Just before the beginning of study week, several residents of the SoCos found traps set up in various places around the area to capture the groundhogs. The traps are meant merely to catch and contain the groundhogs in a metal wire cage—where they cannot be hurt or hurt anyone else—until they can be transported to a location where they will be less of a nuisance, according to Buildings and Grounds (B&G).
However, several of the groundhogs were left in the cages unattended for several hours before they were taken to be moved.
Linnea Shaw ’14 found a groundhog in a trap outside her SoCo early on May 6 as she was leaving for class. She called Vassar’s B&G, who assured her the groundhog would promptly be taken care of. The very next day, she and her housemates found yet another groundhog trapped in a cage behind their laundry building. Shaw said, “When I went to see it, it wasn’t doing well—labored breathing, barely moving etc. It was quite hot and the groundhog was in direct sunlight, which is very dangerous for rodents.” She and her housemates again called Buildings and Grounds, placing a towel over the cage for shade and staying with the groundhog until it could be released.
According to Hillary Frame ’14, the groundhog was finally released three to four hours after the initial call to B&G. The delay was due to the necessity for an outside contractor, who had placed the traps, to be called in to release the groundhog. Craig Thomas Pest Control is a partner of Orkin Pest Control, an Atlanta-based company that contracts out their services primarily to home and business owners all across the East Coast.
B&G hired Craig Thomas to remove the groundhogs from the area around the SoCos because the groundhogs have been digging many holes around the SoCos themselves in addition to having dug holes underneath the fences to the nearby Infant and Toddler Center. A Craig Thomas representative told Frame that the groundhogs’ intrusion then became an issue of safety.
Their holes can also be hazards for the children during their playtime, since the kids can both fall into them and the holes themselves may damage the playground equipment or the fences around them, allowing children to escape their supervisors.
B&G has said that they are trying to relocate the groundhogs as safely and humanely as possible through the use of the traps and trained personnel, as the Craig Thomas worker told Frame.
Frame said, “[I was also told] that it was good that we had not let the groundhog out because they may have to use ‘not nice’ methods to get rid of them.” Though Frame noted she believed that the representative was truly concerned for the groundhogs’ welfare, Frame and Shaw were skeptical of the entire
Shaw had several complaints: “First, it feels underhanded and disrespectful that we were not informed about the trapping effort. Second, traps were only officially checked once a day, and requests to attend to traps were not attended to quickly. This led to animals being left in unsafe conditions without water for significant periods of time.”
Craig Thomas workers told Frame they had checked the traps in the morning at 7 a.m., but didn’t return until much later in the day. Frame and Shaw found the groundhog around 12 p.m., which meant that the groundhog could have already been trapped for several hours.
The residents of the SoCos were not informed that the traps were going to be placed around their living areas—one trap was even placed against a SoCos side door—nor were they told why. Shaw reached out to Buildings and Grounds for more information, but received no response, according to Shaw.
“I have a great deal of respect for B&G and the work they do for our community and campus,” Shaw said. “And think the main issue with this situation is poor communication, both between the college and the students and between the college and Orkin.”
Alessandra Seiter ’16, Co-President of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), was also alerted to the issue of the traps. As the primary sources of animal advocacy on Vassar’s campus, VARC was naturally concerned with the conduct surrounding the groundhogs’ removal.
“VARC doesn’t inherently oppose the use of these humane traps, as long as the groundhogs are relocated and released in a timely manner, but we do have concerns with how the groundhog trappings have been executed.” Said Seiter. She reached out to a representative of B&G, asking why the groundhog had been left out in the sun unattended. The response she received, however, pointed only to human error: While all of the other trapped groundhogs had been relocated to a nearby farm, Craig Thomas had seemingly forgotten about this one.
To prevent such an incident from happening again, VARC asked the president of the SoCos, Rebecca Bauer ’14, to email all residents and ask them to call B&G if and when they saw a groundhog alone in a trap. VARC also asked B&G to contact both VARC and SoCos representatives before they undertook any further trappings so that students would know to be on the lookout.
The traps were moved out of the SoCos on May 9, and haven’t been seen since. Shaw worries that once the campus has emptied for the summer B&G will only put the traps back and continue to forget to check them.
Seiter concluded, stating, “I would hope that in the future, Vassar and its chosen pest removal company carry out the groundhog trappings in a more responsible, timely manner.”