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Understanding Norman: Loving the Mouse I Never Knew I Wanted

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I don’t want a mouse. I never have. My sister had a mouse growing up: Mufasa. I remember him crawling across a yardstick we’d set up between two beanbag chairs, and nothing else. I guess he was a decent pet, but still. I don’t want a mouse. I love my cat; I love my dog. But they’re different. They actually do things. What does a mouse do? This is where I start.

Norman starts as a twinkle in his mama mouse’s eye as she scurries around in a feeder mouse tank at a local pet store, trying to get away from the other mice who won’t stop attacking her. A kind (mouse-loving) soul brings her home, and when Norman and his siblings are born, they come to the NHSPCA in search of homes.

Norman is homeless for 421 days. This is all his life. For 421 days, I don’t want a mouse. For 421 days, a co-worker (and mouse owner) works to convince me that mice make great pets. I think, at first, why should I take on a pet I don’t want? She explains all the great things I can do with my mouse, tempts me with stories of her mouse, who snuggles in a cozy bed on her lap for as long as she wants and loves to be carried around inside of sweatshirt pockets. This doesn’t win me over. I don’t want to snuggle with a mouse, and I’m quite satisfied with a rodent-less pocket. But somehow, by day 422, I get to thinking. By this point, Norman is getting to be almost a senior (in mouse years). He is the only one left of his siblings who is homeless. Most challenging of all is the fact that he can be protective over his cage and isn’t used to being handled; this means, he sometimes bites.

I don’t want a mouse. But, somehow, I decide that an old, biting mouse might be okay. I am convinced that he won’t be able to enrich my life like another type of pet certainly would, but 421 days homeless is too many, and although I don’t exactly want Norman, I can’t imagine he’ll be too much trouble. No one deserves to be homeless all their life, and I always wonder why one person can’t just step up to the plate and let an animal like Norman live quietly in their house, despite its flaws. If I hope others will do this, then why not me?

It’s a Wednesday when I finally take Norman home. The adoption center is closed. He is the only animal that finds a home that day. He is enough.

Wednesday Week #1: Norman rides in a mouse carrier on my front seat, poking his twitching nose through the wire bars to see what’s going on. He has never experienced this. Neither have I. I have been shopping, and I set up his new place with colorful, soft bedding and tons of climbing, hiding, playing, and chewing equipment. I am too nervous to pull Norman out of the carrier with my hands, so I set it inside the cage and he scampers out and checks out all his new things, zipping through the cage at what seems like the speed of light. He is pleased, I think. Five minutes later, Norman has flung a piece of his absorbent bedding into his petite water dish, and I reach in to pull it out. He runs at my hand, teeth at the ready, before I can get close. This is his cage now. Everything is his. I still don’t want a mouse.

Wednesday Week #2: It’s cage re-design day again, and I’m wise to him this time. I transport Norman into his exercise ball with a paper towel tube before attempting to handle his possessions. He runs, disinterestedly. It’s apparent that Norman feels he is too sophisticated for this. I distribute new toys, and when I put him back, I pull my hands away fast. He checks everything out again, doing a quick loop in his wheel (to make sure I haven’t ruined it) and checking that I haven’t tampered with the elaborate bed he’s made in his plastic strawberry hiding hut. I have to admit that I’m captivated, sitting on the floor by his cage for nearly an hour, as he examines everything that I’ve presented to him. He interests me.

Wednesday Week #3: I give Norman half an egg carton in his cage this week, and he tears up little bits of it and moves them all around in the six different sections. A few days later, I see that he has sorted his food: corn kernels in one section, seeds in another, etc. I am amazed to find this work that he has done; it looks like an abacus. Norman is an advanced mouse. It is day 436 and I fully respect him. I am beginning to look forward to next Wednesday.

Wednesday Week #4: I'm as methodical as Norman. Cage design day is always Wednesday, and he comes to expect it now. I admit I have done a lot of shopping. Owning Norman has opened up a whole new section in the pet store to me, and because he truly seems to appreciate all that I present to him, I continue to stock up.Today I arrange three colors of bedding in perfectly delineated sections, stopping periodically to redirect the slightest stray pieces. Only the best for Norm. After I’m finished, I release him from his ball into his new little world and reach out to hand Norman a sunflower seed. I should clarify that I hand-feed Norman treats all the time. This is the only situation in which he will tolerate me encroaching on his personal space. He loves his treats, and, I believe, is certain that he deserves to have them delivered straight to his mouth. His usual response is to scurry out of his strawberry, take the treat gently in his little mouse mouth and his little mouse hands (my favorites of his little mouse parts), and tote it back to the berry or somewhere else safe to munch on it happily. These are a favorite of his. But today, when I hand Norman the sunflower seed, he becomes completely enraged, lunging his entire body, starting with teeth, toward my hands and, I swear, making some kind of indescribable angry mouse noise. I jolt my hand away just in time and sit in front of his cage, feeling bewildered and slightly hurt.

“Sorry, Norman,” I say, hanging my head like an ashamed child. “I love you.”

I didn’t mean to say this yet, but it just tumbles out in the heat of the moment. Norman stares. He does not want a sunflower seed. I doubt he loves me back.

A moment later, I summon the courage to hand Norman a yogurt treat. He casually takes it from my hand and begins to nibble. This he wants. Simple as that.

Wednesday Week #12: Nothing much has changed with Norman. He still sorts food, uses everything I give him to the fullest, sleeps in his strawberry, and politely accepts his treats (when he wants them.) He still will bite if I try to move things around in his cage while he’s in there (unless he’s eating something yummy.) Norman’s strength comes from his dictator style. He keeps his subjects (me) at arm’s length, full of just enough fear to promote a cautious respect. He can do as he pleases. I will work around him.

I have owned him for only a few months, and already, he has taught me more than I ever thought a mouse could. I’ve learned how to get a mouse into a ball when he’s wise to the paper towel tube trick, how to build a mouse mansion using nothing but cardboard boxes and an exacto knife, and how to place a water bowl in a mouse cage in the right location to avoid it being filled with bedding. I’ve learned that love doesn’t always come from wet tongues and purrs. Sometimes it comes from respect, from fascination. Norman still doesn’t allow me to hold him, but I’m okay with that and he’s fun in ways I never knew a mouse could be. Norman has a personality. He is himself, and he is confident in who he is. He is intelligent. He is interesting. He is (don’t tell him I said this) absolutely adorable.

I hope you learn something from Norman too: to consider a pet that’s overlooked, or a pet that might have some flaws. Every pet is worthwhile. Every pet has something to offer, even if you can’t see it right away. I admit it now. I wanted a mouse. I just never knew it until Norman taught me.

We have many small animals that need homes, please check out our available animals at  ww.nhspca.org/adoptable-animals/ 

*Republished from a previous NHSPCA Newsletter article written by Catherine Anderson Tobia, Adoption Counselor 2008-2015

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