Column Ilja: A mouse at the vet

A sunflower and a column in loving memory of mouse Willemien.

Willemien is sick and must be laid to rest. On a Friday afternoon, I find myself at the veterinary clinic with a small plastic carrier on my lap. When I get called into the vet’s office, she looks me over doubtfully. ‘Willemien the mouse?’ I nod. ‘Come on in’. What is the protocol for a sick mouse? She has a benign tumour that is growing in size, and operating on a creature this small is cruel. I tell myself that she would have been eaten in the wild by now.

Willemien is given two shots. A sedative, followed by the official shot. I hold her while the vet administers the shots. A few seconds after receiving the first jab, the mouse stops wriggling and falls asleep in my hand. The vet gives her the second injection.

‘Yesterday, the animal ambulance brought a small hare’, she says. She listens to the mouse’s heartbeat slowly fading with the smallest stethoscope. ‘He had a broken leg. When you see a hare hopping around outside, you think, “how cute”. But when you see an animal on the table here, you realise each animal has its personality. His own approach to things.’ Willemien was just like that. She knew precisely when it was feeding time and would wait by her food dish half an hour in advance, ready to snatch all the sunflower seeds from it.

An animal’s death feels different if it was a conscious decision

One minute later, Willemien is dead. An animal’s death is completely normal, but it feels different if its death is a conscious decision. I can’t bury the mouse, as I don’t have a garden. ‘That’s okay,’ says the vet. ‘She can stay here and will be picked up later today.’ She wraps the small body in tissue, with only its head poking out. She places it next to her laptop.

Upon my return to the front desk, the assistant looks at me with sympathy. ‘We’ll send you the bill’, she whispers. ‘Stays strong.’ Should I be sad? It is a mouse, after all. Having her euthanised is approximately four times as expensive as buying the animal was. But I gave her a humane death, so she also deserves a moment of solemnity. At home, I draw a small sunflower on the blackboard and write: IN LOVING MEMORY OF WILLEMIEN 2021-2022.

Ilja Bouwknegt is 23, a bachelor’s student of Forest and Nature Management, and an active member of the study association WSBV Sylvatica. She sometimes does bat research at night.


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