Creatures and Creature Comforts

July 25, 1995

It is one of the great ironies of modern suburban life that so many of us desperately seek to live close to nature only to find ourselves appalled and frightened when nature chooses to live close to us.

We are speaking of the recent increase in the number of complaints from Howard County residents about wild animals encroaching on residential property.

It seems that skunks and groundhogs and baby deer are fine in pictures. But when they take up residence on the front lawn or under the back deck, that's a matter for the authorities.

Increasingly, animals that once fled at the sound of a bulldozer are finding ways to adapt to the new surroundings. Our own ability to adapt to them, meanwhile, hasn't changed. The Animal Damage Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported more than 1,000 complaints from Howard residents last year about nuisance animals, a nearly fourfold increase over the year before.

One thing that is clear to most wildlife officials is that people discriminate when it comes to the wildlife they'll accept in their back yard.

Rabbits and woodpeckers register few calls for assistance, while groundhogs top the list of vermin suburban dwellers just can't tolerate. Gray squirrels and skunks rank second. Still, most of the problems are caused by residents themselves who leave their garage doors open at night or food unattended on the deck.

Meanwhile, county residents appear no less enamored of the domesticated creatures among us. The county's animal control office reports at least five complaints of pets defecating on neighbors' lawns each month. Bitter feuds have been sparked over an unleashed dog roaming the community or a dog owner without his or her pooper scooper.

It is probably a waste of time to argue for a greater degree of tolerance for the fauna in our midst. History would suggest that our desire to conquer far outweighs any desire to coexist. And if we can't overlook the habits of our own pets, we are hardly going to turn a blind eye to a groundhog rooting in the rhododendrons.

Still, it would be nice if we remembered sometimes that the land we call home also belongs to these creatures. We are the ones encroaching on their turf, turning them out of their wildlands homes and leaving them with no place to go.

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