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Muffin's Story
Part 1
© Angela Horn and James, 1999.

This story was originally published on mouse@horns by Angela Horn.
It is reproduced here with permission from Angela Horn.

I retrieved this story from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Unfortunately I was unable
to retrieve most of the pictures. I did manage to get 2 pictures which I've included. - paul

Angela:

James (clansman7@aol.com) captured four wild mice and attempted to keep them as pets. Muffin is a particularly special mouse. James left the message below in my guestbook, and I was so intrigued I asked for more details. Since then, James has sent regular updates - which are posted here, for Muffin's fans, until he sets up his own website.

James's first message - Sunday March 21st 1999:

I have 4 mice and they were uninvited guests in my home. To start with anyway. I thought some of you might be interested to hear about my experience with house mice as pets.

Mouse droppings began appearing just before Christmas. Wife and I agreed not to kill the mouse. Alternative? Catch mouse. House the mouse until spring and release him in better weather. Standard live traps proved useless. Mouse proved very cunning, survelliance mounted. Mouse spotted eating off kitchen worktop INSIDE cake tray beneath plastic wrap. Cake binned. I bought a small habitrail setup with curled tubes. Planted peanut butter inside. Mouse caught. Success? No, failure.

There were another 3 mice to catch. More habitrail purchased. Thanks to this site, 1 male, 3 female ID'd. Mice settled once wheel purchased. Mice fought over wheel. 3 more wheels purchased. Mice still fought. One female was smaller than others and was victimised. Bleeding wounds etc. Victim separarated to recover. During this time while cleaning her cage I realised she had become tame somehow and was happier out cage than in. From then "Muffin" spends time sitting on my shoulder while I work at computer.

Then placed Muffin with male. After initial scraps they settle. Two other females also settle, then one has babies, 3 as far as I could tell. One dead, one mutilated and third survived 5 days before being eaten. My dilemma. Snowed here weekend so release date for mice some way off. However. I feel now muffin has become tame I have responsibility to keep her, as release now would mean almost certain death. Not only this she is a runt of a mouse and her drama with other mice prove she is less than able to look after herself. Should I keep Muffin and release other 3? If I keep her I will have to find her a friend from a pet shop. I would hope a petshop female would have a temperament akin to Muffin's. But what do I know, I became a mouse herder by accident.

To complicate matters further, a second female is chilling out now. By the time fair weather arrives I may have 4 housetrained house mice. As frustrating as all this is, I know we did the right thing not killing them. Mice are mice, I don't care if they come from a petshop or under your sink, I see no difference. And before anyone cries Hanta virus, I've been bitten, peed on and covered in poo without effect. Besides I don't believe the virus is in Maryland. So to finish off. Does anyone have an opinion on my dillema? And are there any others out there who have house mice as pets. I'd be interested to hear from you. James:-)

Angela replied:

Thanks very much for leaving your story in the mouse@horns guestbook. I really enjoyed reading it, and am very glad to hear that you're getting along well with your wild mice. I wouldn't keep them personally, but then I have more than enough animals already!

If you're not worried about catching diseases (do be careful, though - make sure any skin abrasions are covered when you handle them, and wash your hands before touching eyes/nose/.mouth) then if I were you, I'd keep the mice. They will have got used to being in captivity by now - they will have a much longer life expectancy with you than they will in the wild. They should count themselves lucky that they found you and not a more fastidious human!

Muffin will have a better life if you get her a companion, without a doubt. I would get a young, FEMALE, pet shop mouse for her. The domesticated mouse will almost certainly be less intelligent, and less dominant, than any wild mouse, so that means Muffin will automatically be boss. This is just what she needs after her poor start. I would certainly not let Muffin anywhere near a male mouse of any description - you say she is a runt, so breeding could be very dangerous for her, and her babies would probably be undernourished too.

I think there is some info on keeping captive wild mice on 'Reite's Rodent Roadshow' - the URL is on my links page somewhere.

Thanks again,
Angela

James - April 12, 1999:

Since I captured all four wild mice, there have been numerous escapes within the house. Unlike domestic mice these little monkeys move like lighting and have no problems skydiving from a disconnected Tube-a-loob at times when I have to clean their dwellings. All except Muffin succeeded in daring escapes, she seemed quite happy to hang around. In all instances I would leave their opened cage close to the escape zone and within a couple of hours they would return inside of their own accord. Often I would check back and find them on their wheel. I would take this as a clear indication that I was treating them right despite their fear of humans, but also the power of the wheel.

From day one I have made an effort to keep life extra interesting for the mice. Knowing full well they are used to freedom, I went to considerable expense to buy many tubes and cages to allow them as much freedom as could be. I also change the tube set up every two days as well as the cage position, because they seem happiest when confronted by a new environment. I always sit for an hour or so watching them trying to figure out where their next box is hidden within the maze. I'm not sure how domestic mice set up home, but these guys love to build intricate nests made of the numerous materials I supply them with. This includes Aspen, Alaskan Malamute hair (I have two and the mice just love their fuzzy coat) paper from the document shredder and toilet roll tubes. Initially cleaning all their homes was a little traumatic because I would have to move them into one tube each and set them aside. Now however they seem to know the displacement means a brand new home to explore once it's all over and they are much more chilled. One day their nest will be six feet in the air, another time four feet down and six across under the basement work bench.

Since their initial capture the gang of three have relaxed enough to let me watch them close-up but still do not like to be touched. Muffin will climb up my arm if I place my hand inside her cage. With all the fighting that was going on it took time to figure who wanted to live with who. Finally I have the male with the female who previously gave birth and they are very happy. The other female looks fat to me and I have for nearly three weeks now kept her on her own. I am assuming she is pregnant and have a special cage setup for her. This involves her next box being hidden between two insulating walls which allows her constant darkness and privacy should she need it. The Habitrail tubes allow this unique setup. I'll know within the next week whether she's pregnant or not. Of the three females she is a terrific specimen. Shiny brown coat, big brown eyes and not a flaw anywhere. Muffin on the other hand has one-third of her body hair missing following all the scraps with the other mice. Seems that when her wounds healed the hair would fall out. Now at first I was concerned perhaps she was suffering from some kind of skin disease, but when I allowed her to socialize with the male's partner one day she took a bite. The other female was bleeding and she too lost her hair around the initial would. So now I have two scabby looking females. Since then the male and his mate have lived alone together, as have Muffin and the other female. So they are all in 3 different cages. With the weather improving recently I have been taking Muffin outside for a look-see. Each time I would take a small tube she could retreat to, but she seemed to enjoy the sun and the sounds of nature.

Last Friday I took her out on the rear porch which overlooks the forest. She seemed particularly agitated for some reason and I decided I should take her inside. Then she bit me, hard. She ran up my arm, over my shoulder, down my back and leg and bolted for freedom. The last I saw of her was when she dropped between the porch slats and ran through the neighbors fence. Incidentally my neighbor witnessed the whole incident and began singing "Born Free." My concern was the neighbors cat and his horrible little German dog. I told the wife who suggested it was for the best. My feelings were mixed. On the one hand she had become a friend, on the other she was a wild animal. On that day she suddenly appeared determined to make a dash for freedom. In the end it was her choice and I had to respect that. Later that night I wondered though. Yes, Muffin has made a choice for freedom, but surely any creature that can make a choice can also change their minds? What if she wanted to return home after a while? If she did she had no means of coming home. Don't laugh Angela, my wife did. I decided to set up her cage in the basement here and run a tub-aloob out one of the tiny basement windows running under our rear porch. This way if Muffin wanted to come home she had a choice. Although she would have to find her way through the jungle of the outdoors. I went to bed.

Next morning I went down stairs and looked inside her cage. The food appeared untouched and her wheel was motionless. Leading from her cage were two tubes connected to her nestbox. I tapped it with my fingers just in case. Imagine my shock when Muffin stuck her head out to say hello. She was back, she made it home. I swear to you this is true and even now I can hardly believe it. Later in the day I met my neighbor as he returned from work. "Hey James, did you find your mouse?" he said sarcastically. "No," I said. "She found me." The next day I purchased a small fawn colored female mouse from a pet store. This thing could sit on a quarter. I have been allowing Muffin and Fawn to meet on an open work top together. Muffin appears happy of the company and Fawn just wants to snuggle Muffin, probably just as she did in the pet store. I allow them together in a cage together while I work at my desk. This way I can monitor them. Twice scraps have broken out but no-one is injured. I know if Muffin wanted to she could probably kill Fawn with one bite. Once Fawn has grown a little I will allow them to spend time together unmonitored. At least now Muffin knows she has a little friend and I place their cages side by side so they can chat. I will certainly let you know how this all develops. I hope all this was as interesting to you as I hoped. James:-)

Angela wrote:

Wow! Yes, it was very interesting. It's wonderful that Muffin found her way back to her cage - shows she regards it as home. I didn't laugh - when one of my rodents gets out in their room, I imagine they must feel lost and scared once the initial excitement has gone. Leaving a familiar cage or nestbox around is one way to reassure them, and to give them the option of going somewhere familiar again.

In your position, I would put Muffin and Fawn together ASAP, rather than just letting them play together. If Fawn is that tiny, it will be very harmful for her to be living alone. You would probably find that Muffin 'mothers' her a little bit. The way to do it would be to put Muffin in Fawn's cage at first. Don't put them together in Muffin's cage, or Muffin will duff Fawn in.

Best wishes,
Angela

James - April 13, 1999:

I had Muffin and Fawn playing again last night. Fawn appears to want to suckle, always shoving her head under Muffin. Muffin appears quite happy letting her try and often sits on Fawn to keep her warm. As they run around the worktop Fawn always follows in Muffin's footsteps, but her eyesight does not appear to be too good and she seems to follow on sound. I should say I have been touching them both with a dab of Vanilla essence until now, and last night put Fawn in Muffin's cage. I was surprised to see Muffin allow Fawn to sleep in her nest, while Muffin made herself a new one in the Aspen below. There have been a couple of little scraps, but no injuries. In the past I've seen one of the females take one bite at Muffin and leave a bleeding gash on her back. Muffin has done the same to others too, so I know if she was serious about harming Fawn she could easily do so before I could intervene. Tonight I am going to clean out both their cages and connect them together with Tubing. I'll let you know how I get on. Although I must say this. I suspect the Pet shop that sold me Fawn is giving away these mice too early, judging by Fawn's baby behavior. I'll keep you posted. James:-)

Angela wrote:

Glad to hear that Muffin and Fawn are still getting along. I would advise you not to just connect their cages together, though - Muffin could suddenly get territorial if Fawn goes into her cage, with no provocation. If you just put them both in Fawn's cage, there is very little chance of any serious mishap. I would leave connecting the cages for a few days, until they're settled on Fawn's territory.

Best wishes,
Angela


(Retrospective note from Angela: What I should have thought of, was that wild mice are likely to be much more aggressive towards strange mice, than domesticated mice are. This is well established with rats, but I had not read any research on the subject involving mice. However, breeders over the years will have selected for domesticated mice which get along fairly easily with their cage mates, and which can be introduced to other mice in the household without too much trouble. Wild mice, on the other hand, need to be on their guard against invaders from other colonies who may try to move into their patch and take scarce food supplies. So we should have expected Muffin to be more aggressive than a domesticated mouse, despite her small size.)

James - April 16, 1999:

Well, I placed Muffin in Fawn's cage and their little scraps continued. I didn't want to over react and pull them apart because I know there has to be a certain amount of disagreement before they agree on a pecking order. However I checked on Fawn and she has two wounds. A bite to her tail and a bleeding gash to her tummy. So I decided to separate them.

This of course meant I was back to square one, only now I had two mice living alone, not to mention the other three wild mice. My intention was to let things settle a while but Fawn seemed to deteriorate quickly. After the scraps her coat became mangy and she just wouldn't come out her hidey hole to either eat or play on the wheel which she has just learned to use. On the one hand you could say Muffin was being her wild self, but I have to say Fawn never seemed happy with Muffin around. From the start Fawn was a wee squeaker, especially when you tried to pick her up, not even Muffin was that nervous.

With Fawn looking worse each day I decided to do something bold. I returned to the shop where I purchased Fawn and bought another female, except this one was twice the size of Muffin. I took half an hour handling several mice in the shop until I knew I had the right one. I ended up choosing this beautiful gold creature with the biggest ears I ever saw. She was the second mouse I handled, and I told the store keeper I would hold onto her in case I found nothing better. Well, I guess it was the fact she just sat happily in my hand while I looked at other mice that clinched it. This was the one. Once home I placed the new mouse with Fawn and watched them for two hours. Fawn appeared to be terrified at first. Any time the big mouse came near her she would hop and scream to a corner. Obviously her experience with Muffin has left her somewhat unsettled.

The big mouse was more interested in the cage wheel because I suspect she'd never seen one before. During that first hour the big mouse would occasionally visit Fawn in her corner and attempt to groom her. At first Fawn would run, but after a while the Big female earned Fawn's trust. In the second hour Fawn came out of her shell and followed the big female all around the cage. At the end of the two hours they were snuggled up together in a corner. That was the Fawn situation sorted.

Later that night I placed Fawn and BF (Big Female) on the worktop with nothing but a wheel. I then placed Muffin with them and watched. I don't think Muffin had ever seen a mouse as big as BF, even in her nightmares. Fawn spent a lot of time "paying homage" to Muffin, while BF once again tried to discover the meaning of the wheel. Muffin was quick to show her and for the next half our all three would try to board the wheel with varying success. Whenever BF would climb on board Muffin would become visibly irritated, because the wheel would grind to a halt due to BF'S weight. BF just wanted to sit on it while Muffin wanted to enjoy her usual helter skelter antics. Muffin's irritation went no further than her hoping on and off and even running around the outside of the wheel.

Then came the big test. I placed all three mice in one small fresh cage with nothing more than a wheel. There was harmony. I left them that way for a couple of hours, keeping the cage close to me at all times. The scraps that had broken out between Muffin and Fawn earlier were over nestboxes. Despite my cleaning all the cages and boxes each mouse knew her territory. This time with just a wheel there was little to fight over. Later I moved them to the biggest cage along with the biggest wheel. Inside food and water and some treats. Total harmony again. Not only that, Fawn's coat returned to his usual silky sheen and I had never seen her so animated before. Muffin did not challenge BF and BF herself was disinterested in the politics of any of it. By the end of the day Muffin was snuggling up with the other two and enjoyed BF'S coming to groom her. I checked hours later and found BF still trying to run the wheel, while Muffin and Fawn slept together in the Aspen. It's now the next day and I awoke to find all three snuggled in a corner under the Aspen, with MUFFIN underneath the other two believe it or not. It took for me to buy another mouse but finally there is peace in mouse valley.

My plan now is to slowly extend the domain of the three mice. By that I mean add pieices of Habitrail a tube at a time. I don't want to create a turf war, so hopefully a slow extension of space will keep it cool. I will keep you posted on the success of this.

I should point it that during all this I have noticed something. Domestic mice are nowhere near as energetic as wild mice, but I guess this is to be expected. I have watched my wild mice traverse their habitrail maze at the speed of light. In the early days I would watch all four wild mice using one smal wheel and it was hilarious. If someone could not get inside, hanging to the outside was the next best thing. So you would have two inside and two outside hanging on for dear life. Today only two of the wild mice live together. I watch them often and they have a system for their wheel. Both climb inside but one runs while the other enjoys the resulting G-forces of their partner's efforts. Then they switch. I believe their previous escapes within the house, then subsequent returns to their cages is in large part down to the wheels. In the all the pet shops I have visited I have never seen mice enjoy a wheel as much as these guys.

I've also noticed one other startling behavior trait. When placed in a fresh cage or setup, one mouse will slowly walk inside the wheel, until a second mouse on the outside reaches the roof of the cage. It's as if they are working together as a team. Escape is always on their mind as it's part of their nature. However every one of those mice has escaped during cleaning, vanishing into the bowels of this house. Every time they return to their cages, so I guess they each have a conflict of instinct against what has become their home. The other female, the best looking of the three, was the one I suspected was pregnant. I mentioned building her a special setup that placed her next box between the dry wall, giving her extra privacy. Well, I hadn't seen her in three days and was wondering last night if she was all right. I took a peek and found her nursing babies, how many I could not tell because I did not want to open the nestbox. So for now I'm leaving her alone, except to place food, water and milk in her cage, which is some distance from the nestbox. I'll be sure to let you know if the babies survive. Her lack of visibility is however a good sign that she is quite preoccupied for now. I look forward to seeing her kids traverse the habitrail to visit the cage where I can see them. So that's all for now. I hope you've found all that interesting, my experience with wild and domestic mice. All I have to do now is come with a name for BF. James:-)

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