Here’s the Good News: I’m not going to go deep and dark and try and shed any new light (as if I could) on matters of personal choice involving human life. No, rather, I’m thinking today about taking a life. I’m thinking about killing an opossum.
Here’s the reality: Human beings kill many creatures that are not humans and we often give it very little thought. Hell, increasingly, we see examples of humans taking human lives and to all appearances giving it very little thought. But, setting that aside, humans kill other creatures with little discrimination.
We could start small. If I find that ants are getting into my house or even too close to my home, I will kill them. I will poison the heck out of them because they are not welcome in or near my house. Does this bother me? Not really. Ants take up between 15% and 20% of the entire biomass of the earth. The world will not miss whatever ants I choose to take out because they attempt to invade my home for tasty sugar or food.
I try to not kill spiders. I will relocate them if the circumstances allow because I know they help keep down the insect population in general. That’s nice! But, and I want to make this very clear to the entire blog reading segment of spider world: If you surprise me, I will kill you. With prejudice. And possibly malice aforethought. Surprise Spiders are the worst. I have an irrational thing about surprise spiders. And as a tall person, I get attacked on the regular because all the lower webs across walkways and trees have been cleared before me. Leaving the spiders to aspirationally try to catch me and in those circumstances, someone is going to die and I suspect it’ll have eight legs.
Mosquitoes are just a bane and I’d do away with them altogether, so they can just all get shot into the sun for all I care. Screw mosquitoes. According to one source, Mosquito biomass has been calculated at 96 million pounds in Alaska alone. So, yeah, they’re doing fine and will outlast me and mine.
I like bees and will generally leave them alone. Yellowjackets are the exception. Those guys are assholes. My wife Christina is not a fan of bees. I think she would open carry if it meant she could shoot bees. Bees are to her as spiders are to me. Unwelcome. But, I like them, generally.
As we go up in size and complexity, now we get into rodents and that sort. Yeah, I’m going to kill them. Mice, voles, rats, all those little critters. They are unwelcome in my world. When we moved to our new place, the prior residents had a pest problem which they sold us along with the house. I could hear mice in the ceiling between our bedroom and the spare room upstairs. They ran laps between the joists at 4am. Long before we came along, they colonized under a cabinet. We know this because we moved the cabinet and found a plethora of birdseed and dog food they had squirreled away along with one corpse of a mouse. We found more seed and dog food behind the plates in the outlets, so that was not cool. We eventually brought in a pest control company to help us resolve the issue and over the course of months, it seems we have evicted most of the rodents. Their deaths do not weigh on my conscience.
My dad was a hunter when I was growing up. I couldn’t wait to grow up enough go with him. I took the gun safety course, we went and did target practice and eventually, he gave me a small over/under shotgun that had a .22 caliber on the top and a .410 shotgun on the bottom. It broke apart and could be stored in a case for travel. I loved that gun.
One weekend we were out hunting grouse, I think, when my dad spotted a rabbit down the road we were walking. He always spotted the critters before I did. He could see deer in the trees and would always see birds and critters. It seemed like a superpower. He told me to shoot the rabbit, so I lined up the shot and pulled the trigger and I hit it! But, I didn’t kill it outright, I only wounded it.
Here is something they don’t tell you growing up: A wounded rabbit makes a terrible shriek! It was hurt and scared and wounded and I had done that damage. My dad told me I needed to kill it to put it out of its pain. I couldn’t do it. He had to do it.
That was the last time I shot at an animal with a gun. I was 14. I wasn’t going to be the cause of that pain to any creature again. I did go hunting a few times after that, but whenever the rare opportunity came to shoot at an animal, I shot high or to the side and “missed”. I’m sure my dad was disappointed, both at the rabbit situation and how poorly his son was at shooting. Not long after that, I retired from hunting altogether.
I recall a conversation with a guy I worked with who was a vegetarian and he asserted that anyone who was willing to eat meat should not only be able but willing to shoot that animal. I did not share his philosophy, but I can kind of understand it. However, that did not stop me from eating innumerable cows, pigs, chickens and fish that I had no role in killing. I was complicit, but not responsible. And I was fine with that.
Back to the title of this one: What Value a Life?
I have crossed paths with a possum a couple of times walking from the house to the shop. It’s not hurting anyone. It’s not apparently aggressive. Actually, it’s pretty skinny and ragged looking and it wants to be where I’m not. Now I’ve caught it a couple of times on our security cameras walking by our back door doing whatever it is that a possum does at 4:30 am in the morning.
I’d prefer he simply relocates himself. We have no food for him. We don’t have dogs right now and when we do, the food is secured and inaccessible. Here is what the Humane Society says about opossum: “Opossums get a bum rap. Often seen as a pest and accused of everything from knocking over garbage cans to killing chickens, these quiet marsupials are rarely a threat and easily sent on their way.”
Sure, they may hiss at you, but it’s a defensive bluff. I have not felt in any way threatened by this possum. She doesn’t live under the house, so that’s not an issue.
I suppose if I got really bothered, I could buy a live animal trap for $75, catch the critter and relocate it somewhere away from here. I don’t think I would kill it. I’m not going to shoot it or starve it or somehow try and drown it. Those all sound terrible and I would feel bad. It would have to be relocation, I think.
Where does this leave me with the original question, though? It seems that it’s partially a function of size and complexity. And surprise. Surprise is not good. Insects don’t trigger any regret. Small critters and pests can die and it won’t bother me. If we get much bigger than that and it does seem to trigger some kind of reaction that makes it less palatable, less appealing.
Now, if that possum starts surprising me, jumping out from behind corners and hissing at me or advancing on me, well, I think at that point it’s going to be game on and the possum may find itself in the same category as surprise spiders and it won’t like that!
Images from MidJourney. The spider is very good, Rambo Rabbit turned out nice but the final possum apparently does not benefit from Midjourney’s progress in counting fingers. Either that or this guy’s left paw is messed up!