Glue Traps

By George Shea

Twenty years ago, I bought my first and last glue trap. When a rat showed up one day in my New York apartment, a neighbor said, "You better go get yourself a glue trap." I went to a hardware store and bought one. If you've never seen one, a glue trap is a small plastic tray that contains a batch of very sticky, fairly clear glue. A rat or mouse steps into the glue and is a goner.

The next morning I placed the glue trap on my kitchen floor and went off to work. I wasn't prepared for what I found when I came home. I walked in on a desperate, terrified mouse struggling hopelessly for its life in the trap. Its legs were going as fast as they possibly could. And the harder it tried to escape, the more stuck it became. Its terror multiplied tenfold when it saw me.

My first thought was to try and save it, but how? I decided to try warm water to dissolve the glue. I picked up the tray and turned on the tap in the kitchen sink. I ran a little water into the glue and looked down. Only a few seconds had passed but the little creature was dead. I think it died of fright.

I never forgot that experience and I've been bitterly opposed to the sale and manufacture of glue traps ever since. Until quite recently, their use has been largely commercial and limited to construction and institutional and industrial sites. Public sale has been limited to hardware stores and outlets like Home Depot. If you wanted a glue trap, you had to go looking for one.

Now, sadly, that is changing. In recent months, major retail drug chains like Walgreen's, CVS and Rite Aid, as well as many supermarkets, have started stocking and promoting glue traps. In many stores, they are more numerous than traditional snap traps, which kill, but at least do it quickly.

A mouse caught in a glue trap may struggle for days, eventually dying from starvation, dehydration or loss of blood after it has chewed off one or more of its own limbs trying to escape. Trapped mice struggling to free themselves pull out their own hair, exposing bare, raw areas of skin. The glue causes their eyes to become badly irritated and scarred. Animals whose faces become stuck in the glue slowly suffocate. It can take anywhere from three to five days for the animal to finally die.

When I was a child in the 1940s and there was a mouse in the house, I watched my parents set wooden snap or "spring" traps out at night, usually baited with a little bit of cheese. The next morning I would come into the kitchen in my pajamas and find a little gray mouse dead in the trap, its neck broken by the deadly force of the spring trap. I remember feeling badly for the little creature. But the animal was already dead and my parents assured me it hadn't really suffered.

But when I saw glue traps in drug stores and supermarkets in Los Angeles this past spring, my first thought was of that terrified struggling mouse years ago in my New York apartment. The sight had horrified me then when I was already a grown man. I wondered how that same experience would affect a young impressionable child.

My first impulse when I saw the traps was to hide them, get them out of sight. If they couldn't be seen, they couldn't be bought and used. I scooped up twenty or so of the traps, every one I could find, and hid them all over the store, behind rolls of paper towels, half gallon jugs of Coca Cola, any store item large enough to conceal them from view.

I did this every other day for three weeks. I knew that, sooner or later, the odds were that I would be caught. One day I had a bunch of glue traps in hand when, sure enough, I was stopped by the store manager and the assistant manager. The manager, who seemed young and intelligent, told me, "I admire your passion" and let me know he didn't feel morally right himself about the store's recent decision to sell the glue traps. But my actions were disrupting business, creating unnecessary extra work for his stock clerks and frightening customers who came upon the hidden traps and so, as politely as possible, he asked me to cease and desist and leave the store.

I left the store, feeling defeated. I knew that all those glue traps I had been hiding for weeks would soon be on sale again, and I thought about that terrified mouse from years ago. I walked around for a bit and then went back into the store. I walked up to the manager and said, "Listen, I'll buy every damned glue trap you've got. I just want to get rid of them," and added I'd appreciate it if maybe he'd just forget to re-order them for a while. He smiled nicely, said he couldn't make me any promises, but that he'd think about it. I believed he would. I paid for $160.87 worth of glue traps and carted them home and stuck them away in a closet in my office. I figured my wife, who is a lot more frugal than I, would be slightly horrified if she found out I now owned most of the glue traps in the neighborhood.

I've visited that store a number of times since that day. My hunch about the store manager was right. The store no longer sells glue traps. A small victory. But that particular store has hundreds of other branches, and there are now, as I type these lines, thousands of chain drug stores, convenience stores and supermarkets around the country all selling glue traps.

I wish every single one of these stores would toss their glue torture trays in the trash, and replace them with humane box-type traps. These traps, which are currently available online from some hardware stores and humane societies, work with a spring-release trap door that closes behind the animal once it enters the trap. The trap can then be taken outdoors, where the animal is released. These traps are somewhat more expensive than glue or snap traps, but I think it's a small price to pay when you consider the reduction in suffering by animals (birds and household pets also sometimes get stuck in the glue)

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