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Critter Control of Central Missouri

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Peter Riney, the owner of Critter Control of Central Missouri, spends his days trapping, catching and getting rid of bothersome creatures for city residents. Riney typically schedules two to four appointments a day, but he must be flexible for the urgent and unpredictable phone calls that he might receive. No one wants to wait a couple of hours if there’s a squirrel in his or her living room. Climbing up ladders and stabilizing himself on a roof produces its own dangers, but dealing with wild animals that might carry diseases is a risk that’s part of the job.


Still, stubborn squirrels, cunning ‘coons and stench-ridden skunks are no match for the Varmintman.

Crawling around on his hands and knees in a dark, low-beamed attic space, Peter Riney is facing just another day on the job. For this particular task, he must remove a handful of baby squirrels from a Columbia family’s attic. He gathers the squirrels in a net and attempts to transfer them into a Havahart metal trap when something hits him on the back. In the darkness, he struggles to place the babies in the trap when the same force hits him again in the chest. After gathering the young squirrels into the trap, he fumbles around for a flashlight only to discover the assailant — the mother squirrel.

Riney says he rarely deals with confrontational squirrels, but mothers will go to extreme lengths to protect their young, in this instance, launching herself at him. But usually a squirrel will resort to its favorite pastime — chewing. Squirrels have the ability to chew through just about any material, including vinyl, wood, plastic and aluminum, which is why they easily get into people’s homes.

Sometimes a mother is separated from her young by a one-way squirrel trap or other steel barricades. If not, in Riney’s experience with Critter Control, a mother has no problem creating a new entrance by just gnawing her way back into the home. That’s why it’s important to first identify if squirrels live in the attic and then determine if they are young squirrels. From there, someone from Critter Control can decide how to go about the situation.

Because squirrels love to chew, one of the biggest concerns most families have is damage to electrical wiring. If squirrels can get past aluminum and vinyl, wires are no problem. Spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz of Columbia’s Light and Water Department has to deal with these electricity-loving chewers. In June 2013, at least 10 of the 54 power outages in the Columbia area were due to squirrels. In most cases squirrels need only to come in contact with a transformer, but occasionally they will meet their fatal end by chewing through electrical cables.

Kacprowicz says the department installed guards in problem areas to keep squirrels from the power lines and away from the transformers, but sometimes those safeguards are just not enough. “If you’ve ever had bird feeders and want to keep squirrels out, they tend to still find a way,” Kacprowicz says. “They’re very crafty.” —Janelle Pfeifer


After a scruffy encounter with a rambunctious raccoon, Peter Riney has a newfound appreciation for his gloves. Despite his best efforts, the raccoon still managed to sink its teeth into one of Riney’s fingers. Little did the raccoon know, its jaws of fury would ultimately cost it its life.

After a high-speed chase around the garage, Riney was able to corner the frightened raccoon against a wall where it proceeded to make things worse by wedging itself behind a metal grate. Still unable to get to this contentious ’coon with his control stick, Riney decided to go for broke and use his hands.

“I just went down with my gloves and grabbed the thing, and it immediately turned around on its back and started biting the gloves,” Riney says.

Although he finally managed to get the raccoon into his trap, Riney didn’t escape unscathed. He peeled off his gloves to reveal broken skin on one of his fingers. Unfortunately, this battle wound meant that the raccoon would have to be tested for rabies — a test that requires euthanasia, so the brain of the possibly infected animal can be sent to a qualified laboratory. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common test is the direct fluorescent antibody test or DFA. Riney is rabies-free.

Raccoons often approach houses in search of food or to take shelter in warm chimneys or attics. Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic eaters, and their ability to adapt has led them from the forests of North America to a wide range of habitats, including cities and urban areas. Critter Control of Central Missouri most often receives complaints about raccoons rummaging in dumpsters or sneaking their way into people’s homes.

Although Riney doesn’t consider this experience his shining moment in raccoon wrangling, he was happy that he was at least able to remove the critter from his client’s dwelling. —Nicole Eno


Peter Riney packed his truck with four animal traps, a Faceguard 18–inch and three Tomahawk traps. The plan was to set the traps around the site the baby skunks were using to enter a white metal shed. When Riney pulled into the driveway of the farmhouse north of Columbia at 10 p.m., the white-haired, mustachioed customer didn’t have all night to wait. He told Riney the critters needed to be out — now.

No, Riney said, generally I put skunk traps out by hand and get them that way.

No, the man said, pick them up.

Of course, the customer is always right.

The striped skunk is one of two skunks, along with the endangered spotted skunk, that inhabit Missouri. They prefer to live underground in dens covered by hedges or brush to hide them from predators.

Riney discovered two kitten-sized babies huddled against the shed, one under an upturned kiddie pool, the other one beside a tire of the farmer’s truck. Riney scooped up the first with his 2-foot-long minnow net.

The good news about adult skunks is that they use their oily yellow butyl mercaptan spray only when they have to. They’re intelligent about when and when not to use it. The bad news about younger skunks is that they have the ability to spray at birth, and juvenile skunks are not intelligent. Their spray can shoot up to 20 feet. Riney looked at the baby skunk huddled 3 feet away next to the truck tire. He looked at the net he needed to catch it. He reached down toward the baby.

Four days later, the smell was gone. Four months later, the stain on the minnow net, now brown, remains. —Robert Langellier

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