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On Getting Bit (And Still Sticking Your Hand Back In)

It’s tough going from owning guinea pigs to owning mice.

Guinea pigs are sort of like big, furry bricks. You can pick them up, place them in your lap, pet them and then return them to their habitat. That’s the big draw to those big-lipped bundles: you can handle them with relative ease. Wanna cuddle and watch TV? Cool. Snuggle in bed? No problem.

Not so with mice. Even domesticated mice are running on 110% fleeing energy, operating under the fair assumption that anything and everything is trying to end their short lives. When I first got my two mice last year, I thought that I could at least enjoy their presence in the tank they shared. One day, I reached my hand down with a few pieces of food. Virginia – the more sociable of two at the time – was cool with that. Milk-and-cream-colored Sylvia, however?

“She freakin’ bit me,” I told my husband, showing him the red pinch mark on my hand.

“Yeah…what did you expect?”

I didn’t want to admit it, but I expected some White Fang shit. I expected some initial wildness that would melt to warm love between me and my tiny furry friends. But after a few more times, I got tired of the itty bitty bites, so I left them alone to their happy, mousey lives.

Fast-forward about fifteen months. After a brief bout with a dime-sized tumor, Virginia passed away. I struggled with the idea of getting Sylvia a friend (“You’re going to end up the crazy cat lady of mice if you get into this cycle,” I was warned) but she was mostly pleased with having the tank to herself. However, I didn’t want her to get depressed or bored, so I decided I would try once again to make our friendship work so she could stay stimulated.

Everything I read explained that to win the trust of a mouse, you have to make sure they have a strong sense of security. How do you do that? By slowly getting them used to you. How do you do that? Sticking your damn hand in the tank again.

“This isn’t going to work if you keep taking your hand away,” my husband explained as I pulled my doughy digits out of Sylvia’s line of bite. I hated the thought of the little bugger getting her teeth on me. Again.

I read a topic in a book on rats about using soft foods to keep the rat engaged as they become accustomed to your presence. I decided to give this a try. Why not? Turns out Sylvia loves peanut butter, and she quickly got to liking it being given to her on a spoon.

It took a lot of courage to get to the next step: putting peanut butter on the tip of a finger. Every voice in me was like, “This is not going to end well. You know that, right?”

But as that little mouse came up and happily started licking my finger without so much as a pinch, I can report that no bad happened.

How often do we pass up opportunities because we’re afraid of getting hurt again? It’s easy to just say, “I’ll find a better way to occupy my time.” The things that really matter, though – the things in life that bring real joy – may require taking a risk and defying everything that tells you it’s safer to stay back.

I’m glad I tried again. Wouldn’t you?

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