Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Good-bye Groundhog

I have a high tolerance for the killing of little furry animals. And I know I need to explain this to many people, some of whom have been writing to our local city paper lately fulminating about the shooting of garbage bears by an octogenarian country lady.

First off, garbage bears. Why shoot garbage bears? Because these are bears that have lost their sensible avoidance of humans and are therefore unpredictable and dangerous. We live in black bear country. In the almost twenty years when we spent weekends here and the twelve years we have been full time residents, we have seen bears perhaps as few as ten times. I used to pick berries from a fairly distant patch with my (then) very young daughters and our dog, and would frequently see the raspberry canes coming upright from having a bear leave them as we arrived. We see bear scat, footprints and claw markings (one on the cabin wall), but we rarely see the animals themselves and if we do, it is a fleeting glimpse as they quickly move elsewhere. We have had one garbage bear which, when we were alerted by the thumping of the garbage pail and went to see what was going on, walked toward us. We yelled, it left briefly and returned to the compost bin. JG took a shot at it (compost bin has bullet hole to substantiate this) and it left for good. We now lock the garbage bin in a metal sided shed and do not compost berry material. Black bears are big enough to kill a person. And the habituated ones may try.

We also target groundhogs and other sweet furry beasties. It's this way. We live way out in the 'bush' (Canadian for second growth forest). Of the 300 acres we tend, 295 are managed forest or beaver flood, and any animal that wishes to is welcome to den in them. Of the five remaining homestead acres, we regard only the immediate vicinity of the house as off limits. We even tolerate chipmunks in the mowed part of the field and lawn. Groundhogs are welcome to dig in the untended areas and live in the rock piles. However, in the last month we have had to eliminate a chipmunk family that persisted in digging up the tile bed of our septic system (after the application of moth balls and ammonia) and a groundhog that insisted in reopening a hole directly under the supports of the stairs leading to the kitchen door. We use live traps when we can, and more than a few chipmunks have been transported for wrongful digging, but find they are not too effective with groundhogs. We had to use a spring trap on the stubborn idiot who was undermining the stairs. This requires waiting for the trap to spring and shooting the perp to put it out of its misery. Imagine if that hit the newspaper!

I guess you could argue that the groundhogs et al were here first and we are encroaching on their territory. True. But overall, I think we are kind to our first citizens and we do a lot to improve their habitat. The deer love the trail system we have developed and are equally pleased with the tasty hostas and other imported delicacies I have planted. Robins revel in the big patch of mowed field. Red squirrels and chipmunks get lots of nourishment from the bird feeders and we don't hassle them if they confine themselves to gleaning what the birds have dropped. The odd squirrel that figures out how to get into the bird feeders is shot and provides a tasty snack for the fisher that we see occasionally. I would say that we usually coexist. Maybe the kitchen stair groundhog was making a First Citizen protest. If so, he would have been wiser to file suit in court.

These are animals, after all. Most of us use animal products which involve the death of the animal. We don't see the slaughter and most of us don't think about it very much. Those people who do worry about it (and they had better be vegetarian and wearing synthetics) tend, in my opinion, to go a bit overboard. ( Also take a look at this link -- hunters going overboard!) Especially if the animal in question is a cute baby harp seal or a laboratory dog or monkey. Have you ever heard of anyone mourning the demise of lab rats? Or trying to close down a pig raising barn? If polar bears become extinct it is not going to be due to the controlled hunt that brings the Inuit badly needed cash; it will be because we are all, to some extent, carbon criminals. I eat meat and wear animal products. And I trap groundhogs. Guilty as charged.

While we're talking about encroachment on other people's property, let's take a look at the urban raccoon. Here is an opportunist animal that makes garbage bears look like rank amateurs. These wily beasts have perfectly adapted to living in cities and are happily increasing their urban populations every year. And this is a real problem in Quebec at the moment because raccoons are rabies carriers. The rural population of raccoons along the Quebec/Ontario/New York State border has a lot of raccoon rabies. The Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario and its equivalent in Quebec have been trying to eradicate this population humanely by dropping bait containing a rabies immunization drug and by trapping and relocating the animals near an infested area. But the infested areas are increasing and soon will be close enough to Montreal that crossover may occur and the urban raccoons become infected. If this happens, it is going to be a big problem for the residents of Montreal. The animals may stop being furry little charmers and become targets for destruction. If you have to choose between killing a raccoon and having your child in danger, I know what I would do.

I hate killing things myself. I ran over a porcupine with my car once, and was really shaky after I made sure it was dead. I love watching little lambs jumping around but I also love lamb chops. I feel sorry for a crowded boxcar of pigs headed for slaughter but I eat lots of sausage. I wonder how defensive I sound to other people about this subject. It's a sort of mental dichotomy, I think, that is due to being far enough away from hunger and subsistence farming to have the luxury of not being 'in at the kill'. Could I kill an animal if my family needed food? Yes, I think so. I hope I never have to find out. In the meantime, I don't have much patience with people who get overly sentimental about animals.


  1. I'd say your views on the subject are eminently reasonable and moderate.

  2. AMEN about the raccoons!

    You probably missed the posts, but I've had a series off and on about the ongoing battle we've had with a raccoon that moved into our yard after being displaced by new construction.

    Little bugger.

    And we are FORBIDDEN BY LAW from removing him or killing him (or her).

    Meanwhile, my pets and family are in jeopardy from this wild animal that keeps finding ways to get into our house.

    Little bugger.

    I'm negotiating a Hired Hit. I hear the hitman, a large golden retriever, has a perfect record. And the middle man assures me it'll look like an accident and of course, my dog will be off the hook since his teeth won't match.

  3. Thanks, SM. I admit to being worried about posting this. Virtual ink on my virtual fur coat.

    Julie, yes I did miss them. I'm about to go and see. You can't live trap?

  4. raccoons carry rabies, bears can kill a person--not good in your own back yard.

    I'm with SM--good post and very reasonable.

  5. My parents have 40 acres, not 300, but they have a similar ethic. My dad has had to shoot some cute little bunnies recently.

  6. You said "Have you ever heard of anyone mourning the demise of lab rats? Or trying to close down a pig raising barn?" - Do you realize how lame and unorigianl that statement is? There are indeed many people working to end the use of lab rats (and all animals) in laboratory experiments, and working towards the abolition of pigs (and all animals) being raised for food.

    You have the right to your opinions, but please resist the urge to use those silly incorrect generalizations and start making informed and educated statements.

  7. thanks, Christine and Jennifer. As I said, I was worried about posting this.
    For reasons such as the comment from anonymous, above, whom I wish had read more carefully. The point was that I see overly sentimental people making a fuss over the cute animals but not over the less attractive ones and I find that invalid.