Neighbors embroiled in squirrel quarrel
by Mark McDermott
Two weeks ago, Jay Horrell opened up his mail to find a letter from a lawyer named Donald Ramenian. Horrell’s neighbors, the letter said, had a serious problem: squirrels were destroying their lawn, endangering their own and their dogs’ health, and threatening to overrun their house. At times, Ramenian wrote, 15 to 18 squirrels could be found rampaging through their backyard.
His neighbors, Scott and Nancy Avera, were seeking relief from the damages inflicted upon them by the squirrels. The upshot of the letter was that the squirrels were Horrell’s fault.
“While the Averas have always tried to live in peace and harmony with all their neighbors, you, despite repeated warnings and requests, have continued to engage in unlawful and prohibited activities, thereby causing substantial damages to the Averas,” Ramenian wrote. “Specifically, you have been feeding the ground squirrels that have occupied and infested the entire neighborhood, including the Averas home.”
Ramenian cited a Los Angles Municipal code that prohibited the feeding of nondomesticated rodents, specifically squirrels. He noted that squirrels carry diseases and parasites and argued that Horrell was creating an exponential squirrel population explosion in the neighborhood.
“Not only have the squirrels destroyed our clients’ home, but they have transformed the Averas’ backyard into a burial ground for the peanuts that you have supplied,” the letter said.
On its third and final page, the letter demanded two things: that Horrell stop feeding the squirrels and that he pay his neighbors $12,500 in damages by Dec. 31 or else face legal action.
Horrell was flabbergasted. He could only recall meeting his neighbors twice since they moved cattycorner from his backyard almost a decade ago. Horrell lives on the 900 block of Spencer St., and the Averas live nearby on 900 block of Emerald St. He said he had had no inkling that there was any kind of a problem, much less a squirrel problem.
“Somehow I guess I am the squirrel whisperer,” he said in an interview this week. “Like I have the ability to control squirrels.”
Horrell contacted his attorney, who suggested he refer the matter to his home insurance. A State Farm investigator looked into the matter and rejected the claim. “He said it was definitely high on the list of the most absurd claims they’d ever seen,” Horrell said.
Horrell also contacted the Redondo Beach City Attorney’s office. The code referenced in the lawyer’s letter, the City Attorney’s office said, is an LA County ordinance that does not apply in Redondo Beach because the city is incorporated and has its own set of laws, none which outlaw the feeding of squirrels. .
The Avera’s attorney declined to discuss the matter.
“I don’t have any comment to make because it involves a pending lawsuit that will be filed,” Ramenian said.
Attempts to reach the Averas were unsuccessful.
Horrell acknowledged that he feeds some of the wildlife in his neighborhood, which is near Redondo Union High School and includes birds, raccoons, and possums in addition to squirrels.
“I am not going to say we have never fed the squirrels,” Horrell said. “You know, they will come up to the back door and get their paws up on the glass and stare up at you, almost like begging, ‘Here I am, a little hungry.’ So I’ll grab a few peanuts and throw them out there. What the birds don’t get, the squirrels will.”
He said he’s never seen more than a few squirrels in his backyard.
“They describe 15 to 18 squirrels,” Horrell said. “I certainly don’t know a lot about squirrels, but I’ve never seen them run in a pack before. They are very territorial.”
Among the damages the Averas seek are landscaping repair and squirrel eradication costs. Horrell said that he is a little shocked that they seek to eradicate squirrels given the fact that the couple appears to be animal lovers – they own pit bulls and run a small business called Animals Matter that caters to dog comfort needs.
“It seems like there is there is just this hatred of squirrels, yet they own a company that is called Animals Matter,” he said. “It seems a little disingenuous having a company that makes money from pets yet you are trying to eradicate the urban wildlife from your neighborhood.”
“It’s a sorry time if people think this is the way to handle things,” Horrell said. “I told my wife this is like me suing a neighbor for termites in the attic because they have a pile of wood in their backyard. It doesn’t make sense. Who does that? Take responsibility for your own property. If you are sitting there with three pit bulls, I don’t understand why squirrels are coming on to your property, anyway.” ER