A Spokane Valley-area woman is accused of electrocuting nine squirrels that tried to scale her electric fence and steal walnuts from her backyard tree.

The Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service received a complaint in October that Mary J. Banks, 68, left the dead squirrels hanging from the electric fence in sight of passers-by, according to documents filed in Spokane County Superior Court. She faces nine criminal charges of animal cruelty.

“This is about as ridiculous of a case as I have ever heard,” said Brendan Kidd, Banks’ lawyer.

Banks has a walnut tree in the backyard of her home on North Greenacres Road that she harvests to use in cooking and give to friends, Kidd said.

During the last few years, however, the squirrels were doing most of the gathering.

In 2016, she didn’t get a single walnut from her tree. In 2017, she got a few.

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Banks rigged a fence around the tree, and charged it by hooking it up to a nearby electric fence designed to give horses a jolt and deter them from trying to escape, he said.

It worked. Last year, Banks enjoyed a bumper walnut crop.

“She got a bunch,” Kidd said, adding that Banks didn’t mean to kill the squirrels. She just wanted to deter them, he said.

At that time, two people reported passing by Banks’ backyard and seeing the electric fence with the dead squirrels hanging off it by their paws. The grim scene was “pretty much in plain sight,” from the street, said Ashley Proszek, field operations manager at SCRAPS.

When confronted by one of the passers-by, Banks said that the squirrels were her trophies and she would be keeping the squirrels hanging from the fence to deter other squirrels, Proszek said.

Banks took down the fence after a SCRAPS officer came to her house to investigate, Kidd said.

Banks told the SCRAPS officer that she would cut down the tree if she couldn’t solve the squirrel problem, but the officer told her that it would be cruel to deprive the squirrels of their food source, Kidd said.

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“She could have put poison out there,” Kidd said. “Nobody would have batted an eye,” even though it would have been a more painful death.

“It’s pretty unusual,” Proszek said. “We don’t get a lot of wildlife cruelty complaints. Most people killing rodents will shoot them. With electrocution, it’s not instantaneous death. It will cause them pain for a period of time before they pass away.”

Banks is due in court May 1.

Animal cruelty is a felony, and each of the nine counts could cost her up to $10,000 and five years in prison.

“If this wasn’t such a serious case, it would be funny,” Kidd said.

(c) 2019 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)