This is the new program on Animal Planet that replaces my previous Friday night viewing of Fatal Attractions. Last night’s program dealt with infestations by brown recluse spiders, and…squirrels. Squirrels? What? This family had squirrels living in their attic, and the exterminator said he could not help them because the squirrels were breeding, and it was against the law in whatever state they lived in to disturb breeding squirrels. The squirrels were eating the wiring. Droppngs would fall on their table from vents in the ceiling during meals. Then their son developed some sort of allergy or something and had to have surgery to remove a gland in his neck (a lymph node?) I was never quite clear on the details. At that point, the husband sent a letter to authorities asking for special permission to kill the squirrels. It was denied. I was also never clear on why the squirrels could not be trapped and removed humanely. In any case, the husband took it upon himelf to start poisioning the squirrels, whether he was allowed to or not. I was like, it’s about time. It’s amazing how dangerous squirrels can be, how many diseases they carry, and how hard they are to get rid of. I’m not a big fan of squirrels. I admire their cleverness, but any squirrel in my house will shortly be a dead squirrel.
Of course, this program reminded me of a real-life infestation I once experienced.
I was living in Royal Palm Beach, about 11 miles west of West Palm Beach, in a rented house. It was lovely. There was a little lake (actually, a borrow pit), tons of fruit trees, gardenias and crotons, space for a little garden. The owner was a guy who was in the Coast Guard; he was being transferred to Maryland and had decided to keep his house and rent it out. One day before he left for Maryland, he came over and was nailing a board over the um, soffitts? Eaves? In any case, he said, we’ve had a little trouble with squirrels getting into the attic, and I think I’ve found the hole they were getting in and I’ve closed it off.
Then I started hearing scratching noises in the walls at night. At the time, I had two dogs and two cats. One of the dogs was a Rottweiler, and I am here to tell you that they have no sense of smell. The other dog was a Chow mix. It started waking me up. If it wasn’t the scratching inside the walls, it was the Chow scratching at the wall on our side and barking.
I first mentioned it to a guy who worked with me and lived in my same subdivision. He said, not to put too fine a point on it, that I was nuts. He said he lived in the same type of house, built the same way, and that the walls were concrete with a thin layer of drywall over them. There was no room for a critter to get in between.
Then I mentioned it to one of my employees, a part-timer who was an exterminator in his day job. He laughed heartily. He said, You don’t have squirrels, you have rats. I said,that’s not possible. I’m paying $1,500 a month in rent for this house–I can’t possibly have rats. He thought that was even funnier. Welcome to South Florida, he said. I have squirrels, I insisted. Then one sleepless night, it dawned on me that squirrels aren’t active at night.
Exterminator Guy said, you have the two things rats like best: water and fruit He offered to come over and set out poison for free. I said NO WAY. I did not want my cats or dogs to get into poison, or eat a dying or dead poisoned rat. I wanted traps. Exterminator Guy said, that won’t work. Rats are neophobic. They have very specific paths they follow (such as through the attic), but you can put a trap in the middle of one of those paths and they will go around it. They will form a new path–because they’re smarter than you are.
I called the management company several times and asked for traps. (The owner had moved and turned it over to a management company.) They said, it’s your imagination. You can’t possibly have rats 🙂 Finally I went to their offices and demanded help. I was harder to refuse in person, I guess.
They sent out a maintenance guy with traps, and I just can’t tell you how unhappy he was to go into my attic. Yeah, me too, but I went with him. We made it without being bitten or scared to death, then he told me I needed to check the traps once a week. I said, oh no, YOU need to check them. Needless to say, that never happened. The noises continued. Rats and Exterminator Guy–1. Fakename and Management company–0.
Then one night, I got up in the middle of the night and almost tripped over a darker gray spot on the light gray carpet. In the morning, when it was lighter, I discovered it was a dead rat. It was gigantic. It had…like…fangs. I threw it into the lake. I hope a fish ate it. My male cat, Erin, whom I had not been able to get inside before going to bed, had been busy.
On successive nights, he brought in three more rats, all babies. After that, the problem was solved. No more sleepless nights for me or the Chow. The moral to this story is, get a cat. I didn’t have the Rottweiler for protection, and I didn’t have the cat for pest control, but it worked out that way.