rescue or interference?

I found a chipmunk in my office today, probably brought in by one of our cats, but luckily still very much alive and well. It took me half an hour to direct him into a box, but it was worth it when I let him go outside and he left me with a jaunty chirp.

It was much more challenging a few weeks ago when I had to rescue another chipmunk from a downspout. I had to climb up a ladder, pulling the downspout apart piece by piece until he could escape (and then reassemble it), but it was also rewarding to see him run free.

Last year I was too late to rescue an opossum that became trapped and died in our basement window well. I still carry that horror in my mind, an agonizing death by thirst and starvation, a death I could have prevented if only I had been more vigilant, more aware of what was happening in my own yard. I have since placed a ‘climbing board’ in that window well, so no one is ever trapped there again, and I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself that I didn’t cause the opossum’s suffering, but I’m not convinced. I allowed suffering by my neglect.

But these rescues (and failure) raise some difficult questions: Why would I let our cats put chipmunks at risk? Why would I rescue chipmunks when they could put birds and their eggs at risk? It’s hard when all the animals you love don’t love each other (except perhaps as a meal). Why not just let nature take its course?

What I try to do is strike a balance – let all the animals be themselves, but also give them some sanctuary – some safe place – from each other. So the cats can go outside, but only inside a fence. The chipmunks can come and go, but their best habitat, and all the bird feeders, are outside the fence. And I – I can make my yard hospitable to wildlife, and I can assist, but only in a crisis. We share the yard, but the animals stay wild, and I stay domesticated.