The question

A neighbour proudly revealed to me yesterday that he has live-trapped over a half-dozen squirrels and chipmunks in his backyard. He’s been releasing them about a mile away in a park. My reaction was that I hoped he wasn’t capturing mothers, leaving the orphan babies behind to starve. The curmudgeonly type, he noted that squirrels don’t have babies in midsummer, and anyway he really didn’t give a damn. He’d borrowed the trap from another neighbour, who’s taken to using it in his backyard, as I once released a dehydrated squirrel that had been trapped in his front yard. Both of them have no real reason to catch the animals, other than they don’t like rodents. Researching online, I’ve discovered many organizations would consider this animal cruelty, as it takes the animal away from its familiar habitat, leaving them defenceless, unaware of food and water and very likely to die. I find their behaviour baseless and cruel. I consider both men friends, occasionally having a beer on their porches, and don’t want to start some kind of war. Any advice?

The answer

Normally, I like to dispense my own advice, but every once in a while I get a question that falls outside the purview/comfort zone of my skill set. On those occasions, I like to solicit counsel from an expert in the field.

This is one of those occasions – so I spoke to Nathalie Karvonen of the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

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She had a lot to say. First, your neighbour is not 100-per-cent correct about squirrels not breeding during summer – in fact, many are starting their late-summer procreation period around this time, and many are pregnant as we speak.

Second, she agreed she didn’t understand why having squirrels around bothered him so much – unless they get into his house and cause property damage.

She is not a fan of relocating squirrels. The squirrel could become injured in the trap and, as you say, disoriented and unable to survive in its new habitat.

In her jurisdiction, she says, you can move squirrels as far as a kilometre away, but more than that is against the law. If, as you say, your neighbour moves the squirrels a mile (or 1.6 km) away, he could be charged.

(Cleverly, momma squirrels, she explained, like momma raccoons, keep several active “dens” simultaneously – sometimes as many as nine or 10 – in case one is compromised.)

From my point of view – well, I suppose I could get into trouble for this, but in your shoes, I would intervene only very gently, if at all. Since your neighbour is not shooting or torturing them, and is at least attempting to behave humanely, I would hate to see tensions escalate.

Partly, I think, my opinion is coloured by the fact I am only one generation removed from farm folk. Also, I worked on a (different) farm myself for a time.

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And it’s a different ethos on a farm when it comes to any creature perceived as pests, or even an inconvenience.

Example: Rats used to live under the corn silo. They would just lie under it, never moving, eating the corn kernels that dropped – first getting fat, then even fatter.

Every so often, as one of the routine chores of the farm, the farmer would throw a smoking rag under the silo. The rats, corpulent and out of shape, would come waddling out, barely able to walk. We’d stand there to greet them, the farmer, his son and I: The farmer would have a shotgun, his son would have a shovel, I had a pitchfork…

And… I should draw a curtain over this anecdote, lest I offend the sensibilities of more sensitive readers.

Point being: Part of me feels like your neighbour has the right to dispense of creatures on his property he perceives as pests in whatever manner he sees fit – as long as it’s humane and conforms to the letter of the law.

I certainly think you could gently mention this kilometre/mile business. And share with him whatever research you’ve done vis-a-vis squirrel mothers and squirrel babies and time of year and so on.

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But after that – well, I have the feeling whatever you say won’t make much difference, except to get his back up.

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