“It smells like something died in here…”

Note: What follows is a long and boring account of a run-in I had this week with an unpleasant occurrence in our basement. Some parts may be gross. Many parts are long-winded. So if you manage to stick with me, thank you. You are a truly dedicated blog-reader.

So, on Tuesday L. turned 2 months old, and in celebration, I took him to the pediatrician’s, where the mean nurse poked his cute little chunky legs with big nasty needles three different times. There’s not much worse than watching your baby’s eyes widen in shock and pain when he receives his vaccinations. Ugh… All I wanted to do was get home and give him some quiet and comfort.

My wonderful husband had taken C. out for lunch while we were at the doctor’s, before he (my husband) headed out of town for two days. The plan was, when L. and I got home, he’d hit the road.

I walked into the house, lugging the car seat, complete with baby, and noticed… a strange smell. It was not a good smell, but it was very faint, and since I’ve been known to have super olfactory powers, I didn’t think too much of it. I asked Chad and C. if they smelled anything. Nope. So I let it go, figuring I was imagining things. Chad left for his trip, C. skipped off to play and I sat down to hold L., who was not pleased with me for subjecting him to needles.

The day went on… L. developed a fever and became more and more fussy. C. was patient, even though he’s not one who appreciates a screaming baby much. I did my best to keep people happy. And the smell got stronger. I wondered if someone had thrown something in the kitchen trash that should have been transported directly to the garbage cans in the garage. So I opened up the kitchen wastebasket and sniffed. Hmmm… Nope.

I got L. settled for a nap and went on a sniffing tour of the house. Kitchen…fine. Family room…fine. Bathroom…fine. Basement…ah-hah. This was the culprit. Our basement is still unfinished but serves as storage, laundry room, play area, and cat-litter location, so we use it quite often. I had just been down here the day before and there was no smell. Now it was overpowering. And I grew horrified as I realized that it smelled like…something dead.


Now, it just so happens that I have prior experience with dead things. Unfortunately. Our last house was a lovely little cape cod. That happened to be more than 70 years old. And that happened to need a lot of work. And some of that work involved finding and sealing up animal entrances that we were not able to locate in the seven years we lived there. The local population of squirrels, chipmunks, and mice saw our house as the Wildlife Hotel, a luxurious destination for those chilly winter months. So I would occasionally do battle with the vacationers.

There was the winter that I caught and disposed of 14 mice. (And before you ask, yes, we have a cat. And no, she’s of no use whatsoever as a mouser.) There were the nights C. couldn’t get to sleep because he could hear animals scampering about in the attic. And most annoying of all were the times that some random creature would manage to get trapped in the wall and would spend 2.3 days scratching, scratching, scratching. And then presumably, it would die, although thankfully it never stunk – maybe the plaster was too thick for it to permeate. In the meantime, the cat would stare at the noise-producing wall, slowly going insane.

So all that to say, I’ve dealt with animals. I’ve dealt with dead animals. And I was pretty sure that’s what I was dealing with now.


But here’s the thing. This house is only 4 years old. It’s not drafty, it’s not dilapidated. It’s new, for crying out loud. So I couldn’t imagine how on earth something had crawled into our house and died.

But nevertheless, I began my hunt. Using my aforementioned superior olfactory powers, I narrowed down the source of the smell to one corner of the room. I tentatively peeked behind a futon to find…something. I wasn’t sure what. It was small, the size of a mouse. But darker. And the head was all wrong. Upon closer, also tentative, inspection, I believed that it was a mole. But after conducting some research today, I’ve discovered that it was really a shrew. Ugh. I stared at it for a while, fully expecting it to jump up and cause me to scream and run up the stairs. But no. It was indeed dead. I decided to look around to make sure he was the only culprit, only to find another one in the corner about 6 feet away. Two dead shrews. In my basement. In my new house. With Chad out of town. No fair.

An aside: I’d heard of shrews, I don’t think I’ve ever been called a shrew, my clearest association with the word shrew is Shakespeare’s play, “The Taming of the Shrew.” But I didn’t know much about them. Interestingly, they’re not rodents. But they look rodent-like enough for me to not want them in my house. But anyway, being a nerd, I have appreciated learning something about these little creatures. So all was not wasted.

I immediately did what any self-respecting wife would do: I called my husband (who was still in transit), explained the situation, and hinted that he should promptly turn around and head home to handle our critter emergency. No go. He asked me if I was going to take care of them. “I can’t,” I said. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.” He assured me that if I could live with the situation for the next two days, he’d take care of it when he got home.

So I lived with it. For about 10 minutes. But I could not stand the thought of dead things in my basement. Things that were stinking up the house. Things the cat might decide to play with. Ugh. So I found a box (thank goodness I’ve placed so many orders on Amazon.com – you never know when you’ll need a cardboard box), lined it with a garbage bag, and took it and a shovel to the basement. Shrews are rather small and light, and it’s very difficult to scoop a shovel under them, as you would scoop a spatula under a grilled cheese. I won’t share all the gory details, but after considerable time and effort, the cement block wall and I eventually managed to coax them on to the shovel, after which they were unceremoniously deposited in the box. By this time, I was sweaty, mentally exhausted, and utterly grossed out.

When I took the shrew-laden box upstairs, I found that poor L. was shrieking in his crib. The shots were really taking their toll on him and he was just plain miserable. So I put the box in the garage, to be dealt with later, and attended to L.. He proceeded to cry for the next 3 hours, and I felt like crying for those same hours, but eventually I got L. calmed down, and then quickly sealed the garbage bag o’non-rodents and deposited it in the garbage can.

Throughout this adventure, a few thoughts kept me going:

  • Someday, I’ll look back and laugh about all this.
  • At least I can blog about my escapade. So, dear reader, that is why you were just subjected to this story: so that I could redeem my encounter with my home-invaders.

Oh, I found where they came in and then promptly called my husband (still in transit, by the way) to make him solemnly swear that when he got home we’d fill up the hole with cement or something else permanent. I can’t for the life of me figure out where the hole came from. Do shrews eat through cement foundations? I’m thinking no. But I hope that if any more creatures find a way into this house, they choose to make their presence known when Chad is home!

In the meantime, I am SuperMom, hear me roar! I conquered the dead animals, protecting my children from yucky smells and yuckier germs. And after a bit of Lysol-ing, I’m glad to report that the basement smells like nothing but clean.

*This post was originally published on July 27, 2006.


  1. Mocha with Linda says:

    Ick. Having experienced dead raccoons in our attic, I sooooo relate to this. And my hat is off to you for handling it yourself. I could not have done that.

  2. Chel's Leaving a Legacy says:

    Yuk. I can barely handle bees and crickets without my husband let alone actualy ANIMALS! Ewwww…still grossed out. But a very heroic tale! :-)

  3. EW! EW! I’ve only ever seen dead shrews, and those were outdoors. Poor little things.
    I have a phobia – a BAD one – about rodents. My husband would have come home to me weeping on the porch.

  4. Congrats on conquering the shrews. Dead things are no fun, that’s for sure.

    Just last week I thought I had a dead vole (shrew-like critter, I believe) in my kitchen but it turned out to be the head of a bird, compliments one of my lovely cats.



  5. Jennifer, Snapshot says:

    This is one of my favorites! I too have the super sense of smell, so I’m always noticing things that Terry thinks don’t exist.

    After living in “the country” a bit longer, this is even more applicable to me.

  6. My next door neighbor called me a year or so ago, hysterical. Apparently she had a dead bird, torn up by the cat, all over her family room floor. I cannot tolerate a live bird loose in the house but the dead one didnt bother me a whit, so next time Chad isnt there to rescue you, feel free to call. I’m the church directory and dead birds don’t ruffle me a bit…

  7. I am actually going through this exact thing at the moment – strange ‘dead thing’ smell in my house, except it’s coming from…….wait for it…….THE AIR DUCTS! YUCK I have no idea how to even get in there and my husband said “just wait a few days and it will decompose enough for the smell to go away”….oh thanks hun.

    • I am going through this too. We had a shrew running loose in the kitchen and I called my husband hysterical at work. He came home to find me perched on the kitchen island in my bathrobe! LOL! We too have had the strange ‘dead thing’ smell in the house. I have no idea where it got in and it grosses me out. I’m thinking there are more! These pests are not mice. They are worse than mice. We live on a lake and we have moles in the back yard between the house and the channel and shrews eat moles. So I just know there are more. I lose sleep at night thinking about them digging in the crawlspace and getting in the walls!!! My husband also says “just wait a few days and it will decompose enough for the smell to go away”… I’m with you, Ginny. Thanks alot Honey! What’s up with these men thinking living amongst these nasty pests is acceptable? I threatened to call animal control which I’m sure will be ridiculously expensive but worth it in my eyes!!! for my nose!!! Ugha. So disgusting. Thanks for the well-written story, Katrina. I can relate to your superior olfactory powers and how you were sweaty, mentally exhausted, and utterly grossed out. Good luck with your shrew hunting, Girls! And stay strong!!!


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