Reconnecting With Ways To Make A Good Life Matter

Turning point - Realizations, decisons and events shape our lives. In this holiday series, The Day looks at five people whose lives took significant turns, and at how those redefining moments have changed them.

It's a soggy, cold, miserable November morning — and Jonathan Horne, a nuisance wildlife trapper, couldn't be happier. He lifts a removable wire cage from its foundation in a trap nestled behind a Waterford home.

He grins and speaks soothingly to the skunk inside the cage.

“You got yourself in a mess, didn't you?” he croons.

As he wraps the cage in a waterproof tarp so the skunk won't get wet in the steady rain, he senses the unspoken question from his human companion. “Theoretically, the skunk can't spray you,” he says, “because he can't raise his tail in the confines of the cage.”

Horne then affixes the skunk cage to a specially constructed support rack on the back of his SUV before rebaiting the trap with peanut butter and leaving it at the client's house.

As head of Nuisance Wildlife Evictions, a New London business he runs with the part-time help of his wife, Grace, who is also a purchasing agent at Mohegan Sun, 65-year-old Horne traverses southeastern Connecticut on a daily basis, baiting traps and extracting animals that have wandered into bothersome situations. He sets traps at oceanfront mansions and public housing

apartments, corporate headquarters and mom-and-pop convenience stores. It's a full-time job, often requiring 15-hour days during peak seasons.

And if the time requirements are reminiscent of those in a former life — when Horne was one of only 15 senior vice-presidents at the international BankBoston — well, that's about the only similarity.

“You know what?” Horne says of his banking years in Boston — a career that lasted from the early 1960s until 1990. “I got sick and tired of it, of what it became and the hypocrisy of all of it.”

At one point, by his own description and others', Horne was a driven, happy executive who steamrolled to success through hard work and innovative commercial lending formulae designed to work with and enable clients to prosper — whether with a troubled ski resort, small factory, or minority-owned business.

“We were developing programs and interacting with clients, doing innovative things that supported the community,” he says. “There was a time when we were allowed and encouraged to do those things. That would never happen today. The banking and lending business has changed. And I decided I didn't want to be a part of it anymore.”

Accepting early retirement, Horne rather abruptly left the perks and lifestyle of affluent Boston and returned to New London and the house he'd grown up in. At age 50, he wasn't sure what he'd do, but the important thing was to recapture his focus in a nurturing environment.

•••

Horne's parents were Grace and Donoldson E. Horne, and his father was a senior vice-president at the Savings Bank of New London, which later became the New England Savings Bank.

“I always admired my father's work ethic, and I was intrigued by the lending side of the business,” he says.

After graduating from New London High School and the University of Connecticut, Horne served in the Army in Korea. He then went to Boston in the early '60s and successfully interviewed with BankBoston. The company then sent him to the respected Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers.

He spent time in the branch division of the company and, at 28, was the senior floating officer before becoming the first employee in 25 years to be promoted out of the branch division into an executive position in commercial lending.

Over the next eight years, he high-jumped through the corporate hierarchy. He was promoted to senior vice-president and was selected to head up what he thought was a progressive lending program.

“It was pretty remarkable to watch,” says Christopher Horne, Jonathan's son, a graphic artist/video editor who lives in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. “My dad was considered the best out of what I believe were 5,000 branch officers in the bank. Of the division heads, he was ranked in the top five. I just remember, growing up, seeing him go through the changes. Every once in a while he'd just come home and say, ‘I've been promoted.' ”

But the most amazing thing, Christopher thinks, is that his father's success at work never came with an emotional cost to family life.

“Even being in that high position of responsibility, Dad would come home and be my father,” Christopher says. “We spent a lot of time together, and he didn't bring his work home with him. And if, at any time, I needed an ear, he was always there to listen.”

Eventually, though, Jonathan Horne's mentors and close colleagues at the bank began to retire and a new guard came along — with attitudes he didn't like or respect.

“At a certain point, I recognized that the institution had become hypocritical and that the honor and integrity the bank purported to represent were not being preserved,” he says. “There were differences in how lending practices were set up to help certain people, and I became very disenchanted with what I was doing. I certainly wasn't the team player I had been. I think I realized and (bank officials) recognized that I wasn't happy, and that if someone doesn't like something, they're probably not productive.”

He asked his new bosses to make him a settlement offer and he walked away, but he didn't exit the boardroom with a plan to become a nuisance wildlife trapper. At that point, he just wanted out.

Horne remembers, “My first thought was, ‘You know what? I'm gonna do something else.' ”

•••

A comforting and strategic move for Horne was to move back to New London, into the house his mother left him on Pequot Avenue.

“I always loved New London,” he says. “Boston is a great city, but New London was home. And I was in the perfect position to go home.”

For a time, he partnered in a small financial consulting firm with a friend, Henry White, who had been the labor commissioner under Gov. Thomas Meskill. When White retired, Horne started a tour boat company on the Thames River, something he stayed with for two years.

“What I found out about myself was that I like getting stuff off the ground and up and running, then I don't want to play anymore,” he says. “I needed to find something I could stick with.”

After sitting around the house for a few years, his wife told him, “You've really got to get out and do something.”

Reflecting on a boyhood penchant for hiking, hunting and spending time in the woods studying wildlife, Horne announced a grand if unexpected epiphany.

“I think I'm going to go trapping,” he remembers telling Grace. He recalls her response as a simple “That's crazy.”

He agreed — and then happily set out for trapping. He started his business in 2001.

To become a recognized nuisance animal control operator — a “newco” — one must pass a test and pay a $100 fee. It's a profession whose numbers have increased over the years as expanding housing and commercial developments collide with open nature. The state has issued licenses for nuisance trappers since 1986.

“When I first told him to go out and get a job, I never expected it would be this,” says Grace. “I also never expected that he'd get me into it as well. At first, I went with him evenings and weekends, just because it was something we could do together. Now it's something I really enjoy, and it's something that people need.”

Horne's sister, Diana Edwards, who lives in Prescott, Ariz., has seen her brother in his banking years and in the years since.

“Jon has an entrepreneurial spirit that has always come out in everything he'd undertaken,” she says. “Combined with his affection for people, that's a good combination. He was very good at banking, but at a certain point the business changed on him.

“I love what he's doing now. When I visit, I go out with him. We call it ‘going skunkin'.' It's been a lifestyle change, but it's made him very happy.”

Grace Horne says, “Looking from the outside, it's maybe difficult to believe someone in a (banking) position at that high level would end up trapping animals. ... You'd never say, ‘I'm going to help people with wildlife problems.' And I'm sure people in his old profession would laugh at it.

“But we've never been happier.”

•••

On the rainy November morning, Horne is dressed in heavy outdoor gear with protective pants and gloves. He also sports a polo shirt, handsomely embroidered with Nuisance Wildlife Evictions.

His work vehicle is an SUV, crammed in one of those disorderly but paradoxical fashions that means Horne knows precisely where everything — rabies gloves, first-aid kits, peanut butter for bait, cages, nets, poles — can be found.

With the Waterford skunk safely in tow, he heads to Stonington Borough to see a man about a raccoon, a creature that, along with squirrels and skunks, comprise the bulk of his targets. He also routinely encounters bats, snakes, moles, coyotes and fishers.

“Animals have personalities, just like people,” he says. “That's what makes this a great job. Not just the people you meet — who, by and large, are nice folks who in any case need your services — but also the animals. I love animals.”

As he drives, Horne recounts experiences from his business with the calm, witty skills of a “Prairie Home Companion” raconteur. A favorite involves a customer worried about a poisonous snake lurking in an outbuilding. It turned out to be a coil of rope.

“The thing is, most people like animals, too. Some are scared of one species or another — snakes or bats, for example — but typically they like animals. But you might have a situation where there are young children or frightened elderly, and you want to get there and help out,” he says.

Later in the day, Horne drives to another client, this one at Black Point in East Lyme, where he will check more baited traps. A skunk, or perhaps a raccoon, has been up to mischief there.

Although many of the animals he traps are taken back to wilderness territory, state law requires that trappers destroy raccoons and skunks because they can carry rabies.

“It's the only part of the job I don't like,” Horne says. “Other than that — and that's a small part of it — it's a wonderful, rewarding job.

“In a way, I've made decisions that go beyond just what I do with my day,” he says. “I'm moving from a type A personality to a gentler, understanding, relaxed way of life. I don't want to embellish myself. But I'm glad I made the changes I did. It's not as financially rewarding, but how important is that, really?

“You've got to be happy in life and your lot in it.”
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