I have to start by admitting my ignorance.  I’ve never had occasion to, or really even considered, calling a civic Animal Control organization.  I’ve relocated snakes, mice, and bats – even owls and squirrels (chimney) – out of my own various houses, on my own, or with family members.  When I was young, my grandfather had about a 2-acre farm plot, and he showed my brother and I how to make live-catch rabbit traps.  We made some, and used commercial metal live-traps, to try and capture the groundhogs and rabbits that were eating his vegetables – but mostly we seemed to catch ‘possums.  We’ve had raccoons visit regularly, and a friend had a ‘possum living in his crawlspace, and he just let it.

As a result of this, I don’t really know how Animal Control works – at least beyond the cartoon-inspired vision of the “dog catcher” with a giant butterfly net.  But even recognizing the ridiculousness of this image, I always maintained a tenuous mental connection between Animal Control and domestic animals – rabid dogs, feral cats, etc.

Opossum_(16701021016)This changed recently – I was out having a meeting in the woods (I was on a teleconference with people across the country.  Rather than pace in my office, I paced down and back along a local trail in a managed State Forest.)  As I was hanging up, re-entering the parking lot, an Animal Control van backed in, and the driver removed a live-trap from the back.  He had a ‘possum he’d captured in a local lady’s backyard, and was releasing it into the woods of the State Forest.  Pretty cool!

And then we got to talking…

He told me he does about two captures a day.  In this case the homeowner was concerned about a groundhog that seemed to be systematically undercutting the foundation of her shed, and she was concerned the building would eventually fall into the groundhog-dug sinkhole.  Of course, he caught a ‘possum instead (sounded about right to me).

DSC_1500I was told this is pretty typical, both in terms of the nature of the concern, AND in the capture of something completely different.  Most of the time though, he says citizens call because “something” is in the attic, the shed, the crawlspace, the woods… and the homeowners want them gone.  Most times, the person making the complaint doesn’t know what animal is actually there.

As a result, Animal Control gets called in and catches mice, squirrels, rabbits, skunks, raccoons, groundhogs, ‘possums, feral cats, foxes, bats, snakes, most of whom just decided to live in the wrong place.  Many times, catching an animal orphans the kits.  And many times, he has no choice – legally – but to euthanize the animal.

800px-striped_skunkHe explained, and it kicked off my own bit of homework, that it is illegal in most states to release a rabies vector species (RVS) – in my area: raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats.  There is no room for evaluation, no quarantine, no examination… if the animal is one that statistically sits near the top of the list for rabies, it gets destroyed.  Period.

Well, not quite – there is a little bit of wiggle room.  The language in my current state (Maryland) is that “regulations require that rabies-vector species be euthanized when they are live-trapped. The only exception is that the animal may be released on the property from which it was trapped.”  So, for example, if you trap an animal just to keep it from re-entering your house, you can seal up any entrances where the animal has been entering the house, and then let it go on your property.  Otherwise, if you call and get a raccoon trapped, it’s going to be killed.

640px-Common_Raccoon_(Procyon_lotor)_in_Northwest_IndianaIn some places (Maryland included) wildlife rehabilitation organizations CAN get licensed to handle RVS, with special training, and special facilities (specific cage-types and the like).

Again, I had no idea – and maybe most people don’t think of these nuances, or maybe don’t care.  But here are some thoughts, in case you’re in the need of an animal out of the attic, but don’t necessarily want it dead.

  1. Know what you’re dealing with.  At least make reasonable attempts.  Trail cams are cheap, and animal habits can narrow things down (is it active at night or the day, etc).
  2. Don’t make Animal Control your first call.  Instead, do a little research and find a local re-habber or wildlife rescue organization.  They can not only help you understand the regulations (and give options), but can possibly also be your animal-removal solution.
  3. Keep in mind – the reason an animal has chosen to spend time in your house is the same reason YOU are there:  safety, security, shelter, food and water.  Particularly in the case of raccoons, if you make your house less appealing, the animals may relocate on their own.  I’ve seen several suggestions along the lines of: put a radio near the den site before dusk, and keep it turned on all night.  The noise (if YOU can stand it) will drive mama raccoon to find a quieter place to raise her kits, and she will move them.  It may take a few nights, but she’s a good mom, she won’t abandon them.  Be patient.  Seal the entrance after you know she’s left.

DSC_0080Again, I’m not a wildlife relocation kind of guy – but I bet that most of us don’t know that, no matter how well-intentioned, calling for help in getting a wild animal out of the house is essentially a death sentence.  Hopefully these considerations will make you think twice before you make that call to Animal Control, and help find a solution that’s better for you AND the animal.

Get Out There

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