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From the editor's desk: Squirreled away under a vehicle

April 3, 2012

While the rest of Newton is preoccupied with the city’s alleged feral cat problem, I’ve witnessed a far more hair-raising animal issue lately.

Victimized squirrels.

That’s right, squirrels abused by vehicles large and small and, in at least one case, an unfriendly feline along North Main Avenue.

The stretch of roadway has become my walking/jogging route in recent weeks due to its sidewalks and its connection between my apartment and downtown Newton about a mile away.

Nearly as frequent as my jaunts along the road has been the frequency of my observations of rodent brutality.

Once a week for the past five weeks, I’ve been the audience for the meeting of a squirrel with the undercarriage or tires of an automobile.

A Honda Civic rolled over one squirrel.

A Ford truck squashed another, producing that familiar “clump” sound.

One squirrel’s life ended under a tractor-trailer cab.

I even watched as a squirrel ran into the spokes of a bicycle near 7th Street.

Yes, North Main Avenue is a violent place for some small animals.

The most disturbing vehicle-rodent encounter happened this past weekend when, as I neared my street on a return jog from downtown, I witnessed a squirrel meet the front bumper of a Chrysler minivan.

The minivan, of course, motored onward without the slightest drop in speed or power.
Mister Squirrel, well, he was not as perseverant. After the collision, he appeared to slither sideways like a snake across the other lane of traffic. An angry screeching chatter followed him to the roadside.

I’m confident the driver never saw the squirrel. She looked like she had a cup of coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

Most of this community may be as concerned about squirrels as that driver, but I believe my recent observations reveal an important reminder about much of central and eastern Catawba County.

Despite our fast-food restaurants, our manufacturing plants and our miles of paved highways, we still share this land with a variety of wildlife.

Our county, like many in North Carolina, is lucky enough to sit near the large cities and still maintain certain rural characteristics.
My home sits just minutes from major state, U.S. and interstate highways, but it’s also nestled adjacent to a thicket that provides refuge to a variety of birds and a few squirrels. Many other homes in our communities can boast of the same characteristics.

For every feral cat that prowls through Newton, there’s a flock of Cardinals waiting for seed on our back porches, a deer looking for the nearest brook from which to drink, and a scurry of squirrels hoping to dodge your vehicle.

Spring is here, and it’s more likely now that we’ll be seeing more of all of these animals.

So, while it’s important to spay or neuter your cats to help ensure a controlled pet population, it’s also important to remember to share our environment with these neighbors who take little from us yet add such beauty and joy to our community.

By joy, I don’t mean the bounties some drivers put on squirrels.

There’s nothing much we can do to help our friends, the squirrels, the most indecisive residents of Catawba County.

We can, however, be friendly to our environment and encourage our creature neighbors to stay.
It would be a much lonelier place without these truly “wild” animals.

Matthew Tessnear is editor of and a columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears Fridays.

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