“A squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit.”-Sarah Jessica Parker
I know that many people think that they’re cute, and there are entire calendars devoted to them, along with whimsical quotes about friendship and hard work. But I just have always had a problem with squirrels. Maybe it’s their sudden movements, maybe it’s their tendency to stare. Either way, I just don’t like ’em.
This problem was compounded when, a few years ago, a squirrel tried to set up a time share situation in our ceiling. I was just minding my own business one morning when this horrendous scratching sound started interrupting my work. Now, I grew up in the oldest surviving house in Johnstown Township, as my mother will tell you with surprisingly little provocation. This meant that the sound of field mice running up and down in the walls establishing their winter digs was a familiar, if not entirely reassuring, sound every fall. I’m used to my walls making a little bit of noise. I can tune most things out.
But this was different. It sounded like there was something working to saw through the hidden ceiling joists. I did the only logical thing and banged on the ceiling with a broom. Like most upstairs neighbors, the interlopers failed to take the hint. After a brief silence, the noise returned, this time louder, and definitely more threatening. And with each passing minute, it seemed to move further and further into the depths of the interior space.
I suspected the worst, as the dining room ceiling abuts an area where three different roof lines come together and there’s a bit of a visible gap. But just to make sure, I summoned the neighbor to check. As he climbed on the A-frame, a squirrel made an escape leap over his head, sending the ladder and my stalwart neighbor flying. Confirmed. We were invaded.
I was ready to call an exterminator, but Jimmy figured we could handle things on our own. As he deployed a succession of jerry-rigged traps, I recalled with some fondness the more finite approach that my grandpa would have employed in similar situations: a shotgun. But we are not gun people, and Jimmy had read something online about squirrel trapping, so I was stuck. Over about a week he tinkered with traps and bait types, carefully examining the area for clues of the squirrel’s movements so as to correctly position the trap. He ultimately settled on a precarious perch on the steeply pitched roof adjacent to the squirrel’s new domain.
In blissful ignorance to our maneuvers, the new tenant spent more and more time inside, doing whatever squirrels do to emulate the sound of one of those mobile paper shredding setups. Meanwhile, I was slowly growing frantic and got to the point that I couldn’t stand to be in the house during the day. I ultimately gave Jimmy three more days to catch the squirrel before I called in the professionals.
Needless to say, I called the professionals. When the exterminator showed up, he poked around the crawl space and shone flashlights all over. I waited anxiously for the news.
“Well, you definitely got squirrels. Trouble is, there’s probably not much we can do about it right now,” he reported.
“What?” I screeched into the phone, frantically racing home to meet the exterminator for the bad news. As I drove, he continued.
“Yup. I figure you got a mother who decided to go ahead and have her litter in your eave space there. Can’t see ’em, but that’s probably what you got. Now, you got two choices. I can go ahead and trap the adult, but then the litter will be abandoned and and you’ll have to deal with that. They’ll die, of course. We got some industrial odor eliminators that I can give you to deal with the smell, but I can’t promise there won’t be biologic seepage?”
“Is that an industry term?” I squeaked, focusing on the random to deal with the horrific. I wish I could say that I was horrified by the idea of abandoned baby squirrels, but the phrase “biologic seepage” has a way of occupying one’s focus.
“Yes, ma’am, it is,” he replied in all seriousness. “So I can set a bunch of traps. But, now, what I recommend you do is, just let the mother raise ’em in there, take a month or so, and then they’ll just move on out and you can go ahead and seal the gap.”
“But the noise…”
“I got some industrial ear plugs that I can give you…”
I thanked him, declined his offer of expert traps, and rushed home, eager to remove the traps that Jimmy had scattered, lest we be left with any biologic seepage.
As I pulled into the driveway, I saw our neighbor waving as she crossed the street. By this point the entire neighborhood was aware of the situation, some even pulling out lawn chairs in the evening to watch Jimmy’s maneuvers. I couldn’t wait to tell her the horrifying news.
She beat me to the punch. “Hey, so that trap of mine that I lent Jimmy? I saw that it caught one, so I went ahead to took it and released it where I usually take them when I catch them…”
NOOOOOOO. I tried to be gracious as I thanked her for going out her way to help us out. I didn’t tell her about the seepage, but I immediately went online and starting looking up those industrial odor eliminators.
We lived on pins and needles of a different sort over the next few weeks. Where I previously cocked and ear in the dining room, I now tentatively sniffed the perimeter, like a guilt-ridden Basset Hound. Through some stroke of luck, we must have relocated the squirrel before the big event, because nothing much came of it.
Except, of course, the flurry of squirrel related memes, yard ornaments, and tchotchkes that came our way over the following year. The squirrel was christened “Scratchy,” and was blamed for any mishaps in the neighborhood.
Since then, despite Jimmy’s, ahem, repair efforts, the time share remains open. Due to gaps that are invisible to our eye and impervious to his various blockades, every few months I’ll hear someone show up and start poking around the condo. Unlike the past, Jimmy has his trapping situation down to a science. Within a day or two, the new prospective tenant will be caught and relocated to a park 8 miles away, on the other side of the interstate. Please note the the dog is of no help with the situation and, in fact, seems to cede authority to squirrels, bunnies, and even large birds in most situations.
I really don’t know how the squirells keep finding our roof. I suspect that there is a posting on some squirrel bulletin board somewhere, advertising an pre-furnished condo. We certainly don’t do anything else to inadvertently make them feel welcome…