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A Squirrelly Problem

What Happens When a "Pet" Squirrel Goes Bad
Valrico, Florida
October 2018

In February, 2018, Jay and Joyce closed on their new home on Legends Pass Drive in Valrico, Florida. However, when this occurred, they still had four months on their rental property lease. But it turned out that the people they were buying the home from actually wanted to stay on to the summer, so they asked if they could rent the house until then. This was a win-win for everyone. Jay and Joyce got to know this couple will and like them a lot. Rightly so. They did an excellent job of taking care of their home, and, in addition, the man of the house volunteered to do some additional painting and to upgrade both closets in the main bedroom area. Very nice.

They also showed us Harley. Harley was a female squirrel did the family found a Bandan as a baby at a motorcycle rally (hence the name Harley). If you held critter food in your hand and sat down near a tree and called for her she would climb down the tree, climb on your shoulder and down your arm, and eat the food right out of your hand. Of course, as cute as this scenario seemed, Harley was still a squirrel. Squirrels are cute yet there is another side of squirrels because they are in the same family as rats.

Well, Jay and Joyce moved their new home in the summer and inherited Harley and a number of her other squirrel friends. The house had two feeders on trees and Jay and Joyce dutifully bought critter food and kept the tree feeders filled. They would also occasionally go out and call for Harley and Harley would come down a tree across the shoulder down the arm and eat food out of one’s hand.

This was very cute and very neat until one day Joyce filled the outside feeders but did not close the critter food box that was inside our lanai. No problem - the squirrels chewed right through the lanai screen to get to the food.

So Jay plugged the hole and Joyce sealed the bag of critter food but it turned out the word must have gotten around in squirrel land about free food inside the Braden lanai, and it wasn’t long at all before another hole was chewed in the lanai screen. Even worse, the squirrels chewed up the plants that Joyce was preparing for entry into competition at the upcoming Florida Strawberry Festival (where she had earned Best of Show the previous year).

This meant that Harley and all her friends were no longer welcome on the Braden property. The problem was how to get rid of them. Joyce was adamant that the squirrels were not to be harmed. So Jay bought a HavaHartTM squirrel size live animal trap. And Joyce spoke to one of her friends who was a licensed animal trapper in Florida – the type of person you call when a gator is in your swimming pool.

He made three points.

  • The first was that squirrels who eat through lanai screens have moved themselves into the category of nuisance animals. And that there were state regulations on how to deal with nuisance animals. It turned out that they cannot be released on local government property, county property, or federal property. They could be released on one’s own property, provided you owned 20 continuous acres. Or they could be released on some other person’s private property, but you had to have written permission.
  • The second point was that if you release a squirrel within five miles of where you caught it, it would likely return.
  • The third point was that one must be careful in releasing caged animals because they might be plenty unhappy at being locked up and might take out some of their anger on anyone near the opening trap door.

So Jay set out the cage and baited it with peanuts. It wasn’t very long before he caught Harley or one of Harley’s friends. (Jay thought that one squirrel looked pretty much like any other squirrel and he wasn’t about to try to check the gender of any caught rodent.)

Then the cage was put in to a large plastic bucket just in case the squirrel decided to throw up or otherwise eject liquid or solids from its body.

Since Jay had no realistic way of obeying the state regulation, he became a criminal, driving out to a nearby county park and finding a dirt road nearby. Down this road about a half mile is where he let out the squirrel. To protect himself against a possibly attacking squirrel, he wore gloves but he also shook the cage just before releasing the squirrel and the squirrel was so upset that it mostly just wanted to get way away from the cage.

It was 6.2 miles from home to the release point, and that made a round-trip 12.4 miles. Squirrels were caught one at a time, and so Jay had to make that same trip for a total of 13 times, each time wondering if some law-enforcement officer would be there to arrest him for illegally “dumping” nuisance squirrels. Do the math on total miles and estimate time spent on trapping and releasing squirrels. A lot!

At home, the screen was repaired, all critter food was disposed of, and the yard remained largely squirrel free for well over a year.

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