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When Karl Schedler arrived home one recent Friday afternoon, he found an uninvited guest: a squirrel sitting on the kitchen counter.
After unsuccessfully chasing the animal through his Bexley house, Schedler opened the back door, grabbed a beer, went outside and waited for the squirrel to come out.
Which it did.
One week, one squirrel and one cowardly new cat later, Schedler discovered how the squirrels were getting in: through the fireplace in his son's former bedroom.
What ensued was a slapstick scene of "hand-to-hand combat" as Schedler, his wife and his daughter battled a scurry of squirrels that had been nesting in a second-floor chimney (now capped).
The battle score: One squirrel leaped out the second-floor window; a second was tossed in a crab net to the ground; and a third, found dead under the bed, was unceremoniously scooped and dumped.
Schedler's take: "I decided the most effective way of getting rid of them was to open the door and get a beer."
There are other, more systematic, approaches to animals seeking the comforts of home for the winter.
"Squirrels and raccoons are a high priority right now," said Adam Turpen, the wildlife field agent for Humane Wildlife Solutions, which bills itself as the only central Ohio service to rid homes of wild animals without killing them.
Turpen and his animal-control counterparts spend much of the winter chasing squirrels and raccoons from homes, sometimes from living spaces but far more likely from chimneys and attics, which they can access in a variety of ways.
"The No. 1 source of entry is just a rotten spot, a construction gap of some sort, such as boards rotted behind gutters," said Mike Faler, president of the Columbus, Dayton and Toledo franchises of Critter Control.
"The No. 2 source are roof vents or louver vents on a roof, followed by chimneys," Faler added. "Chimneys without chimney caps are just waiting to have an animal in them, ... especially raccoons and squirrels. They just see that as a large hollow tree."
Such creatures aren't merely a nuisance. In addition to roughing up an attic, raccoons can carry disease, and squirrels can chew through wiring.
Homeowners can halt them in their tracks by capping chimneys, plugging gaps around roof and air vents, keeping birdseed away from the home, and making pet food and garbage inaccessible.
When those methods fail and homeowners don't want to take on the animals themselves, they can contact a number of central Ohio services.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources can offer advice, but the department, with only one wildlife officer in Franklin County, doesn't have the resources to respond to most calls.
Homeowners can call animal-nuisance companies, which typically charge from less than $100 to more than $200 for an initial visit - although some, such as Varment Guard, don't charge for a simple inspection. After that, fees can rapidly escalate depending on the severity of the problem.
Once at the site, animal-control experts can size up a problem in a hurry.
"Generally it's at the roof level, so we look at the gutter line, the chimney, the fascia board and the gable vents," said Scott Steckel, one of five owners of Varment Guard, which has offices in four cities, including Columbus. "You look for oil and rub marks, fur and hair, maybe claw marks. We'll identify the entry point pretty quickly."
After that, remedies vary by company but fall into two main camps: trapping the animals or getting them to leave the house on their own.
Workers at Humane Wildlife Solutions, a branch of the Ohio Wildlife Center, install one-way doors over access points, allowing squirrels, raccoons and other intruders to leave but not return.
Merlin Marshall recently called the service to her Dublin home after hearing gnawing in the attic one evening.
"I heard it in the ceiling in the bedroom," she said. "I figured it was a critter right off the bat. I pounded on the wall and it would stop and I'd try to sleep. Then it would start again and I'd pound and it would stop. Then I'd try to sleep. It went on like that."
Turpen, the Humane Wildlife Solutions agent, identified three holes that had been chewed under the gables into the attic. Two seemed large enough for a raccoon; one was squirrel-sized. At each site, Turpen installed one-way doors - wire rectangles that resemble cages but allow the animal to leave.
Turpen returned the next night to find all three of the one-way doors tripped: two raccoons and one squirrel had left the attic.
"That's more raccoons than I thought," Marshall said. "And I didn't know about the squirrels at all."
A few days later, another raccoon left the attic. After confirming that the critters were gone, Turpen plugged the holes leading into the attic.
Other animal-nuisance companies capture the animals. Most companies try to deal with the animals outside the home instead of trapping them in the attic, which can be inconvenient for the homeowner and the company.
"Rarely, maybe once a month, maybe one out of 100 accounts, where the animal is wily, such as a squirrel - not a standard gray squirrel but a flying squirrel or a red squirrel ... - then we might set a trap in the attic," Steckel said. "Within two or three days, we'll get the animal."
|A squirrel peers out of the vent|
On a recent call to a Hilliard home, Critter Control General Manager Jeremy Chester quickly identified the entry point - holes chewed through the screen in attic gable vents - and placed two squirrel traps on the roof outside the holes.
The next day, each trap held a squirrel. As Chester removed the traps, another squirrel poked its head out of a vent, so he placed more traps. After four squirrels were trapped, Critter Control sealed the holes.
Ohio law prohibits relocating potentially disease-carrying animals such as opossums, raccoons and skunks, so such animals are typically put down when caught. (The most common form of euthanasia is to put the animals in a chamber with a CO2 cartridge, which robs the chamber of oxygen.)
Trapped animals can be released on the same property on which they are caught, but some animal-control companies prefer not to do so because of the risk of the animal returning to the home.
Jeremy Chester removes a Squirrel from the roof.
Animal-control experts say it's rare for them to be bitten because they almost never confront the animal directly. Still, most who have been in the business any length of time can offer up some tales.
"I went to a home and a raccoon was sitting on the kitchen counter eating and everyone was in the living room screaming," Faler said.
Faler also recalled his crews taking an alligator in a storm sewer in Gahanna a few years ago, and removing a groundhog from an Ohio State University dorm room.
Added Faler: "I have no idea how that got there."
Credits: By Jim Weiker - The Columbus Dispatch