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McCallum: Humane Choices

It began with slight rustlings over the winter. I ignored them until I found evidence of a mouse in a bureau drawer. Out came a snap trap and the next day the unlucky intruder was dispatched to the great cheese shop in the sky. The walls remained quiet for months until one early spring morning. A persistent gnawing and tapping sound behind the slanted ceiling above my head woke me at 5:00 a.m. Neither the cat nor the dog paid attention and only jumped up with excitement when I pounded the wall where the sound had migrated. It definitely sounded squirrel-ish.

Nearly every Vermont homeowner has at one time or another had unwelcome tenants who move in for the winter and cause sleepless nights and anxiety about having one’s house and wiring gnawed to bits. They’re called pests for a reason. After dispatching the first mouse’s life so casually , I decided to go the non-lethal route and contacted a company whose ad promoted pest “exclusion.” The term struck me as possibly more humane than its graphic opposite, “extermination.”

The pest man told me that squirrels move inside for four reasons: to escape predators, to get out of the cold, to store food and to have babies. They come and go, often not living inside for long. This kinder and gentler pest control company then produced a n exclusion estimate that would have bought me a plane ticket to Europe. So I’ve decided to wait it out, in hopes that the critter will return to nature. In the meantime, several experienced and handy friends are helping me identify where the secret entrance is so that it can be monitored and eventually plugged up.

The ongoing squirrel project has led to some interesting conversations - it seems everyone’s got a story and most end badly for the critter that invades a human’s space. An animal advocate offered that my dilemma made her consider what it means to be human. She questioned why we allow ourselves to see certain creatures as disposable and quickly reach for the poison, the trap and the gun. She’s spent her life observing all creatures great and small and can’t imagine disposing of wildlife simply because it’s a nuisance. Her stance may not resonate with frustrated homeowners, but I was stirred by her thoughts on what it means to be human - that is to have the power to choose not to participate in acts that are inhumane.

And for now at least, that’s my choice too.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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