Our backyard is home to a colony of gray squirrels, a variety of birds and the occasional rabbit. Being well within the city limits, we’re not accustomed to visits from critters our country cousins take for granted. So, I was surprised one morning to see a groundhog emerge from behind the large Rhododendron, waddle across the lawn and disappear under the deck. I was even more surprised by the intensity of my reaction. I feared for my lawn, my garden, even my family’s health. This disease carrying, havoc wreaking marauder had to be removed, and quickly. The feeling was visceral. But how best to solve this thorny problem?
My guy friends recommend extermination. But I saw that approach as problematic. I don’t own a gun, and it would be illegal to discharge one within the city limits anyway. The dog died years ago and the neighbor’s cat—a frequent visitor—was no match for this rodent of an unusual size. An exterminator would be expensive and baiting the yard with poison might result in collateral damage. Also, capital punishment seemed like an unjust penalty for simple trespass.
Should I seek female advice? I didn’t want to burden my wife and was unsure where else to turn. Seri and I have an on again, off again relationship, and Alexa is a little too self-assured for my taste. I consulted the Oracle at Google instead. A Have a Heart trap surfaced as a viable alternative – safe, humane, affordable. There were even tips on bait, camouflage, monitoring and relocating the critter, once captured. The challenge would be finding the best location. A search of the grounds revealed no obvious burrow entrances. I scratched my head as I pondered various alternatives.
Light bulb. The deck. I’d seen the Land Beaver disappear beneath its timbers. One side abutted the enclosed back porch. A six-foot cedar fence bordered the second. The third was skirted. That left one open, short end near the steps that led to ground level. I set the baited trap there with the open end jammed against the deck, then filled the remaining gaps with lumber braced with large rocks. This arrangement would guide this witless whistle pig to the last free meal I’d be providing. Perfect.
When I checked the trap the next morning I was giddy with anticipation. Something was moving inside the metal mesh—a squirrel. Not the intended target, but proof of its potential. I lifted the gate and the little tree rat made a beeline for the silver maple. I reset the trap, hoping for better results the second time.
The next morning I found the trap occupied again…with an opossum.
Really? I’d never seen one in the city. Not my target… but I saw this one as a bonus and found a country home for it, as a kind of dress rehearsal. Third time’s a charm, right? Actually, it was. Next morning, there he was—one fat groundhog staring out at me. He was so heavy I was afraid the cage would come apart. It didn’t. I dropped him off where I’d released the possum the previous day. Maybe they were buddies.
That should have been the end of it, but what if the groundhog had a mate? I decided to put the trap out one more night just in case. I was not quite awake the following morning when my wife announced...
“You’ve caught another critter in that trap of yours, sweetheart, and I wish I could stick around to see how you’re going to deal with this one, but I’m late for work. Good luck.”
I heard the front door close. Why the front? The garage was off the back yard. Still half asleep, I pulled on some clothes and headed downstairs. What had I caught this time? I opened the back porch door and peered into the trap—a small dark form… no… black and white. A skunk. CRAP!
Back to Google.
“We recommend you hold a bed sheet or blanket in front of you, as you approach a trapped skunk - to reduce the probability of being sprayed and shield you, if you are.”
OK. Then what?
I gave the trap a wide berth and headed for the garage, searching the cluttered space for another creative idea. Looking up into the rafters, I noticed the long handled pole saw I’d stored there.
Armed with it and a heavy wool blanket, I circled the yard and approached the skunk from behind. With the saw’s poll fully extended, I used the blade to gingerly lift the trap’s exit gate, and watched the skunk sprint for the gate I’d left open.