There was a reason I YouTubed (is that a verb now? Like “to Google”?) Squirrel Nut Zippers the other day: we’ve had a significant squirrel-in-attic problem here for a few weeks.
Now, since I technically live on Citadel property, I don’t have to pay for pest control to deal with this sort of thing. I just call up the powers that be, and they make the arrangements. So for these past weeks a pest control fellow has stopped by twice a week and trudged up into the attic to set traps. Live traps at first. Then, as the rodent’s destruction increased — gnawing on rafters, shredding boxes, digging through the insulation — a few ol’ fashioned rat traps mixed in, loaded up with creamy (not chunky) peanut butter.
Which brings us to yesterday. I was here in my office when I found out something had happened up there. I heard a scratching of claws on wood: scritch-sritch-scritch! This would go on for a few seconds, then it would stop for a few. Then it came back. Damn squirrel, I thought, imagining the rodent tearing things up. I grabbed my trusty D-cell MagLite, lowered the attic ladder, and climbed up to investigate.
To my surprise, the scritching didn’t stop. There was no shuffle in the dark as a fluffy-tailed little beastie shot out into the dark corners of the rafters. So I crept up on the noise, torchbeam searching until I found it.
The squirrel had finally been hit. Rat trap. Only it wasn’t dead. The spring-loaded bar had come down just as it was supposed to: right behind the rodent’s skull, on the back of the neck. It had pinned the creature’s neck down, but it somehow hadn’t killed it. The scratching I was hearing was the sound of the squirrel’s hindlegs instinctively kicking against the wooden trap. Scritch-scritch-scritch!
The animal’s wide, luminously dark brown eyes were dilated by the light of my flashlight. It’s tongue was pushed out into its still-open mouth. There was little chance, I imagined, that it could survive even if it got out of the trap. And even if I released it outside, it would no doubt just return.
I picked it up, put it in a small box, and carried it outside. I stood over it a minute or so, thinking. There was a gentle breeze in the yard, stirring the squirrel’s fur like a caress. Her chest — it was a female, I now could tell — heaved in panting exhaustion, and her legs twitched.
I reached down and gripped the trap. I yanked it back hard. The squirrel’s neck snapped. Her panting stopped. Her legs froze. The breeze continued to move her gray-to-white fur in small waves.
I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday. Not so much about whether or not I did the right thing given the circumstances, but about why I took that minute to look at the squirrel, about why I hesitated before snapping its neck and what — if anything — that says about me as a human being.
I have come to no conclusions, and the squirrel remains dead.