Thursday, June 11, 2015

Death of A Chipmunk

It's just a chipmunk. Its death should be inconsequential. I wanted it to die, after all. I wanted lots of the chipmunks who have set up residence in our yard to die. As long as I didn't have to do it--or see it.
Even though it's just a chipmunk, it represented a real threat to my garden.

We started allowing Biscuit--our exclusively indoor cat--outside recently, much to his delight. I joked around that it was time to start earning his keep around here, and to perhaps kill some of those god-awful chipmunks (who love to nibble on my tomatoes and dig out my peas).

Apparently, he heard me.

Within a week of his new outdoor privileges, we had a 'package' at the front door. A dead chipmunk--and though my heart is usually impractically soft, I almost squealed with delight. It wasn't the best reaction with a 6-year-old on my tail, who looked at the dead animal with a bit of horror, then saw my happy grin and heard my congratulatory shout to Biscuit, wherever he might be hiding. Noah looked at my smile with confusion. His confusion was well founded. Here was his mom--who always talked about the importance of every animal and bug, and rarely killed even the spiders she hated so much--almost shouting with glee over a tiny, adorable, pitifully dead creature. He didn't have time to say a word before I backpedalled a bit and toned down my enthusiasm; "Yes, Noah...Biscuit killed this chipmunk. But it's good, because the chipmunk would have eaten up some of our garden that we've worked so hard on." Noah didn't look convinced. I ushered him away from the door, called the hubby over for disposal duty, and kept quiet for the rest of the evening.

Day two, dead chipmunk number two. With Noah out of sight, I wooped and picked up an alarmed Biscuit, petting behind his ears with all my might. Good kitty! Guardian of the garden!

Day three. Death of a chipmunk, up-close-and-personal. Maybe too up-close.

I was tinkering in the side garden, which resides in the four-feet-wide strip of property that faces south and our neighbor's gorgeous, expansive unfenced yard. I usually pause what I am doing a little too long to gaze at and envy her beautiful and empty space. Biscuit was meandering around in her grass, I was getting my hands in the soil and feeling very calm, and it was one of those still and peaceful moments when everything just kind of feels right with the universe. I was feeling grateful that after all these years, I was allowing my beloved cat a little outdoor freedom--grass beneath his paws, the breeze in his whiskers, keeping me company as I unwound in my beloved garden. Yes, I was also grateful that he now had an occasional chance to follow his instinctual drive to hunt and kill, especially since it benefited me and my plants.

From the corner of my eye I saw sudden movement from Biscuit and turned to look. He had sprung into action, and the quiet air was now charged with excitement--the cat was on the hunt. I watched him with curiosity and within moments he had a chipmunk in his mouth. You GO, Biscuit! Then, he dropped it. The chipmunk scurried, and Biscuit leaped to grab the little thing up again. Then, the drop. And another leap. The stunned chipmunk moved a little more slowly this time when Biscuit dropped him, and Biscuit looked away, seemingly bored. He slowly sauntered away from the chipmunk as it collected its wits, the poor thing either injured or in shock.

A feeling of discomfort crept up my spine as I remembered all the times people had told me that cats are cruel and playful hunters. I'd seen hundreds of dead mice, chipmunks and rabbits in my life that had died at the expense of a cat's hunt, but by the time I saw, the deed had been done. Whatever had gone into killing that creature was not in my mind.  As far as I was concerned, that animal was dead, a 'neat little package', a cute gift from a pet showing its love, or at the very least, commitment and willingness to contribute to the family.

Now I was witnessing the hunt and I was feeling very squeamish. Yes, it was just a chipmunk, and I'm not naive enough to think that death never happens. I still eat meat on occasion, especially chicken, and I know those chickens had to die for me. I like to think the animals I've eaten died a quick and painless death, never knowing what was about to happen. This was different. This animal was not being given a merciful, quick death. For what? So that I could harvest every single last of my tomatoes instead of losing one or two to a hungry animal? Yet, if the chipmunk population were allowed to take over, they could definitely do more damage.

I could have taken charge of the uncomfortable situation, put the poor chipmunk out of its misery, but I am not brave enough. I am not good at taking lives even though I want to be. I'd love to get to the point of raising my own meat birds and being able to harvest them. I think there is something very big to be said about having a respect for life and also a healthy respect for the death that happens all the time in order for us to eat. Last summer I finally realized the necessity of picking harmful bugs, like cabbage moth caterpillars, from the garden plants and squashing them, and I'm actually proud that I'm able to do it.

In this case, though, it was not my place to intervene. At least, that's what I told myself. Biscuit hovered close by, his tail twitching even though he had a bored expression on his face, and under my breath I urged him "Come on, finish what you started. What the heck. Get over here." As if on cue, he suddenly looked at the chipmunk with interest and leaped over. Again, the grab with sharp teeth, and then the intentional drop to the ground. I made the mistake of actually looking at the details; the tiny body breathing with labor, shiny eyes blinking. That was it. I was done. With a visceral feeling of misery in my gut, I got up from where I sat by the garden. I brushed the soil off my hands and walked into the house, dark thoughts swirling.

I stayed inside the rest of the evening, and silently let Biscuit in when he pawed at the door. I didn't pet him. I peeked at the doorstep; no package had been brought. My mind begged that the chipmunk had been mercifully killed, and that he wasn't out there suffering, left to die a lingering death through the night as we all slept soundly in our comfortable beds.

The next morning, I found only his tail next to the garden. Relieved, but very humbled, I thanked him for being a part of this circle of life.

Is this all a bit melodramatic? Maybe. I do know one thing for sure; each full and ripe tomato that I eat this summer, unblemished by the bites of those rascally chipmunks, will lead my mind to the creatures who died. Everyone needs to gain a realistic view of death, and a respect for the ways in which nature and animals interact, even if we don't like it.

I don't have to celebrate the death of this chipmunk, but I do have to own up to it every time I eat some of my garden harvest.


  1. You happily coax your domestic cat to eat wildlife? You’re not very kind, are you.

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    2. Not very judgmental are you. I just killed 10 chipmunks because they were infesting my mom's garden and backyard. They could cause serious damage. I did not like it just as the person above but I am not going to feel guilt either. I will grieve a little. The last one I killed was a mother in a trap and I found a baby lying on top of her grieving and killed it too. I cried a whole bunch after but that is life. Death is part of it. What about predatory countries killing humans, Muslim terrorists, Putin, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Bush, Eisenhower, Churchill, all the popes in the crusades, Buddhist killer monks?