• Carmen Marie Fabio

Don’t feed the heirs

SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO Copyright Anteromite

“I was attacked by a seagull today,” recounted my son as we walked the dogs one night. Though he conceded that attacked was a strong word, the encounter involved the bird hovering close enough to his piece of pizza that he felt the rush of air from the wings flapping above his head.

You can't really blame the incredibly adaptive gulls who're intelligent enough to scope out easy meal sources – like fast food restaurants – and brave enough to try to get between a teenager and his slice of pizza. The danger, of course, comes when we indulge the little critters by willingly feeding them thereby establishing a pattern that can't be unlearned.

Anyone who's ever spent time on Mount Royal can attest to the shock of having a 40 lb. raccoon waddle up to them and with an unblinking stare and twitching whiskers demand, “Donne moi un May West....”

When I was a teenager taking some part-time college courses, I once headed over to the Westmount Library to spend the morning studying. I stopped outside the building to eat my breakfast muffin before heading inside for some serious school work when the silent troupe of squirrels magically congregated, eyeing the banana nut booty in my hands, their tails freakily undulating. In retrospect, my first mistake was tossing them a few crumbs, thinking that would satisfy them and they'd run away. It had the opposite effect – they mobilized and began circling. It wasn't long before I tossed the remainder of the muffin in the general direction of the group of rodents my son refers to as 'Satan's oven mitts' purely as a self-preservation measure but I've since developed an irrational fear of squirrels, especially when I'm driving in my car with the sunroof open. Or eating a muffin.

Years ago on a trip to Florida, my boyfriend and I took tour of the Everglades on a homemade hovercraft powered by two rear-mounted V-8 gas-guzzling automotive engines that were loud. Loud enough that the alligators quickly swarmed around as they'd come to associate the sound of the engines with the driver tossing marshmallows into the swampy bog to entice them to the surface. The more alligators that appeared, the happier the photo-taking tourists were, and the happier the tourists, the bigger the tips at the end of the ride.

Arriving back at the nature centre and discussing our outing with the game warden, we learned that while alligator attacks on people were rare, they regularly had reports of missing house pets in the area. When we told him about the marshmallow feeding, he shook his head.

“An average 400 lb. alligator has a brain about the size of a walnut,” he told us. “If the drivers keep feeding them, they start associating people with food, and then we have a problem.”

As I said, the experience was years ago and the lesson learned that hot and humid day in a bug infested marsh were long forgotten and only recently recalled as I examined my weekly Costco bill to see how much the kids consume and it dawned on me...