Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 by Bill Cowley
This fall, here in New Jersey, we enjoyed above-average temperatures. However, like clockwork, the dropping temperatures of winter are here. And we’re not the only ones aware of the upcoming change in seasons. The wildlife that live in our area also know what lies ahead, and, just like us, are preparing for the arrival of cold air, snow, and ice. For wildlife to survive, they need to find a warm retreat sheltered from the harsh elements. Most find refuge outdoors, such as in the hollow of a tree, an opening in a log, or a nest high on a tree branch in the yard. Unfortunately, some wild animals will seek an even warmer, more comfortable space, choosing to make their winter home in your home – in your attic, crawl space, or basement.
Some homeowners mistakenly believe that these “cute” squirrels, raccoons, and other wildlife can’t cause that much harm spending the winter in their rarely used attic or basement. But this “mi casa es su casa” generosity can not only cause serious property damage, it can also threaten the health and well-being of the home’s residents. Leptospirosis, Salmonella, and roundworm are just a few diseases that can be spread indirectly just by spores from their droppings circulating in the air. Of course, wild animals are more than capable of causing serious injury directly through bites and scratches with their razor-sharp teeth and claws should they feel threatened.
So, what can a homeowner do to make sure that wild animals do not become a nuisance and use their home as a winter retreat? It is imperative to be proactive and block potential entry ways! If there’s a way for these critters to weasel their way into your home, they’ll find it. Although we limit ourselves to using doors to enter our homes, squirrels, raccoons, and other animals are much more creative and flexible. They will use holes near utility entries, cracks in foundations, and missing siding and gaps near roofs as their “front door.” And if the gap isn’t quite big enough to comfortably enter and exit, they will not hesitate to do their own “construction.”
First, inspect the exterior of your home. Be sure to inspect up high as well as down low. Pay special attention to areas where utilities, like cable or electricity enter your home. Squirrels often use cable and telephone wires as a bridge into your home. Remember, even relatively small holes around these utilities are enough of an entrance for a squirrel to access your home. Holes as small as a dime are more than enough for field mice to gain access.
Once you have identified the holes, you need to cover them. However, never cover any holes or gaps if you have reason to believe that a wild animal has already entered your home. Trapping them inside will cause even greater problems. They can be relentless in trying to escape chewing though walls. And if they die, you have a rotting, insect-attracting carcass to deal with. However, if you are sure there are no animals in the house, cover the openings with heavy material that can’t be chewed or clawed through like wire mesh, sheet metal, or metal flashing. If homes in your area have raccoon problems, the best wire mesh for the job is at least 16-gauge material with ½-inch openings. For smaller holes, silicone caulk is very effective.
If you have taken these precautions and an animal has still managed to access your home, this is not a DIY weekend project. With nuisance wildlife, it’s time to call a licensed and experienced professional. Animal control is not something that should be attempted by an untrained person. The risks of injury are far too great. At Cowleys, our Little Rascals Nuisance Wildlife Removal Services Division would like to remind homeowners, especially this time of year, to remember the wild in wildlife. When homeowners try to remove wild animals from their homes, the outcome is often poor, winding up with injury to the animal and a trip to the nearest Emergency Department for the homeowner. Another concern for homeowners are federal and state wildlife protection laws. Here in Trenton, NJ, as well as other areas of the state, some animals, like bats, are protected species, and improperly removing them can lead to hefty fines.