Could you shoot a raccoon that had been spreading your garbage through the yard every night for weeks?
Could you set a deadly trap for a mouse that had taken up residence in the pantry?
Could you squish a cockroach racing across the kitchen floor?
If you're like many animal-lovers, the answers are "no," "probably" and "without hesitation." But no matter what your reply, there's no doubt that the humane handling of pests is a dilemma for many of us. And as more of us build homes on land that used to be an animal habitat, pest control problems will become even more commonplace.
As animal-lovers, we don't want "nuisance" creatures to suffer, but we certainly want them to leave, or at least to leave us alone. The question is how best to achieve those goals.
The answers are now at hand. Throw out those cruel glue traps and holster that sidearm: The Humane Society of the United States has put together a nifty little book of advice on handling almost every bird or mammal pest known. "The Pocket Guide to the Humane Control of Wildlife in Cities and Towns" should become a fixture at nurseries, home centers and especially libraries. At $4, it's a bargain.
The well-organized little book was put together by a collection of wildlife biologists and other specialists in wild-animal behavior. It covers nuisances from armadillos to woodpeckers, and just about everything in between.
Each section gives a concise description of the beastie, its food sources and breeding season, a synopsis of diseases it may transmit to humans and suggestions for control.
Despite its small size (112 narrow pages), the "Pocket Guide" seems to have left out nothing. Under "skunks," it even lists some of the best ways to neutralize odor on pets and people. Its listings of control strategies are even more thorough, because, as the authors admit, no one method will work on all animals.
One strategy the authors don't recommend is one animal-lovers often favor, at least in theory: trapping the animal and relocating it to a less-urban area.
"These wild places do not provide a haven for displaced wild animals," they note. "Most habitat areas already are providing home for as many creatures as can be supported. At best, an animal that is uprooted and moved into unfamiliar territory is at a disadvantage in competing.
"Uprooted animals do not live long. ... Many are crushed under the wheels of automobiles as they cross highways in search of a place to live."
The authors suggest that in many cases people and animals can learn to co-exist after the human residents of an area limit the animals' access. That means blocking even the tiniest hole to deny the creatures a chance to wriggle inside a home, clearing yards of such hiding places as woodpiles, and carefully securing food and trash against marauders.
After all, the promise of food and shelter is what lures animals in the first place. If those basic needs are denied, the animals will move on to some place more hospitable.
No pests, and no killing? What more could you want, except for your own copy? This practical, compassionate little guide is available from the HSUS, 2100 L St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20037.
What about those cockroaches? Squish them, with my blessing, and with the knowledge that even the most ardent of animal-lovers would do the same thing. A recent survey of the animal-right movement by researchers at Utah State University revealed, among other things, that even animal activists don't have a lot of sympathy for the nasty little things.