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Creepy crawly.

Ah, Halloween. One of the strangest things about this wonderful holiday is how it encourages us to take things we normally consider scary and try to pretend that they are something fun to have around. Really, who in their right mind would ever think it's a good idea to dress like a chainsaw-wielding maniac (except Oakland Raiders fans)? And why would we want to make our homes and workplaces look like cemeteries and haunted houses? And when else would scuttling vermin be seen as the loveable mascots of a harmless holiday?

That last part gets me most--granting amnesty to critters that we normally would go out of our way to avoid. Over the years I have had enough run-ins with, shall we say, "invasive wildlife" to have lost any sense of novelty for them, even when the spirit of Halloween practically demands it. Don't get me wrong--I like animals and I take no pleasure in killing them. But sometimes you do what you have to do to get an unwanted intruder out of the house.

Exhibit A: Shelob. Named after the giant spider from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, this sucker was living in the basement of my first house when I moved in. I first saw him by flashlight and noticed he was so big that his eyes were shining the light back to me. Seeing a cat with eyeshine is creepy enough, but after seeing it in a spider, it took me exactly .00001 seconds to decide that it had to die. However, I was fairly concerned that if I just tried to stomp it against the wall, it would have caught my foot and pushed me back. So I came back later and zapped it with half a can of Raid. As the sodden creature slid down the wall and into the opening behind the edge of my floating basement floor, I imagined the creature not really dying, but returning to some Stygian depth where it would wait to take its revenge. I've got a shotgun waiting for you, buddy.

Exhibit B: Bat vs. Cop. About a year before the Shelob incident, we had a bat in our apartment. Now, I know bats are harmless and do a great deal of good when it comes to killing pesky insects, so I just wanted the animal removed. I called the town pest control office, which decided to send a policeman to handle the incident. This particular peacekeeper was an enormous Gulf War vet who, as it turned out, was petrified of bats. He instructed me to trap the bat against the wall with a broom, which I did. He then held the broom and instructed me to hit the bat with a hammer. When I protested, the cop said it was either that or he was going to shoot the thing. So hammer I did. I still feel bad about that.

Exhibit C: Scabbers. Named for the pet rat in the Harry Potter books, this brown Norway rat made a habit of hanging off my bird feeder a while back, which was unsettling enough. But when it raised a family under my shed, it was only a matter of time before the clan moved into my basement, so steps had to be taken. We couldn't poison it because it would have gotten my knucklehead dog, too. Same for a mechanical trap. So we decided to capture Scabbers alive and release him in the nearby park. Scabbers fell for a ball of seed-covered peanut butter in about three hours. My kids, who thought Scabbers was cool, went in to look at him and that's when the little villain went ballistic, squealing and biting the cage. Instantly, he went from a neat curiosity to a safety issue. So, away from my kids, I drowned Scabbers in my fish pond. I'm not proud of it, but what choice did I have? Had I called in animal control, they probably would have sent a SWAT team.

All three incidents involved risks to varying degrees, real and imagined. Shelob wasn't likely to jump off the wall and bite me, but I didn't care. Any spider large enough for me to look in the eye is large enough to overturn my car, as far as I'm concerned. The bat was harmless, but that jittery cop was not. Better to kill an innocent animal than to explain to my landlord why there are bullet holes in his bathroom. As for Scabbers, that was war, pure and simple.

I will say this, though: while I eventually drowned each of his young, too, Mrs. Scabbers proved too elusive for me, taking my trap bait again and again but never getting caught. Undoubtedly, she is out there now, raising a fresh brood and planning to carry my house off its foundations with military precision. When that happens, with Shelob helping and the ghost of that bat looking on, I'll finally know that my over-reactions were justified. Happy Halloween.

Bill Coffin

Publisher and Editorial Director
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Title Annotation:First Word
Author:Coffin, Bill
Publication:Risk Management
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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