13 February 2009

The doctor, the squirrel - and the hawk

Warning: This is controversial. No matter whose side you're on, this is going to be very controversial:

A surgeon in Vienna, Va., was recently arrested and charged with firing his gun in public - and with cruelty to animals. He fatally shot a hawk in the backyard of his home after he saw it eyeing a young squirrel, one that he and his wife had nurtured after it had been orphaned. The same bird of prey, apparently, had previously caught and killed an adult squirrel in the couple's yard. When the doctor saw the bird return and track the younger squirrel, he tried to chase it off using other means - none of which involved firearms - and then, when those attempts failed, he got his shotgun.

Was he right to fire his weapon in a residential neighborhood? The law clearly establishes he wasn't, and deems this a crime.

Was he right to protect the little squirrel as he did? Another law - in this case, the law of nature -establishes just as clearly that he also wasn't. The doctor's intervention unhooked one of the links in the food chain and disrupted the natural order of predation.

Is it criminal to want to save a life? This is what doctors do for a living, after all, with their human patients. In this case, the doctor had cared for the small helpless squirrel, raised and released him and, when he again fell helpless against the talons of the hawk, the doctor again intervened.

But is it wrong to take a life to save one? Likely there are many who would argue that the predation should have proceeded, uninterrupted. Likely there are others reading this (and at least one person writing this) who wouldn't think twice before doing the same thing.

There are no easy answers.


Cactus Jack Splash said...

What a hard spot he was in. I think we all would go to extremes to protect our family. After all of the care the Doctor gave this squirrel it seems it was family. He tried other means...

chet said...

Why shoot the hawk?

Most hawks in my experience (and I live along a migration route) exit at the sight of a human. In the wilds, approaching within 500 feet of a hawk is sufficient. Figure in a suburban area, 50 feet would terrorize the hawk, and then a person could make a loud noise.

It's too easy (and too dangerous) to shoot a weapon in a populated area.

I can understand and sympathize with the surgeon's motives, but I consider the reaction (i.e., shooting) foolish.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

There are so many things in this world that there just isn't a satisfactory answer for. I guess I would have done my best to save the squirrel but I would not have killed the hawk. It too had a life to live. Perhaps even a family to feed.

Jan 4 Insight said...

Wow, what an interesting conundrum. I know how the doctor must feel about saving the squirrel. And yet - returning a rescued animal to the wild means returning it to the laws of the wild. Hawks are as much a part of that as squirrels. As a Monday-morning-quarterbacker, I would say he should not have released the squirrel when he knew the hawk maintained its territory there.

Just sayin'

squirrelmama said...

Jan that does seem the perfect solution. I know I Have been offered wonderful wooded release sites in the past, and have checked out the levels of predation there....and once I learned that other rehabbers release raccoons and hawks in the area, have politely declined.
I think one needs to weigh the odds against predation if this is going to be a concern for a released squirrel and perhaps the doctor, wanting more to see "his" squirrel every day in his hard, did not consider that.

squirrelmama said...

LGS, this sure IS a tough one. I don't believe in killing for killing's sake, though I am kind of confused on whether it is ever justified - and my feelings have changed as I have gotten older - but it is still a hard notion to live with.
There is a children's book called "Everybody is Somebody's Lunch." Not sure I like the title - though in theory it IS kinda cute - but the whole dilemma is just one that I think will baffle me forever.
Shoot to deter, perhaps. But not to kill necessarily.

chet said...

For starters, I don't believe the surgeon's tale. Hawks are quite easy to discourage. Wild country hawks fly away from about 500 feet distance, although I suppose suburban or urban hawks need more encouragement. The day before I saw a red-tailed hawk eyeing my feeder area, and I went outside and took a few photos. It was about 150 feet away, became nervous, and flew to a different spot. At that point crows began divebombing the hawk, which then left.

I would guess the surgeon was angry enough to grab the first weapon on hand and shoot. But again, it is easy to drive away a hawk. Wave a flag, take a photo, or maybe threaten it with a water pistol.

If you want to talk about problems, talk about feral cats, which are crafty, can't fly away so stick around, use cover well, and are accustomed to human behavior.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Thomas Shepler – the new hero!

Thank you Dr. Shepler for having defended the squirrel from the bandit hawk; thank you for having demonstrated your healthy values. You should be proud for having saved the life of the adorable squirrel from the worthless murderer – the hawk; you should not be embarrassed by it.

Squirrels are the most adorable animals on earth. Tragically, they are at the same time the most underappreciated animals on earth. They are valuable to the ecosystem (planting trees by burrowing seeds) and precious as the human companion. There is nothing more satisfying in life than the friendship of a squirrel.

Hawks and other raptors are worthless bandit parasites that feed on the valuable squirrels as opposed to on such undesirables as crows, pigeons and rats. The misguided laws protecting raptors should be immediately changed to reflect that fact.

Human beings are part of the nature too. They ARE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT the more valuable animals from the less valuable ones.

To all you despicable barbarians who kill the adorable squirrels for any reason: It is YOU who the bandit hawks and other bandit raptors should feed on!

Anonymous said...

This doctor is a hero. I'd do the same thing. Mother Nature is a monster without mercy. If there is an animal you love protect it.
Don't worry about the laws of nature.

squirrelmama said...

Yes I believe an animal needs protection and, frankly, I would probably do what the doctor did, even though I am largely nonviolent. I protect the animals I love.