Unwanted Wildlife 'Guests' Hard to Remove
PORT ORANGE, Fla. (AP) - There's nothing worse than uninvited guests dropping by the house and staying for more than a weekend.
Russ Adams is in the business of getting those freeloaders out.
It's difficult work, but as they say, someone has to do it, because when left unchecked, these intruders - raccoons, squirrels and rats - can destroy wood, wiring and insulation ... very quietly.
Making matters worse, those unwelcome guests this time of year often include babies, a new generation that one day could return to occupy that same warm and cozy attic with their future families.
"We're in the middle of raccoon baby season. This is the time of the year, from February until summertime," said Adams, who's up to his eaves with nuisance animals. "Raccoons enter through the overhang on the roof (through the soffit). If you have soffit damage, there's a good chance you have an animal in your attic."
Adams, 50, owns Animal Control, an independent animal trapping and removal service that answers calls from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach.
Raccoons rule the roost in the nuisance animal hierarchy, pushing out other intruders if and when they like the look and feel of a particular attic.
"Raccoons cause the most damage structurally," Adams said, in areas that include insulation, AC duct tubes and drywall. "Raccoons like to live in close proximity to their babies. They spend about a year together. Their main nests and dens are attics."
Adams said most houses - whether a modest dwelling or a multi-million-dollar mansion - have at least 10 easily penetrable areas around the roof. He prefers sealing those vulnerable areas before a problem occurs, and recommends investigating any noises in the attic.
"Half of every 10 houses have a problem. And only one-percent (of the owners) know it," he said. "It's the luck of the draw. A lot of times, they visit, but may not stay. But once there, they never go away on their own. If you have a problem, it's permanent,"
If the raccoon is free of disease, Adams said he prefers releasing it on a large expanse of private land, with the owner's consent, following the guidelines of the state. He said the vast majority of illness with the animals involves distemper, not rabies, and cannot be passed to humans.
"They're actually cool animals, smart and very persistent," Adams said of raccoons. "It can be like chess, quite challenging to get rid of them."
Besides raccoons, Adams said roof rats, bats and squirrels can be just as stressful as raccoons to homeowners in Volusia and Flagler counties.
Catching the mother usually is the key to success, so the babies can be manually removed. Once done, the attic entryways, usually around the eaves, must be sealed so an animal cannot poke, chew or scratch its way back inside.
Some companies also use an enzyme spray to kill the bacteria and eliminate any lingering scent so other raccoons or squirrels aren't attracted inside.
"Squirrels make a baseball-sized hole. You can cover it with a 2 x 4, and within a day, they're back inside," Adams said. "It usually takes two to three days, to 10 days, to fix a house depending on the severity."
Adams said homeowners insurance sometimes covers the cost to remove raccoons, depending on the deductible, but squirrels are considered rodents and not covered.
Phil Cassavant, 57, of South Daytona, is attic-free of nuisance animals now.
A couple of summers ago, he heard intermittent noise in his attic that he assumed might be a bird. His exterminator checked it out, broke the news and recommended Adams, who set some squirrel traps in the attic and around the house.
Because of tight budgets, city and county animal control agencies these days mostly focus on dogs and cats, referring residents with other problem animals to licensed trappers.
"(Adams) then sealed the entry points," Cassavant recalled. "Within a week, the squirrels were gone. And they haven't come back."
Local trappers say they can drive down almost any street and pick out the houses where animals are living in attics. The soffits are damaged, usually pushed in.
"Most houses are vulnerable," said Jody O'Dell, owner of Critter Control's Daytona Beach franchise, because Florida dwellings aren't designed with potential attic animal problems in mind. "And it has nothing to do with it being an old house, or if it's next to the woods or a lake."
O'Dell said attics provide a more desirable habitat for delivering babies than a hollow tree in the woods. And houses are much more abundant, easier to find.
"I hear people say all the time, 'The poor animals are running out of space to live.' The truth is the exact opposite," he said. "There are more (raccoons) because of the habitat we're providing them. Houses."
O'Dell said one client called him many years after moving into her house, after investigating what turned out to be the work of roof rats and raccoons. The attic looked worse than a fraternity house after an all-night party.
"The insulation that used to be a foot-and-a-half thick was one-and-a-half inches thick," he said. "It was covered in droppings and every box and suitcase was shredded."
Maybe out of embarrassment or the fear of ridicule, many folks decline to be identified by name when discussing the war and subsequent peace of living in the same house as nuisance animals.
One Port Orange homeowner hadn't been in her attic for about six years, until she discovered that those mysterious noises she and her family had been hearing in the attic were raccoons.
"I never thought it was possible. We live by a lake," she said of the Port Orange-area home her family bought new in 1999. "There was a hole in the soffit, where the raccoon pushed up."
The woman searched and found O'Dell online and a day later he trapped the mother raccoon outside, removed the babies and sealed the vulnerable entry points to the attic.
"It cost me $50 per animal and a small charge for the sealing," she said, well below her homeowner's insurance deductible.
O'Dell said he charges from about $350 for a simple trap-and-seal to $5,000 to $6,000 for handling a larger problem that includes a complete attic renovation and insulation replacement.
He said he's averaging about 50 jobs a week in Volusia, Flagler and Brevard counties, calling the increased demand this year as "weird" because of the unusually warm winter.
"It's been crazy. Everything is stretched out," he said of baby seasons. "In the past, the seasons were well-defined. When the cool weather hit, it would spark breeding with squirrels, and the babies were born. But I've been doing squirrel babies for the last two months. And there's no (breeding) season for raccoons. It's year-round."
So homeowners beware. Those uninvited guests already might have arrived.
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