The Gross and Creepy Shit You Deal With in Animal Control
Rats, bats and human bodies. All in a day’s work.
Photo courtesy of Terry Thorsell.
Most of us don't live in an area replete with venomous snakes and other fearsome beasts—but even a family of squirrels can push you to the brink if you're suddenly forced to live with them in your walls. Which is why many of us would rather outsource the eviction of unwanted animal visitors to the professionals.
As a wildlife control technician and franchisee of Critter Control of Toronto, Terry Thorsell's involved every day with wildlife removal—primarily bats, birds, squirrels, raccoons, rats, and skunks—from people's homes.
"I absolutely love wildlife, I love to be outside," says Thorsell. "Every job is unique—there's a puzzle you have to solve. These animals are very intelligent. They've broken into somebody's home and they don't want to leave. So you have to outsmart them sometimes." Thorsell works alongside his son, Brandon, who also handles cleanup and repairs in the aftermath of the furry invaders.
VICE talked to them about raccoons stealing milk out of baby's cribs, getting bitten by potentially rabid animals, and the time an animal infestation turned into a crime scene.
VICE: How do you prep for a job? What equipment do you bring in?
Terry Thorsell: Each one is unique. I did a job a couple of years ago where a modelling agency called. They said they had an alligator in their lobby. I thought: This is Toronto. We don't have alligators. Well, they did. What had happened was, they had a girl working as an intern who had come in on a Friday. They had a big six-foot aquarium that had very little water in it, and she figured the alligator needed more water. So, she filled it up and went away for the weekend. The alligator swam out of the aquarium and was walking around the lobby. We walked in with control sticks and nooses, noosed the animal and put it back in the aquarium.
Do you wear gloves?
You're definitely well protected. If you're going into somebody's home and a raccoon comes down a chimney, or breaks into the living area—you have kevlar gloves on. If you were to be bitten, you hope it doesn't penetrate your skin. A small percentage of raccoons do have rabies.
Have you ever been bitten?
I have, yes [laughs]. It bothers me because it shouldn't have happened. We all get bit one time or another for different reasons—my reason was, I got a little lax. I had a raccoon in a trap in a lady's backyard. She persisted on talking to me and my attention was not at the animal in the cage. I put my hand in and it bit me. So, keep your eye on the prize.
What was your most extreme case?
We were called to a property management complex. They had a bad odour. Generally speaking, bad odours in the spring and summer are caused by birds in the vents; the kitchen vent or the bathroom vent. They soil the nesting and once that nesting starts to move a bit, it creates an odour. We went to unit #8, didn't find any evidence of nests or birds. We went to unit #9, checked the kitchen, that's fine. Go to open up the bathroom—the door was shut and the lights were off—and there's a dead man in the bathroom; about 300 lbs, floating in the bathtub. That was the odour. As bad as that was, now it turns into a crime scene. Everyone's getting fingerprinted, they want to know what time you got there. That was the craziest encounter.
What was the worst infestation you've seen?
Rats. It was an area of downtown Toronto in the back of a restaurant. It was a normal size backyard, but it looked like whack-a-mole at the CNE. I lost count after 150 rats within 5-10 minutes. Generally speaking, we come in there with a series of rat traps. I don't like to use poison on rodents because the poison can go on to non-target animals like squirrels and chipmunks. We go in there with a series of snap-traps and remove them that way. It took us 10-14 days before we had it under control. It was insane. If I had never seen it, I would have never believed what I'm telling you.
What's the trickiest animal to get rid of?
It all depends on seasons. You get into the spring, a raccoon mother with pups—even squirrels for that matter—when they're ready to give birth, they'll take the little ones and make a nest inside walls; between the floors, in very secure crevices within the home structure. You can't even get at them without cutting the wall.
Easiest to remove?
My favourite is squirrels. Squirrels are very active pretty much twelve months out of the year. They will go to a trap, they will leave through a one-way door. I designed and invented a 1-way door a number of years ago—basically a funnel trap. The animal would go out and the door would shut behind them. It wasn't too long before the raccoons actually figured out how to open the door and get back in. They're highly intelligent.
What other impressive things have you seen raccoons do?
I've seen them hang by one paw, encircle underneath the soffit like a circus act, and swing in. I've seen a 30lb raccoon get into a 4"x4" hole. Raccoons have no collarbones, so if they can get their head in, the body will follow.
What was the strangest call you received?
This lady called me in the middle of the night. She heard animal noises on her baby monitor. The raccoons had built a nest on top of the fireplace damper. Once the little ones got a little bit bigger and weighed more—six little ones weigh 5-7 lbs and the mother weighs 30 lbs—the damper gave away. The little raccoon went up the stairs and jumped into the crib with the baby and started drinking milk out of the baby's bottle. The mother heard this on the baby monitor and called us immediately.
Are there any animals that you'd rather not deal with?
Obviously the skunk. You never know when they will spray. You know their telltale signs when they're about to warn you: they'll tap their paw aggressively on the ground, or they'll give you a couple of fake turnarounds before they really let loose. But sometimes they'll be so startled, they just let you have it. When the skunk does spray, it air bursts. It's actually an oil secretion which multiplies with the moisture. Once it gets on you—even if you don't get directly sprayed—the odour is on your clothes, it gets into the truck, it stays with you for days. Try to avoid having a skunk spray you.
What do you need to do this job well?
You can't be afraid of heights—most of the work is up ladders and repair work is done in some extreme situations. You have to have good people skills; listen and understand people's concerns. Even if you've heard it a hundred times that day, it is unique to them. You've got to be compassionate for the animals and your customers. Often they haven't slept for days, they're scared. I've spent many nights with women in tears because a bat came into their living room and freaked them out for the entire night. They do not want me to leave.
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