First we thought we heard fleeting, light scratching in the attic. Midweek, during the night, the dogs barked madly at the side door. Nothing. Sunday night, my son heard a few “peep” sounds over his bedroom. A squirrel, or a bird? Then I heard a box get knocked. No one was going up there.
Monday morning, a friend gave me a referral, which is how Ray Hartley of Intrepid Wildlife Services in Peekskill, showed up within an hour in a truck sporting his motto: “Your castle shouldn’t be a zoo.”
Hartley is a tall, congenial man originally from Oklahoma who grew up in Connecticut. A connection to the earth and outdoors runs in his family; his paternal great-great-grandmother was Cherokee. (“Her name was Many Bays,” said Hartley admiringly.)
He’s also a modern-day Daniel Boone, licensed in the wildlife control business since 1993. His service captures raccoons, squirrels, moles, bats, and other creatures, in all areas of a home. He’d just come from Rye, catching a raccoon that had been in a chimney.
In less than a minute in my attic, Hartley called down, “It’s a raccoon. I’m looking at the tracks.” For twenty minutes he mostly listened, exploring only a little, not wanting to startle an attack.
At the kitchen table, we discussed the peeps. “That’s the sound that young raccoons make,” said Hartley. “You’ve probably got a mother and her young.”
He explained that although raccoons typically give birth from April to June, with litters of three to five, “I caught my first raccoon and her litter on March 20.” Late March is the beginning of birthing season for squirrels, and when birds start nesting.
Part one was finding the animal and its entry point. Part two was prevention, securing all possible entrances against future invaders. Hartley sets his fees, which sounded reasonable, per situation. Going over the details, we heard a peep and movement in the area of the large vent. Hired.
Hartley scouted the basement, garage, and the house’s exterior. Ruling out two gable vents as entry points, he focused on a large, louvered metal vent on a side gable.
“This is it,” Hartley deduced, indicating smudges on the bottom two slats—which the raccoon lifted to enter the attic—and on the siding beneath the vent. The vent’s thick interior frame was bent back and the heavy screen was torn. “Raccoons are clever and strong,” he said. Even minimal warm air escaping the vent would have been attractive.
Hartley identified areas where soil was tamped down at the front and rear of the house, near trees that allowed an easy climb to the roof. At both locations, he placed a trap baited to attract raccoons (not cats).
Raccoons are nocturnal. “It’s possible that the female will be worried about me being in the attic today, and will move out with her young tonight. That’s always my preference,” said Hartley. Or, she would go out that night for food and enter the trap; the young would call out from the attic in hunger the next day, allowing Hartley to find and unite them with their mother, and then relocate them upstate.
That night, we heard a series of creaks from the attic.
Tuesday, 7 a.m., a raccoon was in the front trap. “I need to be there soon to get the young,” said Hartley, driving over immediately from a raccoon-in-the-attic assignment in Cortlandt Manor.
A thorough attic investigation showed little indication other than tracks.
The trapped raccoon was male, and had probably just been walking by. Hartley baited a new trap.
“There’s always the chance the female and her young are still inside.” Hartley put a strip of black tape on the vent; if the tape became loose, it would indicate her exiting and entering. That night, the attic was silent.
Wednesday, there was another male in the front trap.
Thursday morning, arriving from capturing a skunk in Irvington, Hartley said, “The tape is secure, and no noises from the attic. This is a good sign that the female vacated with her litter Monday night.”
Nonetheless, Hartley dropped by daily.
Monday, he attached heavy wire mesh to the outside of the two small vents, which would also prevent birds from nesting between the slats.
Tuesday, he installed a custom wire cover that he built to go over the louvered vent’s exterior.
Was Hartley done for the day? Not hardly. Mine was the sixth of twelve jobs involving woodpeckers, squirrels, bats, and raccoons, and his cell phone was still ringing.
“This is the beginning of the busy season in Westchester,” said Hartley, before driving away from my newly secure castle.
Tips for dealing with wildlife at your home
Springtime (when young are being born) and early fall (when warm homes are wanted) are the busy wildlife seasons. For help finding a licensed wildlife trapper, consult this list here.
A few reasons to call in a professional trapper:
- “Don’t try to handle an animal or locate its den—a threatened animal can become aggressive, and you don’t know if it’s diseased. That’s often when people get bitten or scratched and need a rabies vaccine,” says Hartley. Westchester County advises immediately washing the area with warm soapy water and getting immediate medical help, and to call the police and a trapper to capture the animal. For more info visit the Westchester Government website.
- If a bat is in the house, “The county mandates that it be collected and tested for rabies,” says Hartley. Exit the room, close the door, and call the police and a trapper. Westchester County Health Department offers phone assistance at (914) 813-5000, and info on their website.
- Avoid a quick fix. “Homeowners boarding up an entry might inadvertently wall off the animal inside the house—such as in the walls—resulting in it chewing through the sheetrock and into the home.” Additionally, “A mother squirrel, blocked from her young trapped inside, can gnaw her way through siding and wood.”
- If you hear sounds coming from the fireplace, don’t open the flue. “Female raccoons often enter through the chimney and give birth on the firebox,” says Hartley.
- Be current with a pet’s vaccinations and heartworm medications as a measure against wildlife attack or exposure.
- Once wildlife has been removed, effectively seal any openings.
- Make sure bird feeders and garbage pails are secure. And always feed pets indoors.
Intrepid Wildlife Services, Charles Ray Hartley, 1265 Maple Ave., Peekskill 10566; (914) 293-7593.
Katherine Ann Samon is the author of four books, including “Dates From Hell” and “Ranch House Style.” Her column, "Home & Garden," about providing you a beautiful life at home, appears twice a month. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.katherineannsamon.com.