Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Matt Markey

Masked would-be intruder seeks a warm spot in winter

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    Wildlife seeking shelter in the colder months present more than a nuisance problem for homeowners, since raccoons, opossums, and skunks can carry diseases such as rabies.

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A masked trespasser is cause for alarm in just about every case, but Harriet Lehman did not panic when one such prowler started poking around recently outside of her rural Whitehouse home.

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He did some excavating and tried to find a vulnerable opening in the foundation, and also scaled the outside of the residence and looked for a potential breach around the chimney cap. When those efforts failed, this would-be break-in artist moved on, likely content he would find another dwelling that presented fewer challenges.

Tests of the security of our dwellings by persistent small mammals are a seasonal issue — when it gets cold they seek out more comfortable arrangements — and the raccoon attempting to share that Lucas County abode with Lehman was following its instincts and looking for a housing upgrade.

“Once things started to get really cold outside, I think that raccoon just decided there might be warmer quarters elsewhere,” she said. “It was digging up the dirt around the foundation, and then I would hear it up on the roof, trying to get the chimney cap off. It wasn’t something to be alarmed about, but a wild animal trying to get inside isn’t a good situation for us, or for that raccoon.”

Dale Hodgson, regional manager for Rose Pest Solutions, said that as suburbs have spread into the countryside, encounters with shelter-seeking wildlife have become much more common, including in the city. He cited a full menu of potential problems associated with animals when their actions raise the “nuisance” flag.

Besides damaging foundations with digging and burrowing close to homes, these critters can also cause health hazards with their droppings and create fire hazards by chewing on wiring. They also are sometimes carriers of disease and may have a tendency to attack small pets.

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“They’ve always been there, but as we have built more homes out on the edges of town and out in the country, these animals have gotten used to being around people, so they don’t fear them, even in an urban setting,” Hodgson said. “At the same time, hunting and trapping have fallen off, so there are more of these animals around.”

He said that as the dividing line between city and country has become more blurred, conflict issues with small mammals are no longer a problem only in rural areas.

“Wildlife is almost domesticated,” Hodgson said. “Urban nuisance wildlife has become a more common problem.”

Hodgson said two factors — shelter and food — draw wildlife close to our homes. He said raccoons, opossums, skunks, and squirrels don’t hibernate, but they will sit tight in a warm place for up to two weeks, seeking refuge from the coldest temperatures.

“When the weather changes, they like to find a place to hole up so we get more calls when winter comes along,” he said. “And they are also drawn in by food sources, such as bird feeders spilling over onto the ground and trash cans that aren’t properly latched. If you remove the food source, they will usually move on.”

He suggested trimming tree branches that are along the roofline and close to the house, since these provide raccoons with an access point to get to the chimney. Any openings along the vents can also be potential entry places.

Rose Pest Solutions has started offering wildlife capture services because of an increased demand based on a spike in encounters with shelter-seeking animals. Hodgson stressed that capturing and removing nuisance wildlife is not an easy task.

“It takes expertise to properly bait, trap, and handle these animals,” he said. “Their bites or scratches can be dangerous and transmit diseases. You need the right trap, right bait, and right spot.”

Lehman said it appears that after several attempts, the raccoon that sought shelter inside her home has moved on.

“You can’t fault them for looking for someplace warm in the wintertime,” she said. “There used to be a lot of old barns and sheds around out here, but since things have gotten so developed, there just aren’t many places for them to make a winter home.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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