“Humane” traps are not necessarily humane – graphic image warning

I struggled with what to call this post. Either the title I used above, or perhaps, “Havahart , my ass!” would work. Because there is no ‘having a heart’ around these things sometimes.

So, I’m at work on a busy morning, in charge (i.e. my boss is not there) and while I’m standing in the parking lot,  a man pulls up,  gets out of his car and says to me, “I’ve been trapping squirrels, but this time I’ve caught a possum, and uh, his like, mouth is stuck in the trap.” I said, “Bring it in.” When I saw it, I was horrified, and the man must have read my face. He said, “I’ll pick it up later”, filled in our required paperwork, and left.

He came in with a ‘Havahart’ trap, and inside was an adult opossum, caught by its pointy jaw, which had pushed through one of the squares of the metal. The opossum’s two teeth were on the outside, which made it impossible to push the opossum’s jaw back through. The animal was suffering and terrified. It must have be panicking and just desperately tried to chew its way out, trapping and injuring itself in the process.I had to take a photo, to show that trapping animals is not always benign:


Reader, what would you do right now if you were me right now? My priorities were – freeing the opossum with the minimum of stress, as quickly as possible, without hurting him further.

I got out the tin snips and made a test cut away from the opossum. They wouldn’t cut the metal.

So, I got the bolt cutters. These have handles that are almost  as long as my arms, with a big cutting blade. The problem was, I had to be careful I didn’t cut the opossum’s mouth any further (he was already cut into), but I had to get the blades in to free him. Each time I accidentally jostled him, he winced in pain.

Finally, somehow, I did it. I freed the opossum by cutting the wires and didn’t hurt him further. I shot him in the ass with a painkiller and shut the lights off to let him calm down.

As I was admitting another animal an hour later, the guy came back. I was kind of shocked that he had the nerve to come back.

“How did it go?” he asked kind of sheepishly. I said, “I got the opossum out, but I had to cut the trap. It’s destroyed. Do you still want it back?” “Well no…not if it’s useless now” he said, and slinked off.  Ok, maybe I was a little…enthusiastic..when I cut the trap. But my priority was the oppossum.

When my boss and I examined the opossum, it turned out it was a female, with a pouch full of 13 babies (opossums are marsupials like kangaroos).

I was so angry. Later, one of my volunteers asked, “Why was he trapping squirrels, anyway?”

I was emotional and stressed, and I kind of went off on a rant:  “Because there are certain types of pathetic, impotent, suburban men who are bored, pedestrian, uninteresting and feel powerless over their sad lives so they need to exert control over something! And let me tell you, only comfortable, well fed people have the time and inclination to trap and relocate squirrels! Imagine doing this with your time! Read a damn book! Get a hobby!  It’s only when you are fat and comfortable and bored and needing to control something to make you feel powerful that you even notice these animals as a ‘problem’, let alone go out and buy a trap and use it! If your spouse had cancer or your house was in foreclosure or you had a worthwhile purpose to keep you busy,  you wouldn’t even notice the squirrels! Seriously, these men are pathetic!  It makes me so angry!” 

Then I realized I was ranting, and probably not all that coherently or logically,  and apologized. My volunteer is totally cool and said, “no, I get it, and I agree.”

Don’t get me wrong – if I had a raccoon or squirrel in my house I’d use a trap because animals like this in the house can cause damage. I have used these traps when an animal is loose in our building and can’t get out. But squirrels running through your yard? Opossums under the shed? Raccoons living in your neighborhood? Wildlife is all around us, and it can be argued that WE are living in THEIR backyard. We need to coexist. Are they REALLY bothering you, or are you just bored?  Find something else to do. If you can’t, that’s sad.

Why is it wrong to trap and relocate, by the way? Well, in most cases it’s illegal. Secondly, it’s cruel. You could be separating a mother and babies, who will die of starvation, the cruelest death. The adult who you so ‘kindly’ relocate to the park could be chased out of others’ territories, again and again, till, exhausted, it dies of starvation or injuries. Sometimes people call me and argue that it’s a kindness to trap and relocate. I disagree. If you MUST get rid of animals in your yard, call a wildlife exterminator. Whatever promises they make, in many states they are required to euthanize trapped animals, even if they give you a story about relocating the animal. And in my mind, in some cases, euthanasia is preferred to a cruel relocation.  After all, if I was the target animal, I’d rather have a quick painless death than a prolonged one of suffering and fear because someone ‘relocated’ me where I can’t survive.

Unless they are legitimately destroying your property – try to coexist. Just seeing a wild animal is not a cause to call the authorities (like the guy who called the police because a Red Tailed Hawk rested on his deck for a few minutes, then got patched through to me because the police didn’t know what to say to him.)  And if they ARE destroying property, perhaps some simple modifications are all that are needed to keep damage at bay. (Raccoons in your trash? Secure it with bungie cords and cinder blocks). Remember, whatever you believe in, god, evolution, both or neither – these animals are meant to be here with us. And usually, they get the short end of the stick.

As for this opossum, her mouth was terribly swollen for a few days, despite anti-inflammatory painkillers. Within a few days she was able to eat on her own, crucial for producing milk to feed her babies.

Why is one opossum important in the world? Not for me to decide. Why should you get rid of one who is doing no harm? Not for you to decide.