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I hate squirrels. Those bushy-tailed, bright-eyed menaces that litter the quads on campus. I hate them, even though they are the ones who should hate me. Here’s why:
It is eight o’clock and my marine biology class starts now. Living on the Hill, it’s a straight, two minute downhill shot to Ramaley by bike. The air is cold and the bike’s speed gives it an extra bite that smacks against my cheeks. I’m almost there when I see, out of the corner of my eye, a squirrel; young, nervous, and, unbelievably, running straight for my bike. There is not even enough time to swerve before I feel it: that dreaded thump of wheel hitting body. I shut my eyes and gasp as I imagine a squirrel stuck in my wheel, so close that my feet and legs are sure to touch it.
As an avid animal lover, I always feel greater empathy for the animal when it comes to human-animal collisions. But now, I find myself feeling more empathy for, well, me, and disgust for any too-close-for-comfort squirrel. These rodents, including the bigger version, raccoons, are constantly popping my personal bubble – invading my space, am I right?
Wrong. The reality is that these prolific creatures do not see it as my space. The space is theirs. Campus, as well as surrounding Boulder, offers perfect habitats for squirrels and raccoons, what with all the tall trees and big dumpsters to call home. What my incident has taught me, besides the fact that squirrels will never be my favorite animal, is that animals will be animals. They want to survive and multiply, and Boulder offers itself up as a perfect environment to do just that. With this acceptance comes another: no matter where your path, or your bike leads, you are bound to cross paths with one of these fellow Boulder inhabitants.
Most often, the interactions between student and rodent go unnoticed, causing no problems. Other times, you get unlucky, like me, and end up with a sorry conscience and a new fear. However, there are reported incidents of students making their interactions with the local wildlife more than fleeting.
We all know the people who bait squirrels into taking food from their hands, enjoying the close proximity to a “wild” animal. It might seem cute or exciting the first time, but when you have insistent squirrels at your doorstep every day, it becomes not only an irritation, but a health risk. Rabies is a serious concern with wildlife, and rodents, like raccoons, have been found to be carriers in other states.
Incidents like these are harmful, but there are people who make this issue look trivial. In 2011, two CU students and their friend were sentenced with a felony for animal cruelty after beating a dumpster-diving raccoon to death with a baseball bat and machete. What those kids did is unjustifiable, and it begs the question: Who’s more of an “animal” now?
It is now one year after my bike-squirrel incident, and at my open window, with only a flimsy screen to protect me, is a squirrel. Of course it is a squirrel, and of course, it’s me left to contend with it, yelling from a distance as his hole in the screen grows bigger and bigger.
Interactions with wildlife will never cease to occur. Animals will always be animals, but we do not get that same luxury of relying only on basic instinct and reaction. Desires to feed or hurt animals must be checked and never fulfilled if Boulder is to continue being a beautiful community to live in – for humans and animals, even squirrels, alike.