Catch And Release

Catch And Release

By Mordechai Schmutter

We have a groundhog.  It’s in a cage and everything.  Okay, so it’s not like we went to the store and bought a groundhog.  We have plenty of them roaming the neighborhood for free. 

Or maybe it’s a woodchuck, who knows.  My wife says they’re the same thing, but she also says gerbils and mice and hamsters are the same thing, so I don’t know how much I trust her.  Of course, she saw it up close.

My wife plants a garden in our backyard every year, so we can get some free vegetables, unless you count all the time she spends on the garden.  For example, one thing we get is zucchini.  I don’t even think we plant zucchini.  We just somehow get it.  We actually plant different vegetables every year — we plant watermelons, we plant tomatoes — but it always comes up zucchini.  Occasionally my wife will come into the house with two cherry tomatoes, but that’s about it.  So I think she mainly does it because it’s relaxing, except for the times she comes face to face with a 2-foot groundhog.

Of course, we don’t want the groundhogs to get our zucchini, because it’s our zucchini, and we worked really hard on it, back when we thought it was tomatoes.  So my wife managed to borrow a humane cage trap from her boss, who does not have any kids at home and consequently knows a lot about gardening.  What’s humane about the trap, besides that it’s bigger than our first apartment, is that instead of killing the animal, it strands them in a cage with no food or water so it can wait nervously for some people it doesn’t know to decide what to do with it.  You don’t want to know what an inhumane trap does. 

Everyone’s into nice humane traps, but let me tell you, those traps aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, because you come the next morning, and you have a live, panicked animal on your hands.  My wife didn’t even notice it at first, until she got really close.  At least with inhumane traps, you don’t almost have a heart attack. 

But you’re all happy with yourself — you bought a nice, humane cage and set it up in the most clever way, momentarily forgetting that your main goal is to save your vegetables and not to acquire a free woodchuck, and then you come and there’s an animal in the cage, and you feel so guilty.  After all, it didn’t actually know it was our property.  It was just thinking, “Yum, vegetables!  In Passaic!” 

Arguably, it doesn’t even know we’re in Passaic.

To be honest, groundhogs aren’t even the worst pests we could have gotten.  From what I hear, there are a lot of bears around this summer.  According to a recent story, there was one in an office building in New Jersey.  Speaking of being surprised in the morning.

So now we have a panicked, scared groundhog in a cage, and we have no idea how to get rid of it.  Naturally, this job falls to me, because even though it’s my wife’s garden, men have, for thousands of years, been protecting their families from wild animals, and at least this isn’t a bear.  Yes, I know it’s more scared of me than I am of it, but in general, I’m actually more scared of animals that are more scared of me than I am of them, because I don’t know what a panicked animal will do.  I do know that when I’m panicked, I don’t think straight.  Nor do I run in a straight line.  So the two of us panicked is a horrible combination. 

I’d actually done something like this once before.  Last summer we had a woodchuck problem too, so we set up the trap, and we caught a squirrel.  I guess that’s not the worst thing we could have caught.  The day I come out and see that we’ve caught a skunk, we’re gonna have to move.  How am I going to get near the cage?  Do you think if I get sprayed I can soak in the juice of two tomatoes? 

But at least with the squirrel, my brother was there to help me.  He was staying at my house, free of charge, so I said, “Look, you don’t have a wife and kids, so no one will miss you if the squirrel wins.”  We ended up dealing with it together, and if I remember correctly, there was a lot of shrieking and running.  It was no picnic for the squirrel either. 

Maybe we should keep the woodchuck as a pet.  My kids are considering this.  At the very least, they want to find out how much wood it can chuck, if it can indeed chuck wood.  You have it; you might as well find out.  I actually don’t know if it can chuck any wood.  Doesn’t “chuck” mean “to throw”?  Is the groundhog throwing wood?  This is not something I want happening in my house. 

Like my wife is going to let it in anyway.  She didn’t even want the gerbil my son brought home from school for the weekend that one time.  So maybe, since we have a cage, we could send the groundhog to school with my son.  Let his teacher bring it home for Shabbos.


UPDATE: My wife called Animal Control, which is an official government organization that isn’t afraid of dealing with these things.  Or maybe they come in with a crane, so no one has to touch the trap directly. 

They called us back the next morning, and said that:

  1. They don’t actually control animals, despite their name.
  2. They only deal with dangerous animals, like bears, which don’t panic when they see humans. I complain now, but I’ll definitely change my tune if there’s ever a bear in my place of work. I work at home.
  3. We had to get rid of it ourselves, since we were the ones that caught it. It turns out they don’t really care if animals are eating your vegetables. Frankly, that is your problem.   
  4. We had to get rid of it less than a mile from our house, and it had to be somewhere with grass and trees, as opposed to the middle of Main Street.
  5. By law, we had 12 hours to get rid of it.

This was a little inconvenient for us, because we knew that they knew that they called us back 14 hours after we called them.  So we had to get moving.  We grabbed the cage, loaded it in the back of our minivan, and hightailed it out of there.  My kids were not thrilled, because they were in the back of our minivan too.

So my wife drove us to the park, and she stopped the car and said, “GO!”

And I said, “What?” 

And she said, “Release it!” 

And I said, “Um, this is the middle of the park.  There are people around.  Look, there’s a lady with a kid.  I’m gonna end up on the news.” 

So we drove to a more secluded area, and I looked around for cops, because the cops are going to say, “What are you doing?”  And I’m going to say, “Well, Animal Control told me…” And they’re going to say, “But they’re Animal Control!”  And I’m going to say, “I know!”  And I’m gonna be taken in for insubordination, together with my groundhog. 

But there were no cops, so I opened the trap and let it go.  For future reference, the way to open the trap is you stand as far off to the side as you can possibly stand where you can still reach the door, which is on the very side of the trap that the animal is going to run out of.  Then you open it, and the animal just stands there, and you yell “Go!” and the animal says, “Here?  We’re in middle of the park!” 

Actually, the groundhog didn’t go.  It just sat in the cage, thinking: “I don’t know.  What if it’s a trap?”

“You’re in a trap!  Go!”

  “But if it’s a trap, then he wants me to go.”

“I do want you do go!”

And he ran – for like a hundred feet – and then he stopped and looked around.  “Wait.  This isn’t your backyard.”

And then we quickly drove home, and we made sure to double back a couple of times, just to make sure it wasn’t following us. 

“Make a left here.  I think he’s in that taxi.” 

To be honest, I don’t know if two tomatoes and a truckload of zucchini are worth this kind of stress.

Wait.  Is this why we only have two tomatoes? 

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist for The Jewish Press, and has written three books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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