By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Squirrels have been a hot topic in this community and in this newspaper over the years. Each side has been unexpectedly passionate in defending its position, to say the least: one of the most recent controversies involved a resident who received a threatening postcard because of a lukewarm annoyance at the rodents’ ceaseless begging. But the debate has finally become personal because on a weekend earlier this summer, I had an encounter that tipped my bias in favor of a ban on squirrel-feeding.
I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a Saturday afternoon, minding my own business, when I felt something tap against my shoulder. I turned and realized I was almost face to face with a squirrel, not the expected human hand, perched on the back of the bench, who for some reason thought I had a treat for him.
I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about this topic before and could see both sides of the argument. Squirrels can be a bit ratty-looking but also cute in their own way and I can understand the appeal of communing with nature in a city where nature is scarce. And if someone wants squirrels surrounding them or even climbing all over their body, that’s their business.
On the other hand, feeding wildlife trains squirrels (and pigeons) to expect food from people and makes them much more comfortable with human interaction than they would be in the wild. This has annoyed me in the past but I’ve been willing to tolerate it as a byproduct of living in a big city. Dirty animals are part of the deal. But when they become aggressive to the point where they’re impossible to ignore, it’s gone too far.
The Parks Department’s rules and regulations specifically exempt squirrels and birds from a ban on feeding, referring to the feeding of all other critters as “abuse of animals.” It’s time to stop being intimidated by the squirrel and pigeon lobby and ban the feeding of them, too.