Nuts? “Squirrel Lady” is guilty of a big heart
By Tim Anderl
Trespassing: present participle of trespass (Verb). Enter the owner’s land or property without permission.
— Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
During the winter of 2010, Dayton was hit with a storm that filled streets, sidewalks and driveways with inches of snow. I returned from my day job at Wright-Patt, finding my own driveway littered with snow and ice and knowing I had the task of clearing my Lewiston Road driveway and sidewalk before my wife returned from work. I pulled on a winter hat and gloves and set out to clear and salt my driveway. When I was about halfway through this endeavor, my neighbor’s garage door lifted and the petite woman emerged with her snow-blowing machine.
I have to admit I was envious while I lifted my heavy snow shovel and my neighbor pulled the cord that initiated the engine of her blower. But as she rolled the machine onto her driveway, the front wheel fell off. I debated for a moment whether I should make the icy trek across the street and help her. With my fingers and toes quickly numbing, and my driveway only half uncovered, my conscience got the better of me.
After I screwed the wheel of the machine back into place, I accepted her offers of appreciation and retreated to my own property. I watched as she made the first swipe of her own driveway. But when she reached the end of her drive she continued across the street to my neighbor’s house. I realized she was intent on clearing the driveway of the young couple who lived beside me who had just welcomed a newborn baby boy to their family.
Realizing what she was doing, pangs of guilt got the best of me and I offered assistance with my shovel. And when she finished with their driveway and front walk I assumed she’d return to her own driveway as I returned to mine. I watched as she pulled the machine into my other neighbor’s empty driveway and repeated her efforts.
Though my neighbors have never expressed their reaction to this gift of kindness, I’m fairly certain that they returned home that evening thankful they shared a neighborhood with Annick Richardson, the quirky, petite French woman with a snow-blower who’d “trespassed” on their properties and unburdened them from shoveling.
In recent weeks Richardson’s trespassing has landed her in hot water with the Kettering court system. Facing two counts of trespassing, and up to 60 days in jail for feeding squirrels around our Kettering neighborhood, Richardson’s other activities have landed on the radar of local news outlets.
By her own admission, her activities are excessive, and from my purview they’re borderline annoying.
However, comments left at wdtn.com following this news reveal a neighbor I’ve never seen. They paint a picture of a woman who peeps in windows, buries peanuts in people’s flowerbeds, and celebrates the damage done to neighbors’ property. This is not the Richardson I know.
That said, I understand the frustration of my neighbors, like Don Dubon and former neighbor Jayne Schrempp, who find her activities unwelcome and contentious enough to bring her to the City of Kettering’s attention. During the years of Richardson’s activities I have seen my flowerbeds visited by unwelcome wildlife and my dog gained 17 pounds in the first year of Richardson’s peanut distribution. I removed a squirrel feeder installed on my front yard tree by Richardson when Schrempp told me about her grandson’s peanut allergy. I also declined signing a petition in support of Richardson when she approached me about her legal predicament. But, I didn’t realize that she would face 60 days in jail.
I believed that this problem would receive fair mediation by city government, and that Richardson would receive counseling in the needs of local wildlife, and that city involvement would find a welcome compromise between neighbors. In Bellefontaine, a teacher who had sex with a student received a 60-day jail sentence. Does a woman who feeds squirrels peanuts deserve the same sentence? This reprimand is excessive and unnecessary.
I spoke to Richardson following the media coverage, while she was caring for her own grandson, and he asked me, “Are your one of the neighbors that hates my grandma?” I answered with, “No, I think you grandma is a great neighbor for a lot of reasons.” And as inconvenient as some of her activities have been to my dog’s weight and the aesthetics of my flowerbeds, I really believe my statement. If Richardson is guilty of anything, it is of having too big a heart. Criminal? No. Misunderstood and misguided? Without a doubt.
While her activities are unwelcome to some, perhaps most, consider this article a plea to the Kettering judge who reviews her case. Jail time and fines may teach her a temporary lesson, but counseling and understanding are a more permanent solution. Richardson is not a voyeuristic monster, but a good and decent neighbor who is capable of compromise and who perhaps needs a little extra attention in order to set her big heart headed in the right direction.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.