The Great Catch: A true story of recent history
Just as Dan Piroutek hit the recliner to raise his legs, he heard the “Snap!” That little beast had been captured….or so he hoped. He had been disappointed before. Out of the chair and down the basement steps. Success! He had finally out-tricked the creature. No, it was not a mouse. The skinny ball of fur looked afraid, huddled in the corner of the live trap cage. “Perhaps he should just stay in that trap awhile, to learn that he shouldn’t be in our house,” thought Dan. “Or maybe, I should just set the cage outside in the snow, and leave him for a bit.” His thoughts were paused, as the phone rang.
Prologue: We live in a typical, old, large farmhouse, right in the town of Milesville, but surrounded by barns, old buildings, farm animals, and haystacks. When the house was built in 1932, the concrete basement was poured on two separate days. The method was to put some concrete in all four wall frames on the first day. The concrete was not even leveled. The rest of the concrete was poured another day, making for a huge, irregular crack in the middle of all four walls, and that crack opened up more as years passed by. The basement was never finished, but it became the laundry space, vet area, and for storage. Over the years, a number of mice ventured through that crack and into the house. We were busy with steel wool and spray foam, and sometimes rags, just to plug that crack. We also had some cats. One winter though, about seven years ago, we had no cats. We thought, “Great! We won’t have to buy cat food or be sure someone would feed them.” It took about a month, and then we had mice everywhere throughout our house. The word was out. Piroutek’s needed cats, and neighbors shared. Soon 8 – 10 guard cats were sitting at the back step, and mice no longer made it into the house.
Back to December of 2022: The perfect storm was about to come together. With the terrible storms, we decided to head to Sioux Falls on the Tuesday before Christmas to spend the holiday with our daughter’s family. Dan had to return to Milesville on the Tuesday after Christmas due to his work for Tri-State Livestock News at a bull sale that had been postponed due to the early December snowstorm. I stayed in Sioux Falls to attend a piano recital for fourth grader, Eli. The Milesville farmhouse had been empty for a full week.
The first phone call—“The house has a peculiar smell!” The call was from Dan. “I’m going to burn the trash, but this is worse. What else should I do?” I had no advice. I was sitting in Sioux Falls.
The second phone call—“I just found a pile of black smelly stuff sitting on the couch.” I explained to Dan that, after he got rid of that “stuff”, he needed the upholstery cleaner. I went through how to find the spray can, and how that would work. I also told him where to find the Febreeze©. It was not a happy night for Dan with livestock in the house.
The third call—“I found this old raccoon live trap out in the shed. It’s full of lots of old leaves, but I’m trying to clean it up. We need to catch this ‘wild thing’.” I told him where to find a plastic tablecloth to put under it. And, I advised, you better cover all the food. Put whatever you can into the frig, on top of the frig, or throw it away. We did not know how long this animal had been in the house.
The next morning, a fourth call—“I think I saw something run out of the living room. It must have run into the spare bedroom. I really think it’s in there.” I told him to move his trap into that bedroom, put some bait in it, and close the door.
The fifth call—“I left the trap there all day and overnight, and the bait was untouched.” Obviously, the animal was not in that room.
Toward evening, the sixth call—“I’ve got him cornered in the living room behind the entertainment center. It’s one of those half-grown cats—one of the wildest ones. I have neighbors, Mike and Faye, coming over in a few minutes. We’re going to chase him out of there and try to catch him.” I really didn’t say anything, but this cat was one of the kittens we had not tamed at all.
Now the mystery was partially solved. We had been gone for a week over Christmas, when it was really, really, below zero cold. All of our pets are “outside pets.” We have two good cat houses, filled with hay that sit by the back door. The cats use those on cold days while waiting for food to be tossed out of the house. When it’s really cold, and sometimes overnight, the cats seek warmer quarters in the barns. We made sure those barn doors were open when we left. While we were gone, a nice young man would open the basement door to get cat food to dump by the back door. Also, one or two delivery persons had opened the door to leave off some packages. We suppose that the quick little cat took one of those opportunities to slip inside. We don’t know how long he had been enjoying our warm house. As Dan said, “By the looks of the couch, it had been quite awhile.”
In less than half an hour, call number 7—”He got away! He was so quick. He jumped onto the side table, with household wares scattering, taking out most everything in his path. He knocked off papers and the telephone, past the recliner, into the kitchen, over the computer, and down the basement steps. Docility was not in his EPD profile.” My advice, and what Dan had already done, was shut both basement doors. Now, it would be impossible to catch that critter amongst all that was stacked on shelves and along the walls in the basement, but at least we could keep him in the basement, and not in the main part of the house. Time for that live trap. It should work now. That little guy must really be getting hungry, and there were more smells. This cat was really proving he was not a house cat. Dan purchased and set out a box of cat litter, to no avail.
This was now the third day since Dan’s return. The live trap was set up in the basement with a good-sized piece of ham sitting on the tripping mechanism. Surely by morning, he would be caught.
The eighth call—“That little devil! He ate the ham, but didn’t even trip the trap. I’m going to call my good friend, Doug Hauk. He will know what to do.” His advice was to put the bait under the tripping mechanism so that the cat would have to dig to get the bait.
The ninth call—“The cat got the food, tripped the trap, but escaped the cage.” I was starting to laugh, and was so very glad that I was still in Sioux Falls. Dan wasn’t laughing. Doug learned of the rather large dimensions of the trap and suggested that the small cat was able to squeeze under the trap door before it completely closed. Dan would need smaller traps.
The tenth call, it had now been four days—“I met Doug in town. We went to the Marty’s local taxidermy shop where I was loaned two smaller traps. One of my neighbors used steel wool to smooth off the mechanism of the trap. We now have it in the basement, baited with crumpled tuna fish, under the mechanism.”
The eleventh call—“I’ve finally caught him. I hope he’s learned his lesson and never tries to come inside again.”
It was a few more days before I returned home. Mostly I saw papers knocked off counters. My “gardening angel” that sat on the window shelf with my potted plants had lost one wing, but that appeared to be the most serious injury. There are probably a few other messes yet to be discovered, especially in the basement. J. N. from Philip suggested I share this little tale. No good moral, just a bit of a distraction from this cold winter. Disclaimer: There were no animals harmed during this little adventure.