Monday, July 21, 2014

Ethics of an eye for an eye ~ my column from Sunday's paper

Life is messy. The view from the highroad is more scenic, but there are always detours, and I find myself on bumpy roads more than I’d like.

One part of doing right is being kind to Mother Nature’s critters. A good example is when I wrote recently about relocating the chicken snake caught in the nest of the henhouse instead of hacking his head off with a hoe.

Oftentimes doing the right thing isn’t cut-and-dried. This past week I caught an opossum (possum for short) in my chicken pen. It had already killed and eaten one of my new baby chicks. He came back the next night for a second course, but I caught it in my humane trap.

At first, the equation seemed simple in this case — an eye for an eye. The possum ate my baby chicks; now it must pay for that life with its own life. After all, it is my responsibility to do the right thing by my chickens and keep them safe.

While standing looking through the wire cage at the vicious critter and mustering the courage to carry out the retribution, three tiny possums no bigger than mice came from somewhere underneath. They nestled on their mother’s back as if it were a lounge chair and gazed at me curiously. The simple equation became more complicated for me.

My ethical compass swung northward, so I loaded the wire trap with the mama and three babies into my truck. The plan was to find a suitable place to relocate them.

After driving about five miles from the house, I came upon a secluded pond with lots of open space.

Steering to the side of the road, I stepped out, gravel crunching under my boots.

Out of the corner of my eye, a mama duck with a dozen small ducklings the size of my baby chicks came swimming toward shore.

Behind them were gentle V-shaped waves in their wake.

Watching the tiny critters for a moment was all it took to realize letting the possums go there was not the right thing to do either. Soon they’d be having duck for dinner.

After about 15 miles of asphalt, I came upon a bridge over a large creek. There were no houses for miles, and the area had been used from time to time as an illegal dump. Before giving it too much thought, I freed the family from the cage. Tumbling from their wiry jail, they cursed as they scampered toward the river.

Only Mother Nature knows what scathing labels they hissed on me.

Driving home, the circumstances surrounding the episode wandered through the maze of my mind trying to find a path to true north.

Did I do the right thing? It’s hard to say. Environmentalists might argue that changing the habitat of the possums at such a vulnerable time in their development was cruel.

Many people think I’m goofy for giving this kind of thing a second thought. Why not just blast the whole family with a shotgun and bury the carcasses in a shallow grave?

But for me, life is indeed messy at times and doing the right thing is not always easy.


The evening sky tonight. It has nothing to do with the post, but I wanted
to end with a picture.

18 comments:

  1. Not easy indeed. There is a "neighborhood cat" that roams and sometimes lays in our driveway. She was left here by my next door neighbor who moved. The cat was always an outside cat, and I'm told it can be hard to relocate outside cats (maybe that's why she left her??). Anyway, I always struggle with what to do for this "homeless" cat. I don't want a cat. I don't want another vet bill. I don't really like cats, but this one is pretty nice and she purrs when we pet her. I have tried to feed her, against my husband's wishes, and she never eats what I try to feed her, so I have to assume she's not starving. I think/hope that she is taken care of by several neighbors. I'm angry with the lady for leaving the cat, but the poor cat can't help it! It's just sad and then I feel guilty for not doing more to give the cat a home.

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    1. Most of our dogs have been throw dogs. It's hard to understand why someone would simply abandon their animals.

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  2. You are right Rick... life is messy...and the right this isn't easy but try is better than sitting by.. I hope the rest of your baby chicks are okay :-)

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    1. The survivors are doing well for now.

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  3. Mostly the only 'right thing' is what the person himself thinks and feels. We are guided by our up bringing a lot, so everyone's 'right thing' does not match.
    50 years ago, I would have chopped the head of the snake and shot the 'possum'. Now, my 'solid fact' life has dwindled and I ain't sure anymore. (And sometime it upsets me).

    Take care in the thoughts that 'You done good'.(smile)

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  4. BTW, very good column!

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    1. Thanks Jack. Hope y'all are having fun on your journey.
      R

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  5. Thanks Jack. I bet y'all have seen some critters on your journey.

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  6. Great column! I applaud your sparing the snake his life and giving the opossum family a new lease.

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    1. Thanks Charles, it just seemed like the thing to do.

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  7. You did what you did because that's the kind of man you are!!

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    1. Thanks fishducky. I appreciate you.

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  8. Greetings Rick...

    Your story is very familiar in a lot of ways. I, however, am a city dweller (suburbs of course) and often have to deal with various mischievous critters such as opossums and an occasional raccoon or two. When one has aggravated me quite enough I accept the challenge and get out the live trap. Normally, like you, after the capture I try to find a nice secluded area where the critter can get on with its life without aggravating mine. But from time to time, not often mind you, but from time to time one does seem to really get my dandruff up. Granted, it’s difficult not to have bad thoughts as you look at it growling back at you from the live trap. But for those special cases I have a special release area and am sure your fowl killing opossum would have easily met my criteria for release in my special place.

    My drop-off area for these critters is a wooded area that stretches lengthwise for a fairly long distance but here’s the kicker, it is bordered on one side by an older highway used mostly by the local residents and on the other side by a very busy Interstate highway. The critter has a choice, either stay in his designated release area and if not, “Well, go ahead punk... cross that road and make my day!

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    1. Thanks Alan. By the way, do you know why the chicken crossed the road?
      To show an opossum that it could be done :)

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  9. I couldn't have killed them. (Then again, I couldn't kill any animal.) Removing them was the right thing to do. I bet they'll be fine in their new territory.
    And your joke above is funny.

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  10. Living in the country I too see many "wild" creatures. We have a lovely fox...or we did. I haven't seen him in a while and I'm wondering if the neighbors took care of him because he has a taste for chicken. Especially the ones in their coop! It's one of the reasons I don't have chickens because I'm not sure I could handle the creatures that would snack on them. I think you did the right thing. I'm sure you felt that in your bones after it's all said and done. I would have a hard time killing anything. That snake may be a nuisance but they also eat rodents. So the circle of life goes on. Great column! Plus I love the peaceful pic at the end...like adding whip cream to dessert!

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  11. I definitely agree...things are not always black or white, sometimes things fall in a grey area. As we get older, we learn that choices aren't always easily made and the consequences of our choices can go either way. Unless you're psychic, there really is no way to know at the moment of our choice...we each just do the best we can hopefully!

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  12. I believe that you did the humane thing by giving this mother and her babies a second chance.
    We may not always make the correct decisions, but after all, we are humans, and no matter how much we want to believe that it's true, we are not infallible, nor are most of us infamous...

    You did the right thing whether mama and babies thought so, or not~

    Jan

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