Editorial: Squirrels: To feed or not to feed?

We definitely don’t recommend doing this. (Illustration by Sabina Mollot)

We definitely don’t recommend doing this. (Illustration by Sabina Mollot)

In mid-July, Town & Village published a story detailing recent complaints made by three parents on a neighborhood Facebook group, claiming that their children had been bitten by squirrels in Stuyvesant Town. While the squirrels in the complex are known for being overly-friendly, this was the first time we’d heard of a child getting bitten by one, let alone three. So we asked around for more opinions, which, as usual, were mixed, though most people we interviewed seemed to agree the resident squirrels were aggressive in their begging habits.

Well, as anyone who reads this paper knows, that coverage didn’t go over too well with the community’s squirrel lovers, who interpreted the parents’ concern as hatred toward the fluffy tailed critters in letters we published. In addition, this newspaper was blasted as being irresponsible. “Malicious,” “slander” and “perverse” were some of the words used to describe the article, written by Town & Village editor Sabina Mollot. Our publisher, Chris Hagedorn, even got a call from a woman who threatened to boycott every business that advertises within our pages for our treatment of the local Eastern Grey population.

We weren’t (and still aren’t) sure how to interpret all that. We appreciated hearing the concerns of parents and to us, the main takeaway of the story simply seemed to be that squirrels, cute and cuddly as they appear, are wild animals. As such, we humans should love them from a distance — and never feed them by hand.

Blackstone’s management company, StuyTown Property Services, has previously recommended that residents don’t feed the ones in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper. This week, management reiterated that view, following a petition being started from a woman in the community asking SPS to install signs indicating that squirrel feeding poses a danger to the little ones. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 45 signatures.

SPS hasn’t responded to that specific request, but did issue the following statement to Town & Village.

“The squirrels in PCVST are wild animals. Although appearing to be friendly, squirrels are not pets and are capable of biting or scratching if they are touched or fed by people. We ask all residents and guests not to engage or feed the squirrels (or any of the neighboring wildlife) in any way. Cohabitation of residents and wildlife is part of the charm of our community; but the safety and well-being of our residents and guests is of utmost importance to us and we ask that you abide by these guidelines for your own safety and comfort.”

That we’re aware of, the only landlord of ST/PCV with an official rule against squirrel feeding was Met Life. However, it didn’t appear to be enforced, and honestly we don’t know how such a rule could be enforced. It’s bad enough Public Safety officers have to keep an eye on irresponsible dog owners who don’t clean up after or control their pets instead of just focusing on tenant safety. Is it fair to ask them to issue summonses or even stern warnings to older folks and kids seen feeding the local wildlife? And do we even want to see that happen? Obviously not.

Our view? Whether or not feeding the squirrels poses a danger to children may just depend on how it’s done. We can understand why some people want to feed them, especially in the winter when the critters have a tougher time finding food on their own. However, in the interest of respecting one’s community and neighbors (not to mention the maintenance department), we humbly propose this compromise. And that is to request that those who do insist on feeding the squirrels make sure of the following things:

1) You’re not encouraging the squirrel to eat out of your hand or come close to you to get the food. Maintain a friendly distance.

2) You’re offering nuts and not your leftover McDonald’s or some other GMO-filled slop intended for human consumption.

3) You clean up any nut shells that get left behind and any food that doesn’t immediately get eaten. Otherwise, you’re also feeding the rats, not to mention your neighbors’ toddlers and dogs. It’s especially important to keep in mind that some people have extreme nut allergies. Even if a parent has an eye on his or her child to make sure the kid doesn’t pick up anything off the ground, a child, whose field of vision is lower to the ground, could spot something like a nut in a tree pit more easily than an adult could.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, no one at Town & Village is an expert on squirrels. So we didn’t even come to this conclusion without hearing the points of view of local animal rescuers and rehabilitators. Therefore this seems to be appropriate time to share a recap of a prior T&V article, featuring interviews with three local wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators, two out of three who seemed to think feeding the squirrels was a good idea. The other didn’t but since she knew no one would listen to that advice, she simply advised doing so responsibly.

That rescuer, Marilyn Pascarelli, a City Critters volunteer who didn’t recommend feeding, said if you must do it, just don’t feed squirrels peanuts. Doing so, she said, can cause them to lose fur. Instead, offer the pricier but healthier walnuts, almonds or pecans. Another option Pascarelli recommended as a supplement to the nuts is food for pet rats, available at pet stores.

Disagreeing with Pascarelli was squirrel feeder and independent rescuer Bernie Goetz, who said peanuts are fine as they’re rich in calories, which squirrels need in the winter when there natural food supply is low.

The third animal rescuer, Kathy Compitus, also owner of Wiggly Pups daycare center, agreed with Pascarelli about which nuts were healthier but also recommended supplementing nuts with veggies like collard greens as well as fruit such as cherries, a treat that seemed to be well-received from what she’s seen as well as healthy.

The aforementioned article was run on January 21, 2014, in celebration of Squirrel Appreciation Day.


5 thoughts on “Editorial: Squirrels: To feed or not to feed?

  1. The responses are absurd. [Wild] Animals foraging in the City? Shouldn’t be encouraged – it’s a CITY! Do we feed the pigeons too? And the rats? Your article mentioned: You clean up any nut shells that get left behind and any food that doesn’t immediately get eaten. We all know that ain’t happening!!!

  2. Your article mentioned: “You clean up any nut shells that get left behind and any food that doesn’t immediately get eaten.” We all know that ain’t happening!!! [Wild] animals foraging in the CITY? What do folks not understand about ‘wild’ and ‘city’?

  3. I was born (early ’50s) and raised here and there used to be more squirrels and more children and I never heard of anybody being bitten by a squirrel except may some stupid boy who tried to catch one. No one should try to hand-feed the squirrels because they probably will inadvertently nip you then. Their eyesight is poor and they don’t know what your hand is. Just throw them nuts and let them run and get them.

  4. Pingback: Squirrel for Town & Village | Sabina Mollot

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