Those Pesky Varmits!

RRelatives overextending a holiday visit are one thing. But a family of skunks or bats moving into the house for a surprise winter residency has become a surprise and increasingly frequent local occurrence.

“It's all tied into the warmer weather we've had the last two winters,” says Jon Horne, a licensed animal trapper who owns Nuisance Wildlife Evictions in New London. “Trapping is normally a very seasonal thing, but in the past couple of years we've been staying busy. People aren't expecting animal activity in the dead of winter, and all of a sudden something tramping around up in their attic or down in the cellar or under the deck.”

Horne says he's encountered raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rats and bats in the normally quiet winter months. The animals' natural cycles have been disrupted by the balmier climes and they're being forced to go out and forage for food. At night, though, when the temperature drops, they get cold and are either forced to seek temporary shelter in residences or they make permanent nesting areas there.

Jeff Gilger, another licensed trapper who operates The Critter Gitter in Waterford, is likewise busy in the normally bleak midwinter.

“The biggest thing for us has been the bats,” Gilger says. He explains that there are typically few indigenous Connecticut animals that hibernate: our few bears, groundhogs and woodchucks, and bats. “Most of the bats did hibernate, but because of the warm weather, a few have been confused. So we're getting some infestation in houses we normally wouldn't see. And of course we've got more raccoons and squirrels than we normally would have.”

Horne says there are simple precautions a homeowner can take to lessen the likelihood of winter infestation. He recommends an outside examination of your property and home once a week to check for rotten spaces or holes in wood or siding. Also, check for recently dug holes around the foundation of the house and look for animal tracks.

A lot of the calls Horne and Gilger get are preventive in nature: homeowners looking for inspections.

“Besides just the nuisance of knowing there are animals in your attic or under your deck, they can cause problems,” Gilger says. He explains that raccoons, for example, utilize a common toilet area and that roundworms — which infect humans — are found in their waste. “Raccoons carry rabies, too,” he says.

Unwanted pests can also do some significant structural damage. “I was just at a house where raccoons ripped out all the insulation in the roof, attic and walls,” Gilger says. “And it happens fast. And squirrels are constantly chewing on things, including electrical wiring, so there's the danger of a house fire there.”

While Seymour and Patricia Hendel, who live in New London have not suffered any health or structural damage, winter has brought a seemingly endless parade of skunks. So far this year Horn has trapped several skunks under the Hendels' deck.

“It took us completely by surprise,” Patricia Hendel says. “We've had an occasional skunk and several raccoons at one time or another in our cellar — but always in the summer months. Now it's winter and he's caught eight skunks and we don't think we're through yet. Under a backyard deck doesn't seem like it would be warm enough for me or you, but it must be warm enough for the animals because they're out of control.”

If indeed the warming trend persists, humans may have to take year-round precautions to keep critters out of their homes.

“I tend to agree with the global warming theory,” says Patrica Hendel. “What will it be like next winter? Will we be collecting animals year round? We think, 'Well, when we get rid of the skunks, what might be next?'”
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