City Mouse/Country Mouse: Negotiating Compassion

city mouseFor the past eleven years, I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve seen rats scurrying through subway tunnels, roaches scurrying through apartments, and yoga students scurrying into class at the last minute. After two years of a teacher training schedule that kept me out of the country for months at a time, it made sense to give up my Manhattan apartment, the repellent vermin and my dear students.

I’m tremendously fortunate. My family has a second home in Vermont, and it’s served me as home base in between trainings since May. I’ve been able to teach a bit locally, and meeting new students as they stroll (too laid back up here for scurrying) into the studio two minutes before class starts has been a delight.

There are tons of animals in these parts. Deer regularly graze in my backyard, and I have to secure the week’s garbage in a bear-proof metal bin. And we have mice. Not nearly as repulsive as New York City sewer rats, but they’re still disease-carrying, card-carrying rodents.

When I first saw evidence of them in my kitchen, I of course chose to go the humane route. I spent $23 on a catch-and-release trap from the local hardware store. I caught (and released) ONE mouse, before the buggers figured out how to get the peanut butter without triggering the trapdoor.

So I reluctantly resorted to neck snappers. I awoke each morning with the Bosstones’ “Last Dead Mouse” (yeah, I came of age in the 90s) ear-worming through my head and tripped downstairs to find that the traps hadn’t been tripped. Meanwhile, the critters were having a nightly saturnalia in my utensil drawers. The morning I found gnaw marks in my favorite wooden spatula, I declared, “That’s it, you guys are toast” and called pest control. (It was a poor choice of phrase. Shortly thereafter, when roasting cauliflower in the oven, I detected wafts of distinctly non-vegetarian odors emanating from the appliance.)

Well, the local exterminator came, laid bait traps, and within a week I’d cleaned avatar-blue pellets out of the dish towel drawer (mouse bait is blue) and haven’t sighted the blighters since.

While I’m relieved to be rid of rodents, the yoga student in me has to examine my judgment calls here. I chose to poison living creatures in order to get them out of my living quarters–living quarters plunked smack in the middle of their natural habitat. The conundrum has called up a crisis of conscience. (Not to mention a crisis of alliteration). According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the principle of ahimsa, non-harming, trumps all other restraints guiding our interactions with other beings. And the Sutras are clear: time, place, and circumstance aren’t acceptable excuses for doing violence. But mice carry pestilence that can pose a threat to human health. So mice taking up residence in my kitchen is potentially harmful to me (plus, c’mon, it’s gross). I struggle here with a conflict of compassion and I question my tendencies to rationalize. And I’m still pissed about the spatula.


Jennie Cohen

Jennie Cohen was first introduced to yoga through dance, and her work with Simonson technique informs her approach to teaching yoga: classes prioritize working safely and address the needs of different students. Precise instruction and focused sequencing invite students to delve into the intricacies of postures and to explore a sense of adventure. Jennie’s interest in anatomy and her studies of the texts that form the philosophical foundation of the practice infuse her classes. Jennie is 500-hour certified through YogaWorks and has studied anatomy with Irene Dowd and Leslie Kaminoff. For more information on Jennie, visit her website or like her on Facebook.

One Response
  1. Dianne 46 years ago

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