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Trapping Unwanted Animals - Summer 2006


We have another animal in the attic. The noise of claws scratching against the sheetrock above our heads wakes us in the middle of the night. What is it? A rat? A squirrel? Bigger? A Racoon? It sounds huge! What if? What if it claws through the half inch of sheetrock stuff and falls into our bedroom? What if it cannot make its way back out the entry hole? Would it run around terrorized and shred up the room?

We go to bed some time around nine PM to watch television before turning in. The daylight is just leaving the sky and night time is falling. The noise of the television or the night time calling seems to wake the critter. It must leave the house to drink and eat. The attic is hot and dry during the daytime hours. It wakes, crawls and scratches along the sheetrock and then only thuds of the attic beams sound as it moves towards the back corner of the house. Then all is quiet until after we are asleep. On those nights of many wild imaginative dreams, I have ones with chasing monsters in the attic. I wake tired, wanting to exterminate.

We need to get rid of it and soon, but I do not want to crawl up in the attic and try to catch the animal. Some people, perhaps the tree huggers, think this as the humane way to do it, a live catch then a release far away. I think it is too much bother, plus I do not want to deal with a pissed off animal in a cage that I have to carry down from the hot attic and out through the house. From my past experiences, the moth ball approach does not work. That is the one where you spread mothballs around the attic and supposedly the smell will drive them out. My last old house had multi-generations of resident flying squirrels in the attic. I tried the mothball approach. They did not leave. It sounded like they used the mothballs as toys for racket ball and held contests in the attic nightly. Plus, the side effects of the strong grandmotherly smell drove me out of the upstairs bedroom.

Killing chemicals are out of the question too. Putting out poison and letting the critter crawl off and die will not work because I know where they will die, above my bedroom. That smell will drive me out too.

We located the entry point, the back corner of the house where the second story roofline starts. It is the place, above our deck, where we had tree squirrels entering the house before. The wire screen that had blocked the gap between the shingle covered plywood and angled soffet had been removed. In addition to the mesh being gone, some of the shingles were pulled up and bent back. The animals must be desperate and determined to get in. This was the place for the trap.

We had used the flat plastic sticky trap trays at the farm to catch unwanted mice that were tearing into the cattle sweet feed bags. One trap caught five mice in a day’s time. We leave the trap out with the dead reminders still in tact. The trap has room for more. The larger, rat size sticky trap must work for our attic critters. It will be like the “tar baby” in the Brer Rabbit story.

The far end of the back deck yields a vantage point where we can see and reach the opening. We positioned one sticky trap behind the upraised shingle and reduced the width of the narrow foot wide hole with a length of old gutter screen. Now if any critter were to go in or out of the attic it would be directed over the tar baby.

James carefully returned the unused trap back into a plastic bag, since they come two to a package. Immediately the plastic stuck ruining the second trap. Now we know why there are two traps per container and why they are packaged face-to-face. Obviously you must use them both at the same time.

That night we heard the familiar scratching and thumping as we went to bed, and then it was quiet. I imagined our animal, fist by fist and foot by foot struggling in the grip of the tar baby. In the morning we went out on the back deck. The trap had not fallen on the deck. We shined a flashlight and looked up where the shingle was raised, no sticky trap, the screen was gone too. We looked on the ground and saw no evidence of the trap, only the gutter screen. We took our flashlight and looked under the deck, thinking it must have been quite a struggle. No tar baby, no critter.

James thought that perhaps a cat had come along and carried the critter off and got stuck to the tar baby as well. I expected to see the trap up in a tree stuck to a branch where a squirrel had stuck it, but nothing

The next day we doubled our efforts and loaded the shingle with two sticky traps. That night we heard the critter noises again, this time it seemed louder and more noticeable. The critter must know we were on to it. In the morning they too were both mysteriously missing.

I had telephoned my brother from my upstairs home office one night at dusk and was looking out the window during our conversation. I saw an animal crawling on the rocks along the pond. It was a raccoon sticking its front paws into the water, apparently looking for something, perhaps a fish to eat. Our pesky attic resident must be a raccoon. This must be the critter. I now know that the problem is larger than sticky traps.

The raccoon scenario would answer a couple of questions. The sounds from the attic only started when it was dusk and when we were going to bed. The raccoon, a nocturnal creature, was getting up to roam and forage during the dark hours. Another answer was to the mystery of the missing sticky traps. This large animal would simply move on and take the annoying trap out of view. We found a used trap on the deck a few days after the raccoon sighting. We had had several potted plants knocked off the deck. I had blamed the squirrels but now know it must be a larger stronger animal to tip the pots. A few days later, James saw two juvenile raccoons near our garbage cans at dusk.

An unanswered question is how does the raccoon fit through the narrow opening to get into and out of our attic? We investigated the entire house exterior and have not spotted any other entry candidate.

Our action needed to be changed to the “live-catch-and-release with the pissed-off animal plan”. One thing working in our favor was the heat. The daytime temperatures were turning from springtime cool to the summer swelter. The attic raccoon would move out, at least for the summer. We need to close up the entry point but only after we are assured that it is (they are) gone.

We bought one of those rectangular wire traps that had the picture of skunks, raccoons and other medium size animals with the label “catch-and-release”. We figured that we would catch the unwanted animal and relocate it to the country on one of our weekend trips to the farm.

The trap had a spring door on one end and a lever that connected to the floor pressure trigger. We tested the trap and with minor adjustments it was ready for action.

We thought the best place for the trap was outside near the garbage can since the heat had driven the animal out of the attic, and James had seen two raccoons near the city provided garbage container named “Herbie Curbie”. Plus it would be much easier to deal with a trapped animal on the driveway.

Now for the bait, the other night we had meatloaf for dinner and had a chunk left over. Our recipe calls for the meatloaf to be coated with ketchup while it cooks. The ketchup frosting gets gooier as it cooks. We believed meatloaf would be perfect raccoon bait. We also read in the catch-and-release instructions that raccoons like crisp bacon. I cooked up a couple of pieces, broke the bacon and placed the pieces on the meatloaf then poured the grease over it as well. Wow, what a feast. The trap was baited and set.

The next morning the trap door had been triggered, but nothing was inside. The bait worked in attracting something, but the visitor must have accidentally hit the outside release lever and the door prematurely sprung closed. Darn, it must have been close.

That night we repeated the bacon cooking and used the same meatloaf. This time we placed the trap between the garbage container and our recycling bin. This would limit the access to the trap mechanism. We also placed pieces of bacon leading into the trap and placed extra chunks on the meatloaf. It was good to go again.

In the morning the trap door was closed. We caught something! We could see eyes looking out at us, but we had to move the garbage container to see if it was the raccoon. Nope, no raccoon, it was a cat! We made a double take since the cat fur was covered with greasy ketchup and its hair was in tufted spikes, like a bobcat. No, it was not a bobcat, just someone’s pet. We had one pissed off cat on our hands. We decided to not relocate the cat and that the cat should theoretically help eliminate unwanted vermin. We opened the trap door and the cat made a bee line up the driveway. We both imagined when the cat got home its owner would say “Honey, come quick, look! What the hell happened to Fluffy last night?” We don’t believe we will see Fluffy ever again.

Trapping day three, we used a cheap can of fishy cat food for bait. The catch-and-release instructions said that raccoons liked cat food as well. We repeated the bacon part too, the trap was set and we were again ready for Rory. In the morning the door was sprung shut. We caught another animal. I looked in from the top and saw a long round hairless tail attached to a whitish colored hairy body. We now had trapped an opossum. From a previous experience with an opossum years ago I had determined that these creatures are not very bright. We had a Siberian Husky named Sobaka that chased one across our backyard. The Opossum got to a small tree and climbed up beyond the reach of the dog. The stupid opossum kept climbing and climbing and climbing until it was in the very small branches of the tree top. The tree bent over under the weight of the opossum and ended up a couple of feet off the ground and only a few yards away from the dog. Fortunately we had caught up with Sobaka by that time and separated the two before there was an incident.

We debated the need to remove the trapped opossum from the neighborhood. We did not want to make the hour long drive out to the farm and we also did not want to get caught releasing an unwanted wild animal in someone else’s yard nearby. We decided to open the cage at home. Hopefully the animal is smarter than I give it credit for and we will not see it in the cage again. We opened the spring door, the opossum stayed inside and looked like it wanted to sleep, or play dead and did not exit like the cat had done.

While we sat on the tailgate of the pickup truck waiting for the animal to exit, two voles came out of the flower garden, one made a dash across the driveway just past the open cage door. We both commented that wildlife sure is plentiful here in the city. It seemed like we were in one of Steven King’s novels where the animals were crazed and taking over the world. We also commented that if the cat hadn’t been so hungry for an easy meatloaf meal there was plenty to catch. James ended up poking the opossum with a long stick and it ran out of the yard under our fence.

We decided to move the trap away from where we were catching garbage scavengers and try our luck on our backyard deck near the entry place for the attic. We opened another can of smelly fish cat food, made up the bacon strips and the trap was set. Within two days the trap had a night time visitor, another opossum. At least we think it was a different one, James thought this one looked larger than our driveway catch, but you know they all look alike to me.

Okay, now for the release part. It was only Tuesday with no farm trip planed until the weekend. I did not want to have a “pet opossum” for the week. I didn’t even want to give it water let alone feed it. That morning I had a planned business trip to my regional work office located in a northern Atlanta suburb. Perhaps I will take it with me and release it up north. Fortunately I have a pickup truck and the cage would ride on the back. I called RJ, a fellow employee who works in the office and told him my plans and asked for some assistance. He said “bring it on!”

When I arrived at the office the parking lot was full of cars, which is usually mostly empty. There was a management planning meeting going on in the office. RJ was not involved in the meeting and was able to help in the release. When he came out to the truck he immediately smelled the rotting garbage smell of the opossum. He carried the cage across the street to an empty wooded lot that has a creek running through it. I opened the spring loaded latch, RJ positioned the door open with a stick and the smelly opossum ran into the woods. We both went in and washed our hands and I went to my meeting.

Somehow it leaked out to the management team that I brought an opossum to the office for release. Chip, who was in the management meeting, said that he too is dealing with unwanted raccoons at his Cincinnati home. He said a couple of country fellows were driving past his house and said they saw a raccoon poking its head out of the eaves. They said that they were in the business of trapping unwanted animals and they were there to help. He said that the three of them went outside and one of the fellow pointed to his roof and said “look, there it is”. Chip said he saw nothing and thought he was being taken by the fellows trying to drum up some quick business. Chip finally agreed to their plan, he said that the two fellows looked clean, had most of their teeth and did not look like their motive was to eat their catch. They set their trap near the dirty downspout they said the raccoon was using as a ladder.

Since I was trying to catch raccoons I asked Chip what these “pros” were using for bait, he said “Beggin Strips”. He said that one of the fellows stated that they smell like bacon but sure don’t taste like bacon. Well, so much for about what they wouldn’t eat!

The hot dry days of June were going to change with a forecast of a welcomed rainy weekend. We bought a package of Beggin Strips and some more cans of cat food. We set the trap, nothing the first night, nothing the second, then finally we caught a big raccoon. It must have been the Beggin Strips. I had trimmed a tall bush near the deck and the attic entry point. Perhaps the raccoon was trying to get out of the rain, saw that the bush, it had used for a ladder, was gone and smelled the Beggin Strips. “Hmmmm, I think I’ll have a meal!”

The attic is now quiet, at least for now. The hole is covered with heavy wire screen. We are still looking for more animals for removal.