Fighting nature in the suburban prairie

I’m no stranger to wildlife infestations.

Several years ago we were hearing a lot of nocturnal movement in the attic and found out we had raccoons up there. There are some household issues I’ll address personally, but rousting wild animals out of enclosed spaces didn’t make the shortlist. We called a professional, who set up traps that extended outside the roof. On Thanksgiving morning we walked out to the driveway with all of the kids ready for church and were greeted with the festive sight of a raccoon carcass hanging from the eaves. The contractor retrieved it before we got home, but, being from Kentucky, we were sure our neighbors chalked it up to some bizarre backwoods holiday tradition.

Several years later I was talking to my friend Gan in his driveway and noticed a large cage in his garage.

“What’s that for?”

“Ahh, I have raccoons getting into the trash cans, so I’m trapping them.”   

“What do you plan to do with them when you catch them?”

“I’ll just set them loose. Probably in your neighborhood.”

Gan went on to describe his trapping method and how the raccoons had frustrated him so far. He was using apples for bait, and one night he heard a raccoon rattling the cage around for an hour. It finally stopped, and Gan went back to sleep thinking his wildlife problems were over. But when he got up the next morning, he found the empty cage bent up with bits of fur on the door.

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Determined to prove himself intellectually superior to woodland scavengers, Gan bought a stronger steel cage and again baited it to await the inevitable result. When he got up in the pre-dawn darkness and looked out the front door, he was startled by the sight of a raccoon sitting on his porch, gnawing on an apple and waiting for some moldy bread to cleanse his palate.

“So I went to Tractor Supply and got this professional cage,” he said, banging it on the driveway to demonstrate its sturdiness.

“It’ll never get out of this.”

On my way home, I stopped by a toy store and picked up a stuffed raccoon toy. With Theresa’s help, I found a small white bib on which I stencilled “I ♡ apples”. After dark I returned to Gan’s house and put the toy on top of the empty cage. The next day I called Gan and asked, “Catch anything last night?”

He said he hadn’t caught a raccoon yet, but I should be careful where I step next time I go into my back yard.

So the other night I was again leaving Gan’s house, and he mentioned that he was now trying to trap chipmunks.

“Are they getting in the house?”

“No.”

“They’re just, like, running around the yard?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why are you trying to trap them?”

“Well…they burrow.”

I looked at him. “What’s that got to do with you?”

“They burrow,” Gan said. “I mean….they just burrow around. It can damage your foundation.”

I expressed doubt that a chipmunk could cause such damage.

“No, they can,” he insisted. “You can look it up.”  

Gan mentioned that he had been told the usual way to dispose of trapped chipmunks was to submerge the trap with its cargo into a large bucket of water until the bubbles stop. Gan said he couldn’t bring himself to do that, so he’d just set them loose in a local park. Or my neighborhood.

“Their natural habitat,” he said.

When I got home, I consulted the internets. I found dozens of references to sidewalk and foundation damage caused by steroid-abusing chipmunks. Some of the allegations came from home-improvement companies or wildlife control businesses. The Humane Society site reflects the following:

Chipmunks don’t usually damage property, but they may injure ornamental plants when they harvest fruits and nuts. Occasionally chipmunks dig up and eat spring flowering bulbs and burrow in flower beds or under sidewalks and porches. But there are no documented cases of a chipmunk burrow causing structural damage.

I told Gan about my extensive research, but he dismissed it as left-wing propaganda. So, obviously, I started looking for stuffed chipmunk toys. Sometime in the next few days, he will look out his front door and see a chipmunk with a sign and a life preserver from the SS Adorable.

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