JACK SIMPSON: Sometimes a good deed draws the wrong kind of attention



Better watch out. Better not shout. I’m telling you why. You just might find yourself in trouble just like the 80-year-old couple in Elyria, Ohio. They are being sued by the city and it isn’t for not paying taxes. No, it is (are you ready for this?) for feeding wildlife in their backyard. Now how about that? Christian charity.

The old timers have a ravine with a stream in their back yard. A place like this attracts critters of all kinds, including birds, squirrels, raccoons and deer. So the animals come for cover, food and water and the couple has taken to adding to the food supply with apples and corn.

As the story goes, the couple enjoys watching wildlife and wants to encourage them to come to their yard. It is a nice gesture for these folks to spend their funds buying more food for these animals. Goodness of heart.

But wait just a minute. Some neighbors object because the animals are leaving the ravine, coming onto adjoining property and creating a nuisance. They are eating plants and leaving messes and odors and being injurious to health, comfort and property, says the lawsuit. Neighbors want the couple to stop feeding wildlife and encouraging them to haunt the ravine.

So there you have the story in a nutshell. In Ohio you can watch wildlife, but don't feed the critters. They might stay longer than usual in a ravine with a stream and they might just spill over onto neighbors' yards where damage is done. Neighbors have rights to protect their yards and landscapes.

Such matters are handled differently in other areas. There may be too many unnecessary lawsuits going on these days in the god old U.S.A.

For example, we happen to adjoin 2,000 acres of woodland. We knew when we bought the property we would be visited by wildlife. Over the years all manner of critters have come onto our land, eating our domestic plants and leaving messes, making noises and damaging gardens. That is the natural way it is with animals in such a setting. From time to time we had supplemented animals' food supplies because we enjoyed watching them. We have never hunted them when in season or otherwise. Watchers is what we are.

If a problem had arisen about these critters and their diet, we probably could have resolved it with a simple meeting among neighbors. No lawyers would have become involved. Folks around these parts are friendly and more apt to resolve differences outside the courtroom. Can you imagine how overburdened our courts would be if we challenged in court every old timer who put out some apples and corn for a wild animal in the yard?

We sympathize with the old couple, but in fairness to the city they are obliged to protect the public and wildlife. No doubt there are ordinances addressing such issues.

Wildlife feeding may cause overpopulation, putting additional stress on food supplies. Putting out food may also encourage domesticity, and if the couple becomes too friendly they may be accused of possessing wildlife without a permit. Oh, the red tape involved in a simple humanitarian gesture. The extra food offered could also alter the foraging patterns causing unwelcome house guests and more extensive property damage.

So, the city that decided to sue might feel feeding wildlife is misplaced kindness. They may be sending a message to the old people to enjoy wildlife but from a distance. Ponder the final result of a kindness.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.