By Mark David Blum, Esq.
I have a new friend. No, my friend is not a rat. He does have beady black eyes and is a first class sneak thief. But he is far too large and furry to be a rat. I call him ‘Rocky’ and he is a young adult raccoon that sneaks up between 2 and 4 in the morning and eats all my bird food.
[Hey Rocky, watch me pull a raccoon out of my hat].
We finally met this morning after a couple days of playing cat and mouse. It started one morning when I noticed every seed in my bird feeder was gone, along with all the seed and bread crumbs scattered all over my deck. What bird doth come in the night and eats so much?
Scrambled did I to the nearest expert, Robert Menikheim, to inquire. I was told “flying squirrels”. He said it had to be flying squirrels and that they only come out at night. I said that I aint never seen no flying squirrels ... to which he quipped, “cuz they come out at night.”
Well shit, as if I didn’t need any more reasons to hate squirrels, now I have to deal with a nighttime marauder. Two early mornings ago, about 1:30 a.m., I heard noise and ran outside yelling “AHA! CAUGHT YA.” How wrong I was as the critter disappeared into the night. Yesterday morning about 2:30, I saw silhouetted in the dark a critter far bigger than any squirrel. I flipped on the light and heard it scramble away. When went looking, I saw what I thought was a large orangish cat. Cats do not eat seeds so it had to be … a skunk? I had no idea what kind of critter was out there other than I knew it was neither Rocky nor Bullwinkle.
This morning at about 2:00 a.m., I came upon the ‘coon. Hearing munching and seeing something stretched all the way to the top of my bird feeder tipping it to spill out; I slowly opened the glass sliding door. “It” stopped feeding and stopped to stare a moment. Face to face was I suddenly with a small adult raccoon. He started to leave. I did not move. Then we began to play this game of peek-a-boo over the wood pile. He would raise his head and I would say “I see you” and he would then duck and pop up somewhere else. Eventually he came out and slowly started to resume eating; clawing at the ground and scooping seeds into his mouth. Just like an arrogant teenager I know, “crunch”, “crunch”, “crunch” as he eyed me unblinking.
A couple times I moved too much or too close and he scampered off … or I should say waddled off. Raccoons go down hill far slower than uphill. When he got to the lawn I saw how in the ambient light he looked orangish thus solving that mystery. I would then return to work until I heard the “crunch”, “crunch”, “crunch” of coons snarfing seeds.
Eventually I learned that Rocky’s line is about eighteen inches. That distance is about the closest he will let me come without scampering away to play another game of hide and seek. I sat and chattered away to Rocky until about 4:00 a.m. Then he suddenly waddled off into the darkness.
I returned to my forlorn worn computer and keyboard to write this tale when I began to think of my new pal Rocky. Should I let Rocky into my life and make myself vulnerable to him? Should I feed and care for him knowing that one day, he is just going to walk out of my life never to return? He knows I won’t commit because well, I can only have one fuzzy critter in my life at a time and right now, my heart is elsewhere.
Notwithstanding the fact he is playing games with a trial lawyer in the middle of the night, Rocky seemed to have his senses about him. I noticed no signs of illness, injury, or lust. In fact, I think I saw in his eyes a “hi, can we be friends” type look. In time we may be.
Or, as some have suggested, should Rocky be killed? Shoot him on sight or trap him and bash him with a bat? Maybe I could just catch him and release him downtown at the Court House. Should I stop feeding my birds for a while and starve Rocky … or bait him with poison? A coonskin cap would be just the thing for a cold winter’s day.
When does an animal become a pet? I doubt it is at the time you get it to submit. We see dogs and cats naturally as pets even if in the wild. In Korea, people eat dogs. China and Solvay have reputations for using kitty as their food. One person’s pet chicken is another person’s sandwich. Here in the United States, we love our beef. In India, people will starve before they see cattle as edible. Jimmy Dean and a McBLT have no place in Kosher or Islamic societies.
So when does an animal become worthy of having rights? In our society, we do give rights to animals. In fact, we have given them more rights than we retain for ourselves as human beings. Our Constitution is allegedly strictly construed such that if it is not mentioned in it, there is no such right. This is constantly used to refute a right to privacy. The same argument applies to “Life” as there is no constitutional right to life. In fact, according to the Fifth Amendment, your life can be taken by the government so long as there is due process. Justice Scalia sees that as being “mere factual innocence is insufficient to overturn a sentence of death properly reached.”
But, no due process is required to punish someone for harming an animal. Animals have been given human rights to be free of unnecessary pain and suffering. They have the right to life and only certain persons are at liberty to kill them. Some animals may be executed, others are adopted, and still others are set free. Yet let one human being harm so much as a goldfish, as that person will face criminal prosecution. A man was indeed charged with animal cruelty for dropping his girlfriend’s goldfish down the garbage disposal.
In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in
which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire.
According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and
queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed,
roasted, and finally carbonized." As for me, I hope society has advanced far enough that such revelry is saved for our children.
Today we even perceive bestiality as being “cruelty to animals” when we charge a connoisseur. It does not matter if the accused was porking a pig, saddling up to a horse, or doing doggie style with a favorite canine. The animal is seen as being “injured” and the human is charged with a crime. Curiosity has always driven me to ponder whether the animal is really being harmed or is having a good time. It was famously said by Will Rogers that only humans have the ability to blush, or need to.
Right now there is a movement afoot to actually give animals human rights. They are starting with Chimps in the European Union and providing these human precursors with the same rights and protections as you and me. The EU is trying to brand chimps as “human”.
Here in the United States, we cannot resolve the issue. You can go to prison if you kill a duck or goose, or you can open a five star restaurant doing the very same thing. As Michael Moore taught us in the movie Roger and Me, a rabbit can be one moment a cuddly critter and the next, be skinned for dinner.
It has gotten so bad that one couple was prosecuted after they abandoned a rat when they moved. Prosecutors told the jury about the pain the rat must have endured as it slowly starved to death over the course of a month. Then there is the guy who is presently incarcerated because during a spat, he ran over his girlfriend’s rat, and backed over it again and again. Forget the horrors visited upon rats by our medical establishment, just think about how many of us could be prosecuted for buying a rat at the pet shop to feed to our snake.
Even during our nation’s darkest hours, twelve days after Hurricane Katrina hit, eleven days since bodies were seen floating by on flooded streets, five days after the Superdome was finally emptied, only three days after most of the Astrodome has been emptied, three days after New Orleans was ordered emptied, two days since the full contingent of 14,000 National Guard troops spread out in the region, and we were still rescuing people from attics, rooftops, and from under the debris; places where human beings had been holding onto hope for nearly two weeks. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were homeless, without job, asset, or future. People were hungry, diseased, and dying. During all this chaos, a millionaire chartered a plane to fly an army of volunteers to locate and rescue animals; flying several dozen to a shelter in California.
I love animals as much as the next guy. I recognize that for some, their pets are their family. I fully recognize that animals of all species are sentient beings, with feelings and comprehensions of their own. Needless suffering and cruelty is horrible on any scale. But in times of crisis, when humans are hurting, hungry, and homeless, every dime we expend on relief should first go to the living humans. Then we can ponder the cost and effort for dogs, cats, and gators.
So what should I do with Rocky Raccoon? If he thinks he is going to run off with my wife or steal all my food, I have a surprise for him. Rocky, you met your match. Scratch or not, a decision is going to have to be made. Will Rocky live or die? Surely Gideon checked out to help with good Rocky’s revival.
Until then, I will keep up our clandestine late night meetings. A man cannot have too many friends.