Lost my Empathy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her tesselation of squirrels.My father was the one who taught me to love animals. For years, he had a wild squirrel he named Oscar that he trained to eat peanuts from our hands. He had an old drooling boxer dog who was my big brother the first years of my life. Animals were as important as people were to me. As an adult, I made animal designs for tee shirts, and coined the slogan “Creatures of Earth Unite for Survival.” I would cry copiously anytime I saw commercials showing neglected or abused animals. And whenever my son brought out his shotgun, I’d stomp and shriek a ruckus to scare away his targets, yelling, “Not the bunnies, not the birds….”

But something changed. Somewhere along the years, I lost my empathy. For animals, anyway. Maybe now that my daughter died it’s difficult to recognize the preciousness of a wild critter’s life.

Last week the visiting wildlife control operator confirmed that my house has squirrels, mice, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, ground bees, cluster flies, and more. This was fine for outside. But they’ve been nibbling their way into my home. And into my humaneness.

The operator reminded me of all the reasons I didn’t want to live with wild creatures. The potential fire hazard of gnawed wires, Lyme disease, chew-holes in the stucco and trim, destroyed belongings…. We would start with the squirrels. We’ll eliminate them from the house, he said, informing me that once squirrels move into a place they’re not likely to move out. I suddenly remembered that squirrels were my son’s old girlfriend’s favorite animal.

The operator was listing all the options and processes he intended to employ. Video-taping, trapping, removal, … euthanizing. I squirmed, and scratched at my underarms, thinking of all the creeping, the chewing on electrical wiring and insulation, the dropping of turds. The twitchy-thing squirrels do with their tails that probably shakes out whatever fleas and ticks they’re carrying. Squirrels scuffled between floor joists, sounding like a herd of greyhounds racing overhead, through the house, north and south.

My father would have said, Poor squirrels—they’re just trying to make a living too.

The operator squinted, pointing at a hole in the house’s exterior. You might have some Flying Squirrels here, he said. And the thought of squirrels flying in my house put me over the top of my tolerance.

Okay. I’m in. How fast can you euthanize them? I gulped.


Wasn’t Rocky, of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a flying squirrel? What destroys your empathy?

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4 thoughts on “Lost my Empathy

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I get it. Red squirrels came to the bird feeders last year because there were no acorns–so I laced all my bird seed with cayenne pepper which doesn’t bother birds but made the squirrels look elsewhere for food. I have snap traps in my cellar and a mouse’s last experience is a delicious raisin in their mouth–and then I flush them. I don’t have many because I keep on it year round. It’s the price of not having a cat. I call it Mother Kali’s Extermination Service. I don’t like it, but we once rented our house and returned to mice chewing through cabinets and fleas everywhere. I go for prevention. I’m sorry you have squirrels in your house and hope they’re gone. It’s not a lack of empathy, Robin. It’s the reality of country living–and at least you don’t have cockroaches.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      You flush the mice? How come I never thought of that? I mean, what could a tiny mouse-body do to the septic, huh? Eeeesh – but those snap-traps. I believe I’d have to first extract the tick-riddled body from the snap-trap and use tongs to take it to the toilet, and then voila – finished. Definitely agree that we don’t need a cat, especially one that regularly upchucks hairballs. I’m feeling kinda squeamish about those “fleas everywhere” though. I could consider putting up bird feeders, much as I hate to have to feed any more creatures, if it means I can simply red-pepper the squirrels into leaving. You’re right, Elaine. At least I don’t have cockroaches.

  2. Lucy Bergstrom

    I hear you, Robin. The animals should stay outside, but they do their best to get in where it’s warm and there’s food. One fall in about 1992, I was reading late at night and heard the usual animal sounds from inside the walls. I had long since learned that if you live in a cabin in the woods, you have to get used to scampering/slithering/chewing etc. sounds inside the roof or the walls. Then I looked up. A huge snake had inserted as much of its body as possibly could fit into the crack between my bedroom wall and the wood planks of the ceiling. This sight turned my blood to ice. The snake’s head was not in the room, but lots of white underbelly and grey-black pattern of the back. At least 6 ft. of it was in my room.
    After thinking like crazy, I got a grill tong and a big trash can, then resolutely grabbed a loop of the snake’s body and yanked. It pulled away until all I had was a pinch of skin. The rest of the snake had disappeared behind the wall. I was absurdly relieved and released the pinch of skin. Then I opened my sock drawer, taking out all the worn-out, mismatched, defective socks, and I stood on the bed to stuff them into the crack – which I’d never thought about it as a portal for animals to enter my house, or as a cold leak. After that, it was very colorfully closed off and well-insulated!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Oh yikes, Lucy, you’ve got my stomach jumping through my esophagus just reading about your snake. I would not have been able to do what you did or even stay in the same house. And you better believe I’ll never forget this if you take me to the cabin in the woods when I visit you. Yeesh! Creative and gutsy solution. But I think I’m all about the euthanizing-thing now. Somebody just get rid of all the inconveniences and I’ll be okay. Sigh. Our places in the woods are awfully sweet otherwise, huh?


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