Neighbors at odds over squirrels
A Venice Gardens man is in hot water with his neighbors for trapping squirrels on his property.
More than a half dozen showed up next door to Michael Cochrane’s property in the 2300 block of Bal Harbor Drive Friday at noon to protest.
They presented written complaints to a Sarasota County Animal Services officer and told their stories, pointing at a trap (sometimes there are two) tethered to a large mango tree — a favorite of squirrels — in Cochrane’s front yard.
The neighbors say Cochrane thinks of the little critters as rats, and exterminates them.
He doesn’t disagree with that assessment.
“They’re pests,” he said.
A longtime hunter originally from Michigan, Cochrane said he doesn’t take the traps, or disposal of squirrels, lightly.
“Eastern Gray Squirrels are mean and damage property. They can bite you,” he said. “This is a peninsula. If you don’t see them for a couple of weeks, a few will come in searching for a new area to move into. They’re very territorial.”
Neighbors insist he drowned one. Cochrane said it never happened. He recalled the incident, saying he shot the squirrel in his garage and threw it into a nearby canal.
Law enforcement was called out on three occasions in response to neighbor complaints, but found no violations.
In response to the complaints, Cochrane said he contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tallahassee, which approved his methods of disposal.
Now he mostly relocates the trapped squirrels to another property he owns, he said.
That’s not much consolation for neighbors who are horrified at looking at the baited traps.
“Why draw them in and try to attract them if you don’t want them around?” said property owner Valerie Khamis. “The squeals — it’s torture watching them desperately trying to free themselves. Most have their tails broken.”
Neighbors who spoke to law enforcement were told a county ordinance protects the trap, not the animal, Khamis said.
Animal Services Officer R. Shope told those who gathered Friday there was no violation she could see, but said the matter would be forwarded to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
At least three neighbors admitted to raiding the cages to set the squirrels free.
That didn’t sit well with Cochrane, who then set up a motion-activated outdoor camouflage camera in the mango tree.
Cochrane said he has five photos of people trespassing on his property.
“They are breaking the law,” he said. “I’m not.”
He confronted one neighbor, Linda Miller, at her home with a picture of her on his property.
His menacing tone, she said, has affected the whole neighborhood.
“You don’t know what he will do,” said Miller. “You don’t like to walk down the street. This is horrible.”
“This is a recognized bird sanctuary,” added a neighbor affiliated with the local Audubon Society.
She’s taken to shooting the squirrels and the traps with her camera, hoping it will discourage Cochrane’s pest-removal activities.
“There’s nothing here anymore — no squirrels, no birds. It’s dead,” she said.
Cochrane said he’s trying to be a good neighbor.
“No one seems to complain when I catch rats and dispose of them,” he said. “Some of the neighbors put out poison, which kills other animals indiscriminately. I’m an ethical hunter.”