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When Curtis Buyser tells someone what he does for a living, he also knows what that person’s first question is likely to be.
“They always ask how many times I’ve been sprayed,” Buyser said.
Buyser runs the wildlife control company Critter Control in Spokane, and one of things he does is trap skunks.
“I’ve actually never been sprayed,” he said, laughing. “It got very close one time. The skunk sprayed right next to my feet – it may as well have hit me, I guess.”
Buyser, who worked in law enforcement in California and as a game warden in Georgia, moved to Spokane with his family eight years ago and bought the Critter Control franchise covering Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
People hire him to trap and get rid of problem critters, mostly raccoons, skunks, marmots and bats.
“In Washington you really don’t encounter anything that exotic or weird,” Buyser said.
He did get called out to a retailer because a customer had lost track of a pet snake. The snake was located near a warm computer and nobody was hurt. Another time he was called to get a coyote out of a hay bin. Buyser couldn’t see the animal hiding in the hay and so he had no choice but to poke around with the long catching pole that’s used for dogs.
"The owner of the farm said it had been in there for a few days; no one knew why,” Buyser said. “After some poking around the thing came flying out and latched on to the pole – you never really know what’s going to happen in a situation like that.”
A typical day starts with Buyser visiting the traps he has already set. Traps are checked by him once every 24 hours, and much more frequently by the property owners who’ve hired him.
The first client on a recent day was a South Hill homeowner who is worried skunks are living under a deck and may become trapped there when the deck is finished.
Buyser left a wildlife camera in that backyard earlier in the week, and it holds nothing but pictures of the owner’s cats, sniffing the lens, and the owner’s feet. That’s good news for the homeowner and the skunks.
“Male skunks are transients with multiple dens throughout the area,” Buyser said while looking at the pictures in the camera. “Female skunks tend to keep their litter in one place.”
Aside from the stinky spray they let loose in self-defense, skunks rarely do as much property damage as raccoons or mice and rats.
“They have very poor eyesight and they aren’t great climbers. That’s why they often get trapped in window wells,” Buyser said.
Skunks can spray many times in a row and, despite their poor eyesight, they have excellent aim.
“The skunk can be facing you and still twist around and spray you,” Buyser said, adding that skunks stomp their front feet before they spray. “That’s his way of saying: ‘If you are stupid enough to stand around, I’ll spray you.’”
Young skunks are notoriously quick on the trigger and tend to “go off” more frequently.
“I guess it takes some time before they know how to handle that sprayer,” Buyser said.
Next on the itinerary is a sports complex with a marmot problem.
The marmots don’t burrow under the turf, as one might suspect, but they like to hang out in the bleachers and leave some hefty piles of poop behind.
Among the solutions attempted was Buyser running around with a net trying to catch the offending marmots, which he said are “surprisingly fast.” With no other solutions left, traps were put out.
“Now we have it pretty much under control,” Buyser said, while picking up a trap with a marmot.
People are sometimes surprised to learn that the animals Buyser trapped are euthanized.
Actually, he was surprised when he found out.
“I’d researched everything about this business before buying the franchise, but somehow I had not researched that aspect,” Buyser said. “I had nightmares there for a while, but the animals are euthanized quickly and with as little suffering as possible.”
Relocation is not an option because, according to Washington State law, a trapped animal may only be released exactly where it was trapped.
“You can’t just drive it out in the countryside and drop it off,” Buyser said.
Yet live traps are for sale at many hardware stores and Buyser gets his share of frantic calls from homeowners who’ve trapped a skunk – and now they have no idea what to do.
“I spend a long time getting close to the trap and the skunk,” he said, “while the homeowner watches from the living room windows.”
Next on that day’s list of clients is a homeowner in Spokane Valley who said an unidentified brownish animal is burrowing under the front steps.
Buyser is pretty sure it’s another marmot and he talks to the homeowner for a bit before setting a trap with some fruit in it.
From the Valley, he hits the freeway toward Cheney where the roof on a rental home has been damaged by raccoons.
A tall pine tree leaning against the house gave the raccoons an easy way up on the roof. There, they have pried siding and shingles off in several places to get into the attic where the stench alone indicates they’ve lived for quite some time.
On this day, however, the traps are empty so it’s safe to assume the raccoons are gone.
“People don’t realize how strong raccoons are and how much damage they can do,” Buyser said, while packing up in Cheney.
He added that people shouldn’t feed raccoons no matter how cute they look because they are both very strong and can turn quite aggressive.
“The biggest mistake people make is feeding the wild animals,” Buyser said. “When people humanize wild animals, then that’s rarely a good thing for the people or the animals.”
He realizes some may have strong reactions to what he does for a living, but said he wouldn’t trade his job for anything.
“I meet some fantastic people and I enjoy running my own business,” Buyser said.
Credits: By Pia Hallenberg - The Spokesman-Review