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Mouse trouble sneaks up on Western Pennsylvania homeowners during winter

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 10:56 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chris Bosko carefully places a mouse trap on the kitchen floor of her Butler County home on Friday. Bosko rarely had seen mice in the 14 years she has lived in the house until November. Dave Trozzo of Slippery Rock Pest Control has been helping her deal with the invasion by setting up bait stations outside and traps inside.

For the first 13 years Chris Bosko lived in her Butler County house, mice were infrequent and unfortunate visitors.

A mouse would creep into the basement, her cat, Mocha, would hear it, “and that would be it,” she said.

At the end of October, however, mice started entering her house in force.

“They were under the stove, under the sink,” said Bosko, 59, of Butler. “They had chewed three holes in the living room wall.”

The seven-county Pittsburgh metro area had the fourth-highest percentage of homes reporting signs of mice in the 2011 American Housing Survey results that the Census Bureau released in February. Overall, about 12.3 percent of homes in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties reported signs of mice.

The results covered the 29 largest metro areas in the country. The Providence, R.I., area had the highest rate, with 14 percent of homes reporting mouse signs. The metro area that includes Phoenix had the lowest rate, with 1.5 percent of homes reporting signs of mice.

One fact supporting Pittsburgh's mice problem is that the city had the second-oldest housing stock, with a median age of 58 years, the survey showed. The median housing age in the Providence metro area was 51 years, and the median for the Phoenix metro area was 26 years.

Mice can push through a hole or crack as small as a quarter-inch wide, and older homes tend to have more holes and cracks that size.

Chad Gore, a local entomologist with Ehrlich Pest Control, said mice often can even squeeze between the door and door frame on outside doors in older homes, and few people think about how much space there is around their garage doors.

“Really, the best place to start is outside” when it comes to deterring the four-legged house guests, he said.

Dave Trozzo of Slippery Rock Pest Control said a lot of older homes also have openings underneath.

“We have old sandstone basements, clay tile basements, block basements,” he said.

Everyone agreed that winter is the most likely time for mice.

Ian Ferguson, owner of Critter Control in Ross, said that between December and February, calls about mice account for about 90 percent of his calls. The other 10 percent pertain to squirrels.

Both mice and squirrels seek warm nesting areas when temperatures drop, and a surprising number of calls about squirrels in an attic turn out to be mice in the attic, he said.

“The most common place for mice to get in is the attic,” Ferguson said.

Bill Todaro, an entomologist with the Allegheny County Health Department, said boxes of papers and clothes sitting in basements and attics are attractive nesting places.

“If you give them a quiet closet or basements with lots of boxes, then all it takes is one female to get in there,” he said.

By the time people see a mouse, they're probably seeing offspring who are foraging farther out for food, he said. The chief mistake is to concentrate on them, he said.

Surprisingly, a cat's food dish is often a key source of food for mice because pet owners keep it filled.

“Mice fill up the walls with cat food,” Todaro said. “They fill up the furniture with cat food. Mice are very good at filling up their cheeks with food and squirreling it away.”

Bosko said she found that out when Trozzo started finding Mocha's cat food stashed away in several parts of her house.

“You have to change your way of life,” Bosko said. “You have to make sure that there's absolutely nothing around that they would like to eat.”

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or

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