Wildlife in action is fun to experience, but most would agree that only invited animals are welcome in our homes. Rodents, raccoons, skunk, and bats, which are common to the Midwest, should remain outdoors.

As the seasons change, animals seek warm, secure habitats. They step up their hunt for the perfect winter home, and we must be diligent to keep them out of ours, which can be near to impossible. Bats can invade a home through an opening as small as 3/8 of an inch and mice can enter a hole the size of a pencil point.

Recent reports state that a number of homeowners have experienced bat intrusion. One suburban home had more than 50 bats in their attic.

And many of our neighbors have had visiting skunk under their porches. A few learned the hard way what happens when you try to get them to leave. Skunk scent became their household air freshener for weeks.

Our own animal encounter came in the form of raccoons. Last spring I awoke at 2:30 in the morning to the sound of banging, clanging, ripping, and clawing on the roof right over our bedroom. The racket went on for two hours and included the invading animals falling onto the ceiling and running around above us.

I was so terrified I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought it was squirrels and imagined them tearing through the ceiling, pouring out on us, and running through the house.

The animal trapper I hired soon informed me that our uninvited guests were raccoons. He showed me the paw prints up the garage roof and said they tore a hole the size of a dinner plate in our roof.

He also said that nearly all raccoons born in our area are born in attics. Raccoons are nocturnal. They see best in the dark and party all night. It isn’t unusual for one raccoon to visit up to three attics in an evening. They can live there for long periods of time without eating or eat what is convenient including house mice or road kill. Homeowners often don’t even know the raccoons are there if they aren’t in an area where they can hear them.

Unfortunately, trapping raccoons is a lesson in patience. They are best trapped from outside. Going into the attic disrupts them and can result in more damage as the raccoons go deeper into the attic or down the walls for safety.

Raccoons come and go throughout the night. The trapper’s goal is to offer them a quick snack in a trap outside of their exit that entices them to walk into.

Once our traps were set we waited through three weeks of sleepless nights listening to raccoons walking and running above us. Finally one Sunday morning one raccoon was trapped. The trapper added another trap over the hole on the roof hoping the raccoon would exit into it. But our remaining resident was too smart. He dug his way out through another hole he made in a soffit.

When all was quiet for a week, and we knew the attic was vacant, the trapper returned to clear out the contaminated insulation and disinfect and reinsulate the attic.

When we called in a roofer to patch the hole in the roof we found that the bases of its many peaks were not weather-stripped. Snow gathered in the valleys year after year, softening and rotting the decking. There also was mold across one section of the roof that did not have enough vents to release condensation. We ended up replacing a good part of the decking and all the shingles.

I like to find the bright side of everything, which I soon did with this situation. A week after the roof was replaced; we had unusually heavy rain. Had we not replaced the roof, we likely would have had considerable water damage, and at the very least, an increased risk of asthma and allergy problems from the mold.

We can’t completely prevent a determined raccoon from entering our attics but there are a couple of things we could have done to dissuade them. Our bird feeders offered a convenient food source and there was a tree with branches reaching onto the garage roof. Raccoons can shimmy up a gutter pipe but the tree made it way too easy. The also could smell the soft wood and knew it was easy to break through. The new roof should deter them in the future and we’ve since removed the bird feeders and trimmed the tree.

If your home is attacked by raccoons, squirrel, skunk, or bats, its best to hire wildlife trappers to remove them. Although a significant expense not covered under homeowners insurance, the chance of scaring them and then causing further damage or getting bit is not worth it. Bats are the number one carrier of rabies and their bites require a painful series of injections to prevent the disease.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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