Monday, April 11, 2011

In Which Our Gerbil Escapes

Well today was eventful.

This morning I took Connor off to school and then got ready to work out in the yard on the herb garden path.  I popped into Connor's room to feed the gerbils before heading outside.  Every morning when I come into the room, Leelee and Cranston run up to the top floor of their cage, stand up on their hind legs and beg in an adorable fashion for their breakfast.  Well, not today.  Today one gerbil ran up to the top of the cage and begged in an adorable fashion.  This just does not happen-- the gerbils never miss an opportunity to stuff their faces full of food.  Even when they're asleep if I click my tongue at them a couple of times they'll uncurl, dig their way out of their bedding and rush up to the top.  I went to open up the top of their cage and discovered that the latch had already been popped.

Leelee had flown the coop. 

Losing a gerbil in a house with cats is kind of a nerve-wracking experience.  Someone is going to find the gerbil sooner or later, and Leelee would probably prefer it to be me.  Since I knew there had been two gerbils in the cage last night and I hadn't found any rodent bits scattered around the house this morning I figured Leelee was still in Connor's room (we don't let the cats in there).  So I quickly plugged the bottom of the bedroom door with a towel and began with the most logical place for the escapee to be hiding: in Connor's closet. 

An hour and a half later I had completely dissected everything in Connor's room that could possibly contain a gerbil.  I checked behind his bookcase, in his clothes and underneath his side table.  I even took Connor's mattress off the bed, thinking maybe Leelee had managed to squeeze down underneath.  Defeated, I put the room to rights and then came out into the kitchen to have a cup of tea and plan a new strategy.  I thought that perhaps the gerbil had managed to squeeze under the door and was now in our craft room (the cats aren't allowed in there either) so I went back and plugged the door up with a towel just in case.  I was pouring the water for my tea and dreading the thought of having to paw through all of my sewing supplies when my alarm went off to go pick up Connor.  I figured I'd shut the cats up while I was gone just in case the gerbil decided to make a run for it.  They were easy to find-- they were both right by the couch.  In fact, they were both staring intently at the space under the couch.  Also Loki seemed to be trying to dig his way through the floor and had actually shoved a couple portions of the sectional apart with his head in an attempt to get around to the side.


I quickly grabbed the cats and shoved them in the laundry room.  Then I found a flashlight and peered under our couch.  It was really, really dusty-- apparently I'm overdue to vacuum underneath there.  Also every fuzzy cat toy we own seems to have been shoved under there by our cats, so I had a few false alarms.  On my third sweep with the flashlight, though, I caught the the reflective glint of a pair of beady eyes.  The gerbil was crouched as far back against the wall as he could go in the dead center of our couch.  Connor was being released from school in ten minutes.  It was a race against time.

I moved the surrounding furniture away from the couch, quickly jury rigged a trap with a small wastebasket and some seeds, and set about attempting to catch the escaped convict as fast as I possibly could.  I thought that if I set the food at the back, I could get Leelee to run into the wastebasket and then close the lid before he could get back out.  Leelee spent the first five minutes running up to the edge of the couch, looking at the wastebasket and then running back under.  I was getting antsy when he sprinted into the trash can at top speed.  I waited until I heard him start to chow down and then attempted to quickly tilt the basket up and close the lid.  It took me less than half a second.

In that half a second, Lee sprinted back up the side of the basket (now tilted at a 45 degree angle), squeaked out just as the lid was closing and launched himself Evel Knieval-style through the air.  He rebounded off the couch and skittered back underneath.

I put the trashcan down in disgust and went off to get Connor.

When I got back, I quickly put Connor down for his nap and then looked back under the couch.  Nothing but dust and toy mice met my eyes.  The gerbil had moved on.  I had a limited amount of time before we were supposed to leave for Connor's pony riding lesson and I didn't want to keep the cats shut in the laundry room all day, so I figured I needed a new strategy.  Just how good were cats at sniffing out rodents, anyway?  They'd led me to Leelee once; maybe they could do it again.  Loki is the more enthusiastic hunter of the two, so I figured he was the one to try.

I went and got Loki's leash.

Yes, we've leash-trained our cats.  It's extremely convenient for vet visits and while we don't actually walk them (they don't exactly heel like dogs will) we will sometimes take them out in the backyard and they allow us to follow them around while they munch on grass, contemplate small rocks and do the other myriad of things cats enjoy doing outdoors.  I snapped on Loki's harness and leash and carried him out of the laundry room. 

He promptly went to the back door and waited for me to open it.  Clearly we were not on the same page.

I took him over the couch and it was like a light bulb clicked on in his little brain.  Hey, there was a snack down there before!  He peered carefully under the couch, sniffed deeply, sneezed and then began stalking in the direction of the kitchen.  He hugged the wall, paused for a second at the fridge, made a slow circuit around the island and then sauntered into the dining room, where he sat down in front of the back door and meowed to be let out. 

It's a good thing people don't use cats as search and rescue animals. 

I locked a disappointed Loki back into the laundry room and left with Connor for his pony ride.  Two thirds of the way there Connor had a little seizure and promptly fell asleep, so we turned around and went home.  I packed him off to bed and (since I wasn't about to search the entire house for the darn gerbil), went outside, set up the little guy's apnea monitor receiver where I could hear it and started work on the herb garden.  Connor slept for the next three hours or so, and I'd dug out about twenty-five feet worth of the garden path when I heard him start making little "Hey I'm awake noises." 

When I walked into his room, there was a gerbil in the middle of the floor.  I shoved the blanket back underneath the door and prepared to do battle.

Over the course of the next ten minutes, Connor's room was completely destroyed as I systematically tore apart Leelee's hiding places.  In the end I finally managed to trap him in one of the bookcase cubes long enough to pick him up and get him back into the cage.  It looked like a tornado had ripped through the bedroom, but at least the gerbil's bid for freedom was over.  There's a new lid on the cage now, so hopefully there won't be any repeat attempts. 

So that's how a gerbil outsmarted me for most of a day.  Let's hope it's the last time this happens so the cats don't get to model what Jer calls "proper predator-prey relationships."  Though given Loki's performance today I'd say that Leelee probably doesn't have a whole lot to worry about.



Lin said...

In my years of hamster experience, they ALWAYS manage to Houdini out of the cage so you just come to expect it. And somehow the family cats just seem to know that the escapee is family and that we shouldn't eat him/her. Thank goodness!

krlr said...

That was the funniest thing I've read in a while - and my day will be the happier for it. Also - sympathies for your cat(s). We have THREE dogs, who can barely be bothered to bark, much less chase the rabbits out of the yard.

leah said...

Oh, goodness - Leelee, stay in your cage! We had a hamster escape once, and couldn't find her anywhere. Our cat was fairly useless in the search, but my mom eventually found her while putting the tea on one morning. As she went to light the burner, a little hamster head popped up. My mom screamed, but rescued the hamster and got her back into her cage. So, dear Leelee, just remember that OVENS are not good hiding places. Just for future reference.

I really hope Connor gets to go pony riding again! :-(

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. That was an epic saga. Poor Leelee must have been scared out of his little gerbil mind!

When we were little, my sister had a hamster who escaped. We couldn't find Honey anywhere, and eventually, we gave up, thinking she'd crawled into the wall and died.

Then, almost a year later, my mom went to the kitchen for a glass of water in the middle of the night and was startled by a "mouse" running across the floor.

The next day, she put out some of those snapping mousetraps, intending to catch the varmint.

She did, indeed, catch something. It wasn't a mouse, though. It was Honey the Hamster, gone feral, her golden hair long and scraggly and full of dust. We never told my sister.

Julia said...

Been there. My childhood was filled with a steady stream of hamsters, gerbils, rats, hermit crabs, and goldfish. The fish were the only ones that never made a bid for freedom, but that didn't seem to contribute much to their longevity. We once had 14 rats in the house at once -- my sister was home from college with her pet rat, we were rat-sitting for my cousins (2 more rats), and my pet rat had just had 10 babies rather unexpectedly.

Sorry about the seizure and the missed riding lesson -- better luck next time.

JMM Haddonfield said...

this was hilarious! almost like a Tom & Jerry cartoon!

Jennifer said...

I just linked over to here from the post you just posted. I'm rather ticked off - my Google reader never picked up this post, so I missed it.

Leelee obviously has a death wish. If I hadn't thought that at first, now with him escaping twice, it is a definite thing!

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