think it’s worth a shot.

There are other strategies, I suppose.  When I was living on my own in Pittsburgh, I had mice because I was the least threatening tenant of the house; feral cats were staying warm in the basement and my upstairs neighbors had a cat, while I had a dog who was not interested in anything smaller than a squirrel. One infuriating night, one of the mice scurried across the room, passed a couple inches in front of her face, and she just sort of watched it go.

So, first step is to get a cat. Preferably a youngish one with some vigor that hasn’t been declawed. Look, I’m a vegetarian, but my pets don’t have to be. And if a cat kills a mouse, it’s just the way of the world. If a cat kills a bat, color me impressed and then double check the expiration date on those rabies vaccinations. Your new soldier might scare mice out of loitering around your home, but at the very least they should give you a couple mouse-free zones around which you can walk without fear.  You’ll probably have to develop a strong stomach vis-a-vis mouse carnage, but it’s a tough world.

If that isn’t an option, or if the cat turns out to be lazier than it looked at the shelter, your next option is to get really into essential oils. Mice hate the smell and taste of peppermint and Bats can’t stand cinnamon or Eucalyptus.  Also, bonus, diffusing these oils apparently cures depression and asthma and helps your memory and attention or something, so everybody wins I guess. Unless you get into the pyramid scheme bit of it in which case everyone on your Facebook friends list loses, but sacrifices must be made.

If you’re not into the questionable science of essential oils, you can at least trust the very real fact that the mice in my apartment raided everything in my pantry except my candy canes. So if you replace everything in your diet with a pepperminty equivalent, you can trust the mice won’t want anything to do with you. Then, once they’ve moved on, learn to eat straight cinnamon and nothing else and the bats might be grossed out enough to vacate, too.  One step at a time here.

But as a Buddhist might say, I believe this is a question wrongly asked.  Humans are just animals with big heads who use tools and make bombs. Humans used to live much closer to things like mice and bats and somehow found a way to live relatively peaceably (aside from all the killing and eating, etc.)  Basically, these little vermin friends of yours have just noticed that you, an apex predator with a heart of gold, have a good thing going and they want in on it. If you can’t bring yourself hunt them to migration like our ancestors of old, your only choice is to take up a lower rung on the food chain and be as concerned about mice as cows are.  

Keep all your food in plastic or metal containers (I bought fun vintage tins from Etsy for this purpose) clean countertops and table surfaces thoroughly before preparing food, and close your bedroom door once you turn off the lights in the rest of your house.  It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous. But you and I agree on a couple of things: killing mice “humanely” is difficult, and catch-and-release wildlife is probably just going to come back anyway. So cut out that middleman; don’t bother trying to catch them or kill them or any of that.  Just admit that we’re all animals; some are just more pleasant than others.

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