Do These Gardening Horror Stories Justify Killing Animals?

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

Today’s New York Times features “Peter Rabbit Must Die”, a compendium of stories of gardeners killing animals which had the unmitigated gall– can you imagine the nerve?– to eat their tomatoes and other plants.  The bottom line?  In the collision between gardeners and wildlife of all kinds, the  animals are killed.  Nothing, it’s claimed, is as effective as clubbing, drowning, shooting.  And, of course, most of these folks claim that they don’t even feel the slightest twinge of guilt afterwards.

What disgraceful nonsense.  Give me a break.

I’ve been gardening for more than 20 years in Columbia County, New York.  Sure the deer have eaten the Swiss Chard and the sunflower sprouts.  Of course the ground hogs have eaten the cucumbers.  It’s sad when that happens.  I get angry, too.  But let’s get a grip.  This garden isn’t necessary to feed me or the people in the Village of Chatham.  It’s not the difference between living and dying, between health and starvation, between prosperity and economic ruin.  It’s a hobby.  It’s something I enjoy.  Yes, I love my lettuce and tomatoes and kale.  So, in fact, do the animals.  But does this give me authority to get a shot gun and blast them away when they browse the arugula?  I don’t think so.

These animals were here long before I was.  They were here long before my 160 year old farm house.  They were eating crops here before Lincoln was president.  They were eating spinach and kale when it was grown by Dutch colonists in the 17th century.  So at the very most, I can take non-violent steps to discourage them.  Urinating on the garden’s boundaries sometimes works.  Letting the dog out sometimes works.  Letting the cats wander sometimes works.  Spraying with cayenne works to a degree.  Being present works.  Weeding works.  Leaving your scent in the garden works.  If I left for a week or 10 days and didn’t weed, the garden would be eaten in broad daylight because it would appear to have been abandoned.

There have always been collisions between humans and wildlife.  I believe in non-violence. And peace.  And equanimity.  I don’t want to think while I’m eating my tomatoes of the dozen ground hogs I murdered to get the vegetables on the table.  I don’t want to pass the lettuce and think about rabbits I garroted.  I don’t want to eat stuffed zucchini and think about how I got a NY State permit to shoot the deer.   I can live very nicely without those thoughts.

There’s a bird family living in the kitchen vent in the side of my house.  I hear the chicks tweeting for food at sunrise.  I see the mother and father bird bringing food and nesting materials into the vent.  I get off the porch if they are frightened of my being there and won’t go to their chicks.  I would never reach in and throw them, their nest and their babies out and stomp them.

How can we expect anything as grandiose as world peace when we cannot find a way to coexist with groundhogs?  Can’t we live and let live?


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  1. but really, aren’t there plenty of ways to (mostly) pest-proof your garden?  Killing them isn’t the answer…

  2. behind the yard at my place. Stuff is planted there for the deer so they will be less interested in the garden. I wouldn’t shoot them, just shoo them away.

    Barn swallows are nesting in the front of the house. A wren more or less own the garage.

    Even if we were competing for food there are alternatives like dogs and good fencing that will keep the critters away.  

  3. And I should add that having over a bunch of friends, drinking huge amounts of beer, and then “marking” the boundaries of the garden works well until the first hard rain.  Then you have to do it again.

    Thanks for reading.

  4. some for your friends and family, and some for the deer, rabbits, etc. We’ve always had plenty to go around without killin the varmints what poaches our vittles.

    I mean, who wants to kill Bambi and Thumper, really?

  5. but this good Texan was taught that any animal I killed had to be cleaned and eaten, putting a quick end to the fascination of killing.  

  6. ticks



    i would do battle with carpenter ants or termites if they threatened my home. but, when i was in New Jersey, i always had the small ants overtake the window seat in the kitchen. i would not allow my ex husband to kill them. my neighbors found it disturbing. i told them i thought it was more disturbing to kill creatures that do us no harm. not to mention the poisons released in the endeavor.

    i love Canada geese because they thrive in spite of our efforts to kill them off.

    our intolerance is stupid and a shallow reflection of what we really think of any creature, including humans, who get in our way.

    just take a look at the inconvenience of Iraqis living on land that has oil. and for some god forsaken reason, people like George Bush think he and the other undead are entitled to it. same reasoning, different scale.

    we need to talk to our kids about this stuff. ethics. conservation. this isn’t something to be pushed on 25-year-olds in their first apartment. or planting their first garden.

    thanks for this essay!!! it has so many layers and insights to our behaviors.  

  7. I am the kind of person who takes a paper towel and picks up a spider in the house and puts it outdoors.  

    I think humans are obsessed with their greatness — not sure why — we are animals and there are other animals far better than us in many respects!

    I feed the birds, so that means the squirrels, too — but the squirrels need to eat, too!  

    Neat to see so many lovers of nature here!

    • pico on June 6, 2008 at 11:09

    this is a wildly inappropriate cartoon.

    But I did laugh.  Not sure if anyone else here is a fan of PBF – his humor is a bit… dark, to put it mildly.  

    On a more serious note, I don’t know if I share your feelings on this issue so much.  I think you make a good argument that killing animals over a fundamentally unnecessary garden might be unjustified, but on the same note we encourage gardens like these to push more sustainable communities: they might be unnecessary but they’re taking the pressure off mass food consumption.  The only real pang of regret I’d feel is that good rabbit meat/hide is going to waste if they don’t use it.

    I think you’re right that there are more practical ways to keep a garden pest-free, but … I dunno, I’ve just never felt that strongly about this particular issue.  It’d be one thing if people were going on weird bunny-shooting raids just for the helluvit, but farmers have gone after pests like this for as long as there have been farms.

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