A few weeks ago, I tried to rescue a squirrel. He was trembling, prostrate, sick, and unable to crawl to a handful of carefully placed Diamond premium shelled walnuts. Poor guy. After I called the Humane Society, a specialist armed with gloves and a crate arrived within 30 minutes. Thirty minutes! I only hope 911 works as expeditiously. Soon my squirrel was whisked off to Second Chances, a nearby animal rehab center.
Since nothing happens in the wilds of suburbia – and I’m always interested in painting myself in a positive light – I shared my Dr. Doolittle delusions of grandeur far and wide. One neighbor’s suspicious response: “Well, I hope that doesn’t have anything to do with us,” she said, going on to explain how her husband had laid out some poison for the critters nesting under their deck.
I dismissed her worries – that is, until we went to the backyard for our children’s play date. It was positively littered with paralyzed prostrate squirrels. Okay, there were only two doppelgangers at death’s door, but still. “It’s okay, Junior, just step around the ‘resting’ squirrel.” Talk about awkward.
Incensed, I was ready to turn these Bonnie-and-Clyde Joneses over to the authorities. But, really, is killing a squirrel (or a couple of them) a crime? After all, people exterminate mice and rats all the time. Some more spineless types, myself included, hire others to do the deed. Does the fluffy tail make any difference legally?
Turns out, it depends. Laws about offing God’s little creatures vary from state to state, and within any given state two authorities – the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Dept of Agriculture (DA) – share jurisdiction, creating some overlaps.
The DNR oversees wildlife and game species, while the DA regulates the poisoning of “pests,” most commonly, mice, rats, and moles. But some wildlife can be classified as a pest by permit and then poisoned or trapped, depending on the animal. See, to legally poison a pest, there needs to be a product specifically labeled for that animal’s termination. And even if such a poison or deterrent exists, Harry Homeowner may not be able to legally apply it himself. For example, Avitrol may rid those pesky pooping pigeons from your stoop, but a pro needs to administer it.
When it comes to squirrels where I live in Maryland, however, all parties agree: you can’t kill them – unless it happens to be squirrel hunting season. And no matter what time of year, they cannot be poisoned, because there’s no poison labeled for their “control.” (Ground squirrels, found in the Midwest and West, are less lucky.)
My neighbors could be charged with killing squirrels without a license or illegal use of a registered poison, resulting in fees ranging from $150 to a couple grand. But Bob Beyer, associate director of Maryland’s DNR, didn’t think I had much of a case. “If it was a pesticide allowed for home use in rats and mice, it’s going to be up to the officer to decide whether or not it was intentional,” he explained. “Most likely it’s not going to hold.”
I will not love thy neighbor, but I will turn the other cheek this time – even though my squirrel friend did die. To prevent such tragedies, Beyer strongly suggests that anyone interested in doing away with furry or feathered nuisances contact the DNR or DA before proceeding. There are lots of humane methods to deter animals from unwanted areas (whether that’s blasting “Back in Black” up your chimney, setting out stinky ammonia in the attic, or Havahart® traps). If poison is necessary and legal: “Don’t do it yourself,” Beyer warns. “Get a registered pesticide applicator. They know what they’re doing.” I wish I could say the same for The Joneses.