Creatures that go ‘bump’ in your house
New Orleanians are known for great hospitality, but even we have to draw the line at welcoming rats, bats and foxes into our home.
I’ve had problems with mice and rats. When I lived in the Bronx, I could hear them frolicking with gay abandon in my kitchen at night. My dog once cornered a monster rat in a glue trap, and the varmint managed to escape by scrambling along with his one free arm, Terminator-like, until he found a hole beneath the sink.
I’ve also had problems with squirrels. They scrambled through the walls of the two-story house I owned at the time and nested in my attic. They liked to chew on things and make strange squirrelly noises at night. They carved out an access hole in the fascia, where a pecan tree met the roof. Needless to say, they built up a huge store of pecans in the attic. I had the tree trimmed way back, but that did no good. Finally, I started to visit them in the attic with a 500-watt halogen shop lamp. I’d scream at them like a maniac and throw nuts and washers at them. “RaaHHH! Get outta here!” I’d yell. Pretty soon, they got the message.
When I lived in Treme, an exotic lizard would make strange baying sounds outside my bedroom window at night. I never actually saw the thing, but my tenants swore that they did and that the reptile looked like it was from another planet.
Recently a friend called me to tell me about a far larger visitor. A female raccoon and her babies took up residence between the second floor and the ceiling of his Mid-City house. They were making an awful racket. It sounded like they were tearing the house apart. It was time for him to call Chuck Parker.
Parker, who owns Parker Wildlife Control, has seen things. Originally in construction, where cabinetmaking was his specialty, he often finds himself drawing on that background to flush a house of unwelcome animals. “I know the soft spots,” he says. “I understand how an animal can gain entry.”
Each animal has its own territory and its own MO, Parker says. Raccoons are particularly plentiful in the Gentilly, Old Metairie and City Park areas. Like squirrels, they can chew through wires and chew up rafters, and they tend to be a problem during the spring months. As the babies start to grow up, they get unruly. “They’re basically like teenagers,” Parker says.
As with squirrels, you can try to seal up the access. But if their babies are trapped inside, raccoons and squirrels will find a way through the defenses. “You’ll be amazed at what they can do with their little hands,” Parker says.
To drive out a raccoon and her babies, Parker uses a special paste that smells like a male raccoon. The female interprets the strange male scent as a threat to her babies and will move away, sometimes to another part of the house but usually out altogether. Parker remembers only one time when it was completely ineffective. “I’m wondering whether they didn’t take this paste from her husband,” he jokes.
Parker finds rabbits to be a problem almost exclusively in Kenner. There, they burrow under slabs, compromising the house foundations.
Snakes like New Orleans East and the West Bank. Parker almost always finds snakes in brick houses. He says they usually enter houses looking for lizards or mice during the autumn months. “Usually, if you have a snake problem, you have a mouse problem,” he says.
On the Northshore, Parker gets calls for moles. Moles build tunnels, and then snakes and armadillos get in on the act. Armadillos also have taken a liking to Metairie (in the area of Severn), Destrehan, Luling and the West Bank.
Higher up the size chart, the West Bank also gets its share of foxes. Parker recalls that one gang of foxes made their den in the middle of a business park in Harvey. City Park, meanwhile, has wild hogs. Parker says park officials regularly have the hogs trapped and relocated. They can’t figure out how the population keeps rebounding. “You can’t stop nature,” Parker says.
But of all the invaders, a high concentration of bats poses perhaps the biggest health threat. Parker finds them mainly in New Orleans East, Harahan and River Ridge. He’s found them in schools and apartment complexes. They tend to like mansard roofs, the kind you see “on the box of Count Chocula,” he says. They also tend to favor the western, sunny side.
Last year, Parker got a bat call. The occupants were waking up with bats in their beds. When he arrived, he opened the drop ceiling and found a ghastly field of maggots, droppings and dead bats. “There was bat crap just wall to wall in that drop ceiling,” he says. “The house stunk so bad that when you walked in, your eyes started burning. It was so extensive, the house just needed to be torn down.”
Parker says the remedies vary from one animal to the next. But he tries to relocate animals as often as possible: “If I can relocate the animal, I will. If the animal doesn’t respond to a live trap, I go to a kill trap.”
Pre-emptive exclusion is critical, Parker says. Repair holes. Seal cracks and crevices. “If you leave a hole there, something will move in,” he says.
And don’t leave food outside. People commonly leave cat food outside for strays, but that attracts raccoons. Cats and raccoons will eat side by side, but the raccoon will win in a fight, and the cat you meant to help can end up dead.
But it’s important to distinguish when animals are a threat, rather than simply present. For example, Parker had to get rid of raccoons at a day care center, where one had fallen through the drop ceiling. “But simply because somebody sees a raccoon in the yard, that’s not a problem,” Parker says. “You’ll always have wildlife in New Orleans. The issue comes when you have some kind of health or safety factor.”