How Does Violence Affect Me When I Am the Perpetrator?
An Unexpected Revelation from My Experience of Killing Rodents
I used to be scared of rodents. I grew up in tall apartments in Seoul, where it was rare to see rats or mice. (For the same reason, I have not been exposed to insects much and have grown fearful of them. Check out my previous letter on my entomophobia.) My frequent encounters with rodents started when my partner Chris and I moved into a house a year ago.
First, it started with rats. As soon as we expectantly set up bird feeders in our backyard, rats started roaming the yard at night. They came in a pack and chased each other, freaking me out. Since then, we have made various attempts to keep them out: building walls with bricks, covering areas along the fence with pavers, and taking in the feeders inside each night. In the end, rats stopped coming, not because of what we did. It might have been poison set out by a human or an attack by a predator. All the rats in the neighborhood disappeared overnight. One day we saw a lone rat, severely injured, slowly trot away into a dark alley in the middle of a day, and that was the last one we saw. The scene sent a chill through my arms and chest; I recognized its pain in its recoiled front paws and its limping rear legs.
Photo by Capri23auto on Pixabay
While we battled bigger rodents outside, we wrestled with smaller ones inside. Mice came with quick and tiny tapping noise: the sound of their feet running on the wooden floor. One late evening, we saw one dash along the wall. I screamed in shock and fear, and Chris stumped the floor to scare it off. Once the mouse got to a secure corner, behind the refrigerator, underneath the stove, or inside a closet, it did not come out. Not knowing how to confront it, we left it alone, partially relieved.
I looked up information about how to deter mice; It was all new to me. We made sure we had no food out at the end of the day, cleared crumbs off the kitchen counter, and sealed tight all pantry items. We did not want to handle mice, dead or alive. We hoped they would give up on our house and move somewhere else.
Soon after, two mice turned up dead. We speculated that they had eaten the poison placed by the previous tenant in the basement. Each time, I wrapped my hand with a plastic bag, picked up the body, and dropped it into another plastic bag held out by Chris. Then he ran outside and tossed it into the trash bin. I felt horrified by seeing their dead bodies, but I was glad I didn’t have to kill them. I believed killing an animal was morally wrong, and I wanted to live as a person who doesn’t commit killings.
This spring we found that a new mouse has entered our house. There were dropping all over the place. My stance on dealing with mice switched from avoiding direct harm to removing them right away. I became willing to be the perpetrator of their demise if necessary. I just could not dine with mice. I asked Google what would deliver them the quickest death. When it comes to animals, “humane killing” is impossible because all animals want to live (except when they are in extreme pain due to an untreatable illness or injury, which can justify euthanasia). The least I could do was trying to minimize the pain mice would undergo before dying. I found out that poison would kill them slowly and painfully and that a well-designed mouse trap was my best option. More internet searches revealed that Tomcat brand traps that our handyman had given us last winter were top-rated. Just a few months ago, killing a mouse with a trap was beyond what we were willing to do, but we have changed.
Tomcat with peanut butter as bait worked marvelously. Mice couldn’t resist the sweet smell of it. Two mice were caught and met their immediate deaths. I was able to tell because when I found the first one, its face with wide-open eyes looked stunned, as if by a bright flashlight of an old camera, rather than groaning in pain. As per the second one, we witnessed its death. It happened during our breakfast. All of sudden, we heard a loud clank. And there it was. It flinched for a second and then flopped down. We cleaned it up after we finished eating. It was not an appetizing meal. In my perspective, my moral value was descending one mouse at a time. I asked Chris, do you think my animal shelter won’t let me volunteer if they find out about this? When I visited its small animal room (I usually work with dogs), I saw white mice with red eyes among rabbits and guinea pigs, and they didn’t look much different from the ones that I found in my house.
One day on a walk along a canal, I saw a small mouse skittle out of a bush. It might have been a baby mole; I’m not sure. I squatted down at arm’s length and talked to it. Are you a mouse? Are you a baby? Do you know where to go? The beginning of the one-way conversation seemed benign; however, it took a turn and ended in a sugar-coated threat. I hope you make it out okay, but don’t come to my house. I will have to kill you then. This surprised me. There was not an ounce of fear in me. Instead, I felt superior to this small creature, knowing that I can control it if I need to. Such a sense of power has grown in me after having killed two mice. That’s all it took.
The two mice I trapped in my house were the first animals I have killed with my own hands. (I had caused the deaths of countless animals borrowing others’ hands for meat and animal products I had consumed before going vegan.) At first, the existence of mice scared me because of their ability to enter my space and get near me. At the same time, I was hesitant to use a trap because the thought of killing them scared me as well. But each time I killed a mouse, it got less scary. I felt less empathetic for the mouse. The belief that killing them was necessary grew firmer in me to justify my action.
I have little experience of using violence against humans or animals. There were times that my severe depression made me think of harming certain people or myself, but the amount of love in my life was able to stop me from acting upon these thoughts. For a long time, I have been trying to understand people who use violence. They manifest in different forms with different purposes: hunters, bullies, domestic abusers, rapists, traffickers, etc. My recent experience with rodents allowed me to get a glimpse of the effect of violence some people might seek and feel: it can make you feel powerful.
A major reason why I want to understand people who choose to use violence against others is that I used to be on the other side of the power dynamic: a child subject to the mercy of adults (my mother and teachers) who presided over me. I complied with their rules and obeyed their orders in fear of physical punishments. I know why they used violence as a means to control me. It worked. I completed homework assignments and didn’t skip classes. They got me to do what they wanted me to do. All the teachers who beat me moved out of my life as I moved through grades; however, my mother is still in my life. And my experience of her physical punishments continues to hinder our connection. It will probably stay that way as long as I suffer from PTSD they have caused.
Using violence could deliver the result you want, sometimes even more quickly than using other means. Remember though that violence leaves tracts, both on the perpetrator and the victim. The carcasses of mice I killed were taken away by the garbage trucks, but they remain in my memories. The fact I killed them will never change. And think about it: what if they were not mice? What if they were cats, dogs, birds, horses, or humans? The memories of violence will live in them and you forever (even if subconsciously).
Have you committed a violent act against an animal or person before? What was the cause? How did it make you feel? Can you be vulnerable enough with me to share? Feel free to leave a comment or reply to this letter.