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?