Uninvited Guests

By Elizabeth Trickey

You are enjoying a quiet, relaxing evening, cuddled up on your favourite chair in the living room.  Just as you get to the really interesting part of your novel, you hear a funny noise.  What is that?  Where is it coming from?  You put your glass of Chianti down, and get up to investigate.  Holy catfish!  That weird sound is coming from INSIDE your house, in the wall, up near the ceiling!  Is it scratching?  Maybe the scurrying of tiny feet?  And ever so faintly, a sweet little mewing?  Is that a cat?

Well, I doubt it.  How about a litter of 5 baby raccoons waiting for a feeding?  Right there. in your attic. and not even paying rent!  What should you do?  So many options, so little time.

My first inclination would be to investigate and hopefully get some great pictures!  Then my smarter self says Momma will fiercely protect her babies and I would prefer not to get scratched or bitten.  Now, what about a Plan B?

There are a couple of things I could consider next.  Like finding how they got in and blocking that entrance. Maybe trying to trap them in the attic, basement, or wherever they are hiding out.  Or perhaps call a special company that deals with the removal of interlopers.  Lots to consider.  So lets start at the beginning.

image by Jennifer Howard

All natures critters provide a benefit to our environment.  We cannot survive without them.  Some eat smaller critters that give us grief, others aerate the ground by their digging.  And they all lived quite happily in their habitats until the dreaded Homo sapiens came along. Humans built factories, roads, and homes without a thought to the disruption that was caused by their presence.  Thankfully, most critters are resilient, so they backed off, and found ways of surviving in their altered world.

Gone were the trees, stick piles, berry bushes, creeks, and all the natural things that they needed to live.  Where will they find shelter?  Where will they get food?  Where will they bring up their babies?  Hey, theres a structure that looks like it might work!  An old shed that is hardly ever used!  Or what about climbing up that rainspout, and crawling in the soffit or old chimney?  Perfect place to raise a family!

OK, perfect for them, but maybe not for you, so a compromise might be needed.  First off, what animal is enjoying your hospitality, what time of year is it, and is it in your house or just somewhere on your property?

Some animals, like mice, are always on the lookout for a warm place to spend the winter, and tend to migrate indoors in the late autumn.  They reproduce at a very quick rate, and can cause health issues as well as damage your home, so you really dont want them inside, leaving little gifts for you on your kitchen counter.  Mice can fit through very small holes in your foundation and walls, especially where there are cracks near windows, doors and pipes. Your best bet to deter them is to seal all holes and maybe even get a cat.

Larger animals need larger openings, so its easier to see where they might get into your house.  Imperially speaking, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Go around the base of your foundation, especially behind bushes next to the house, and see where an animal might get in.  Check the soffit under the roof eaves for sections that are loose.  As well, every house has multiple vents – laundry, bathroom, stove hood, cold storage.  Make sure each one has a heavy mesh covering where the vent meets the outside.

But, beware.  You dont want to be critter-proofing your home while there are critters inside!  You might be facing The Great Escape, and who knows where they will tunnel out!  Or worse yet, you dont want to be dealing with dead animals in your attic.  Now that would be gross.

During the early spring, pregnant females make a warm nesting area for their babies.  So if you didnt critter-proof your home before March, you might already be hosting a nursery upstairs!  Now is not the time to be doing anything drastic.  Most wildlife babies are born without fur and are totally dependent on Momma.  If Momma cannot get to her babies, they will die.  And if they are put outside, they will be dinner for other animals since they cannot protect themselves.  So what can/should you do?

Wildlife mammals usually have several places they call home.  It is a safety measure to evade predators.  If you can wait until the weather gets warmer and the babies have grown some fur, there are a few things you could try to do to get them to move to another hotel.  First, though, watch for where Momma enters and exits your home.  That way youll know where you have to do some structural work after the critters have moved on.

By the summer, if the new family has not headed off for greener pastures, there are a few things you might try.  One is to disturb their cosy, quiet nest with irritating music.  Maybe some Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young.  Actually, I have each of those singers in my music library, but I dont think theyd be enjoyable to critters!  Next idea is to leave a bright light on in your attic.  Many animals are nocturnal – sleeping through the day and hunting for food at night.  So they arent used to seeing much daylight.

image source unknown

If that doesnt encourage the critters to leave, you might want to try putting down a live trap.  It is important that you get the entire family out.  If Momma is not around, you could put on protective gloves, pick up the babies, and put them in a box with a small blanket and some water.  Find a safe place to put the box, away from possible predators.  Momma will most likely hear their cries and come to fetch them.

Once you have all the critters out and have cleaned up the nesting area (wear gloves), remember to seal the entrance, else they might go right back in!

Now what happens if Momma does not return for her babies?  She wont come when there are people or other animals around, so you need to give her space.  Or she might be not be able to get back to her family.  Wildlife babies are incredibly cute.  They are like little pets that love to cuddle and play.  Please do not be tempted to keep them.  They will grow up, and no longer be cute and cuddly.  Forget the videos on YouTube with wild animals as pets.  Thats an anomaly.  Unfortunately, most years at the rehab, we end up with animals that people no longer wanted as pets due to their destructive nature.  We do our best to wildthem up, but they are no longer afraid of humans.  And that is a death sentence for them.  Oh, and I should mention, it is illegal in Canada to have a wild animal in your possession for more than 24 hours.  So call a rehab, and get the babies the help they need.

I mentioned about live trapping the wildlife.  If you do manage to get the adult critter out of your house, what are you supposed to do with it?  Ontario law says you can relocate it no more than one kilometre from where you trapped it.  Since most wild animals have a large hunting area, chances are, it will know the way home.  Remember The Incredible Journey?  Yup, it will be back.

Maybe youd prefer to leave the unwanted guests in your attic to the professionals.  There are many wildlife control companies who will come to your home and do exactly what has been discussed here.  But not all companies are humane or effective.  It is important that you ask the right questions before hiring anyone.  

Look for a good wildlife control company that encourages wildlife to leave on their own.

Check online for the names of local companies that can remove critters from your home.  Many actually provide good information about each species of animal that you might be dealing with.  You can find out information about how they get into your home, what time of year they are likely to be there, their birthing cycles, and how to protect your house from the unwanted visitors.  

A good wildlife control company does more than just remove the interlopers.  They will do a complete assessment of your property, checking to see where animals are getting in, finding out how many critters are in your home and if there are any babies, cleaning up the nesting area, and patching up potential entry points.

One of the most important aspects of a good wildlife control company is their humane removal methods.  They understand the need to keep Momma and babies together.  What usually happens is the babies are removed from the home, and placed in a heated wooden box that is lined with nesting material.  The access point to the home is wired shut, and, if possible, the box of babies is left right where Momma would enter.  If this is not possible, the box of babies will be placed close by, safe from predators.  Momma will be anxious to be reunited with her family, hear the chittering of her little ones, and gradually move each baby to another den site.  This might take a day or two.  The company will return after a few days to ensure the babies were rescued, and to retrieve their box.  Sometimes Momma does not return, and our rehab has been the recipient of some of these litters.

So before you hire anyone to help with evicting the furry little creatures, ask about the company removal methods.  Ensure that the process will be humane and that their priority is to keep the babies safe until Momma can retrieve them.

Sit back and enjoy the wildlife surrounding you whether in an urban or rural setting.

Not all animals will build a nest right in your home.  Some will choose another part of your property – maybe in an old shed, under the garage, up a big old tree, or under a woodpile.  Is it that important for you to get rid of them?  For the most part, if you let them alone, they will let you alone.  They do have a right to live in their habitat.  And, yes, I do mean a right.  The Ministry of Natural Resources does protect wildlife, to a certain degree.  It is important to check for the laws surrounding the removal of wildlife before you take matters into your own hands.

I suggest that urbanites sit back and delight in watching wildlife from their own backyards.  Consider the physical and emotional well being of communing with nature.  Read up on each critter you see.  Find out how each one is a benefit to your community.  Do they eat grubs, mosquitoes, or wasp larvae?  Do they aerate your lawn?  Do they make you smile?  We can live harmoniously with wildlife if we just appreciate them for what they are!

Enjoy this little video, Seven Little Angels by Sarah Marrs-Bruce. Our first raccoon litter of the 2022 season.

Uninvited Guests
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