Editor’s note: This article previously appeared in an issue of PCT Canada. To learn more, visit https://www.pctonline.com/page/pct-canada/.Ask a pest management professional about wildlife control and soon you’re hearing about all the crazy things that happen in this line of work…usually at great expense to the humans involved. “These are not proud moments, you kind of get caught with your pants down a little bit, but in some ways they’re learning moments you can share,” says Chris Frederick, president of Pest Detective in North Vancouver, B.C. Here are eight memorable critter encounters sure to make you smile and that also impart a lesson (or two).
#1. Even Dead Animals Can Surprise You
BONUS TIP: Always practice ladder safety. BONUS TIP #2: Pack extra clothes!
Jared Dickson, owner of Pest Hound in Aurora, Ont., was called to a house with a bad odor. He found a dead raccoon tucked into a space between the joists of a second-story deck that hadn’t been sealed properly.
“It was one of those things that at a glance looked like it was going to be pretty easy,” recalls Dickson. His extension ladder was too tall, so he decided to use his step ladder. Standing on the topmost step — not recommended — he had just enough height to grab ahold of the dead raccoon’s hindquarters with his fingertips. When the ladder fell out from beneath him, he didn’t let go and the raccoon “basically exploded” all over him.“
I was covered in bugs and dead raccoon and maggots and all kinds of other horrible things. I was just happy that I didn’t hurt myself when I fell off the ladder, but I was absolutely covered in viscera,” he says.
His client let him shower off in the yard with the garden hose, and he drove home in his boxers.
“You would think that a dead raccoon has very few surprises left in them but sometimes they can be very surprising,” says Dickson.
#2. Seeing is Believing
BONUS TIP: Few gaps are too small for bats.
Curtis St. Croix, a sales associate at Terminix Canada in St. John’s, Newfoundland, was called to an A-frame cottage with bats in the attic.
He believed the critters were getting in near the dormer windows and returned at dusk to verify this. Lo and behold, around 10:00 p.m. about 30 bats flew out from that spot. Just to be sure, he and a coworker decided to hang out just a little longer.
“Around 10:30 we heard this loud chirping, almost like a herd of elephants in the attic. All of a sudden, bats started coming out of the attic space from every nook and cranny in the dormer windows, in the soffit, in the fascia,” says St. Croix, who estimates more than 1,000 bats exited the cottage. “I looked at my colleague and said, ‘This is not exactly what we thought we were getting into,’” he recalls.
Turns out the homeowner who built the cottage left a 3/8-inch gap between the soffit and exterior walls. “That was just enough room that bats could get into every section of the home without any trouble,” he says. St. Croix learned to “never underestimate the amount of space that a bat needs to get into a home.” A local contractor rebuilt the soffits and fascia, and then St. Croix fit a bat cone over the gap near the dormer windows. The bats leaving the attic that evening was a sight to remember. “It was like a river coming out of the bat cone,” he says.
#3. Wrap Your Trap
BONUS TIP: Skunks have great aim, even when you don’t think it’s possible
Years ago, Chris Frederick accidentally caught a spotted skunk in a small squirrel trap.
Because the trap wasn’t wrapped in plastic — his team does this when relocating skunks to keep from getting sprayed — he grabbed a large piece of plywood from his truck to use as a shield as he approached the animal.
When Frederick was about 20 feet away, the skunk “eyed me up” and “shot out the most vicious smelling liquid. It splattered on the shield like somebody was trying to soak me down with a garden hose,” he recalls.
Instead of retreating Frederick charged the remaining distance, determined to block the spray by resting the plywood against the cage. By now, however, the skunk was spraying — even though it couldn’t fully raise its tail in the tiny cage — like a “spiral sprinkler in the air. I couldn’t even block it all with the shield. It’s now just spinning around and has this crazy, effective way of spraying me,” he says, laughing.
Now his team wraps most traps. “We can only assume it has saved us from many of these situations,” he says.
#4. You’re No Match for a Canada Goose
BONUS TIP: Turn your back at your own risk.
Bryan Maier, manager of the Abell Pest Control branch in Kitchener, Ont., does a lot of Canada goose relocation and egg and nest removal for municipalities.
Getting geese to move off the nest isn’t always easy but one goose in particular stands out. “It was just the crankiest of geese and for years it caused us grief whenever we had to rob this nest. It could definitely unleash some punishment,” recalls Maier, who felt its wrath firsthand.
“As I reached down to grab the eggs, she karate chopped me with her wing three or four times across the shins. This was like having somebody swing a two-by-four across your legs it hurt so bad. I was bumped and bruised from this goose laying an absolute beating on me,” he recalls. And of course, a park full of people witnessed his defeat.
“You have to have a huge amount of respect for those animals. They can take you right off your feet if you’re not careful. You never turn your back to them,” adds Maier, who was nearly knocked off a second-story roof by a goose nesting there. “They’re very aggressive with good reason: They’re protecting their nest,” he reminds.
This kind of work is best done with two people and a trained dog, he says.
#5. Two is Better Than One
BONUS TIP: Don’t underestimate an angry mama.
Chris Frederick was doing a raccoon removal and relocation job on his own. He climbed up the ladder, popping his head into the soffit to find the nest and babies right there. “Great! This will be a fast job,” he recalls thinking.
He scooped up the babies and started heading down the ladder to put them in a box. The goal was to lure out the mother raccoon so all could be relocated together.
“But I’ve only got two eyes. My eyes are on the babies,” recalls Frederick. As he neared the bottom rung with his hands full of babies, he found the angry, teeth-baring mama raccoon waiting for him.
“She had gone out another point that I couldn’t see,” he remembers thinking, quickly followed by, “How do I get down off this ladder?” Doing so required a “crazy dance” to get around the mama to his trapping paraphernalia — all witnessed by the snickering customer, of course — but from there the relocation went as planned.
Ever since, Frederick has assigned two technicians to raccoon jobs for safety reasons and also for that valuable second set of eyes.
#6. Over Confidence = The Smell of Defeat
BONUS TIP: Watch where you’re aiming that thing.
Bryan Maier has rescued numerous skunks that have fallen into window wells. Traps typically don’t fit in the wells, so you have to grab the skunks by the scruff of the neck (like you would a cat) to pull them out.
By tucking the animal’s tail between its back legs, it can’t spray you, Maier says. Unless you’re too busy mugging for the camera, like he was after helping a friend one Sunday afternoon.
“I showed the homeowner (the skunk), being all cocky and brazen,” he recalls, not realizing he had aimed its rear end at his neck while tucking in the tail. He was sprayed; his wife dropped the camera and ran. “I was stuck with the skunk and a burning neck,” says Maier, who actually owned a pet skunk (sans scent glands) for seven years.
On the ground, skunks give many warning signs before they spray. “They’ll do a bluff charge, kind of like a bear does; they’ll stomp their feet; they’ll actually do a little handstand; they puff themselves up,” he explains.
Wherever your skunk encounter takes place, don’t get too cocky and make sure you know where the weapon is pointed, he says.
#7. You’ve Got to Keep ’Em Separated
BONUS TIP: Nothing knows determination like a caged raccoon.
“Raccoons, they’ll grab anything,” says Chris Frederick, who learned this while transporting one in his truck bed. On the way to relocation, he stopped at another job site to check a trap. He couldn’t find his full-zip coveralls.
Did they fall out of the truck? Did he leave them at the last job? Nope, they were inside the cage with the raccoon, who grabbed them out of a bin and had enough time to “yank, yank, yank” them through a 1.5-inch square opening. Frederick always puts trapped animals in a walled-in area of his truck bed, but this time he didn’t push the trap back far enough, giving the raccoon a tiny window of opportunity.
“They don’t give up. If they’re going to tug something, they’re going to keep tugging. If it’s moving, they think this is one more step to freedom,” he says. As such, create a secure space to transport animals like raccoons.
“You’ve got to have barriers. Don’t let them touch anything. Your B&G hose will be toast, your Actisol hoses will be ruined. You don’t want them getting in anything,” including chemicals, he reminds.
#8. Stay in Your (Wildlife Control) Lane
BONUS TIP: Approach townhomes with caution.
Early on when his company was new, Jared Dickson took on a job for the owner of a townhome. It was the middle unit of many connected homes. Squirrels in the attic were keeping the owner’s kids up at night.
The problem was, the animals were entering the structure five units away and traveling through the soffits to this unit, but the homeowner with the hole did not want to pay for or even fix the problem. As a result, Dickson got stuck negotiating job responsibility and payment between neighbors, while trying to fix the problem and dealing with a high-maintenance client. “I ended up going back to that job a hundred times,” he says.
Ultimately, he resolved the squirrel problem but made “absolutely no money on that one. It was nothing but stress and aggravation.”
Now, when he bids jobs at townhomes, he explains the challenges presented by connected units and then lets his client negotiate with neighbors over who pays for what. He prefers working in townhome communities with a property manager, who serves as one point of contact for access, approval and payment.