The Sherlock Holmes of Raccoon Infestations Wins a Battle Against Nature!

You may remember that I was inadvertently running a wildlife park in my Germantown home earlier this year. At the time, I was still holding out hope that the first wildlife company I hired would manage to trap the raccoons living in the walls of my house. I wanted it to work out, because the dude they sent was so sweet, and because they were cheaper than any of the other companies I found. But after several attempts to trap the raccoons, the company basically shrugged and walked away.

I talked to the owner of the attached twin again. We agreed that his handyman would come out at night, when the raccoons were marauding somewhere outside the house, and close up the chimney we thought the raccoons were using to enter the house. But the handyman understandably kept postponing a project that would require him to climb out on the roof late at night. The tenants in the house next door weren’t complaining about nocturnal noises, so the landlord wasn’t very motivated to follow up. And since we were still hearing the animals at all hours of the night over on our side of the party wall, we were pretty sure the babies weren’t leaving the den yet. Closing up the chimney while the mother was outside might not be a good idea. We had a horror of accidentally shutting the babies up in the walls of our house.

Then it got worse.


Fortunately, the Sherlock Holmes of raccoon infestation would soon arrive. Here, Holmes (right) pretends to be distracted as a raccoon sneaks away.

Our bed is tucked into a shallow alcove, so there are walls right next next to the bed on each side, and a low ceiling over the head of the bed. As the litter of baby raccoons grew, they got more rambunctious. Imagine three to five puppies gamboling over your head when you’re trying to sleep. There was pouncing, tumbling and wrestling, not to mention squeaking, whirring and barking. And still the infernal scratching. But it wasn’t the noise that drove us out of our bedroom. It was the odor.

About a month ago, our bedroom started to smell like a subway station. My partner Matthew noticed it first. Normally I’m the one who has a keener sense of smell, but I didn’t smell anything. I secretly decided he was imagining things. Then I went over to his side of the bed to get something, and I happened to bend over so my face was about a foot from the wall. Whoo-ee! He was right. There was a strong urine smell, and it worsened as the days went by.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but we didn’t take care of it right away. We were in and out of town, traveling to a memorial service and going on other pre-scheduled trips. Typical summer activities. When we were home, we abandoned our bedroom to the raccoons and their piss and we started sleeping in the guest room. Ahh. So quiet in there. So free from malodorous roommates. Our 9-year-old son stuck it out in his own bedroom, having been assured that the raccoons probably couldn’t get through the wall.

By this point, I felt sort of paralyzed. There were animals! In our house! They had been there forever, it seemed. They stank, they scratched, and we couldn’t get them out. We had hired professionals and the professionals had failed us. People told us stories about their own raccoon problems: the 4-foot pile of raccoon feces one friend had in her attic, the huge insurance claim for tens of thousands of dollars another friend was forced to make when her house became infested.

I did what I often do when I’m feeling paralyzed. I passed the buck. I pointed out to Matthew that I had hired the roofer several times. I had called the owner of the attached twin, polled his tenants about their animal noise experiences and cornered his handyman to discuss the problem. I had hired the first wildlife company, and waited at home for their guy to come out and mess with the unsuccessful traps on the roof. Matthew had been taking care of many other important things during that time, but he hadn’t been taking care of this. It was his turn.

Matthew did what Matthew does, which is research. He spent a couple hours online reading up on raccoons in houses, and he found a highly regarded company in the Philadelphia area called A Wildlife Pro.

The company sent the Sherlock Holmes of wildlife infestations to our house, and he was amazing. He looked at the other disused chimney (we have two disused chimneys and I don’t know how many disused satellite dishes up there) and found evidence that the raccoons were entering that way. There were black marks of the sort made by grubby raccoon paws around the top of the chimney. There was a raccoon hair clinging to the stucco. And he found a single long three-clawed scratch mark inside, probably from a raccoon paw scrabbling for purchase inside the chimney. He suggested putting baited live traps on the roof near the chimney.

Again with the traps!

I agreed, reluctantly, because what were my other options? He made a tempting trail of marshmallows leading up to the traps, and he put a nice stinky can of sardines inside each trap. This time, because the traps were on the roof of our third floor, they had to be set near the edge of the roof so I could see them from the ground and check to see if there were any furry creatures in there.

This company impressed me. Dude seemed more knowledgeable than the first guy, and he said they don’t destroy the animals they trap. Instead, they observe them for a few hours to make sure they don’t have rabies, and then drive them out to a wildlife refuge outside the city. Wait, what? I thought that was illegal?

This PA game commission website says “Wildlife taken alive may not be retained alive, sold, or given away. Live wildlife may be relocated to a natural setting. Any wildlife killed must be reported to the Game Commission.”

A Wildlife Pro checks to make sure trapped raccoons don’t have rabies, and then they take them to a wildlife preserve. Hooray! I feel so much better about this!

Except they couldn’t trap the racoons. The wily little so-and-sos ate all the marshmallows outside the traps, but didn’t succumb to the lure of the sardines. Darn them.

But there is a happy ending. Apparently having Mr. Wildlife Pro messing around near the entrance to their third-floor burrow scared them off. After the traps were set, we stopped hearing noises. So the company representative came back out and covered the chimney with a canvas tarp. He cut a small hole in it so light would still come through and the animals, if they were still inside, wouldn’t think they were trapped. If they tried to exit the chimney, they’d have to rip a bigger hole in the tarp.

When he returned a few days later, the canvas tarp was undisturbed, and we still weren’t hearing any noises. We went ahead and had them close up the chimney. Although the chimney isn’t in use any more, I have fantasies about putting in a wood-burning stove someday, so we opted to close the chimney up with wire mesh instead of something that will block airflow.

Although the animals were gone, their odor persisted for a while. We talked about installing an access panel in the wall so we could clean out their nest, but we decided to give it some time. A week later, I can’t detect the smell any more.

After months of cohabitating with raccoons, I can’t believe it was really that easy. I’m nervous that the third-floor chimney wasn’t their only access point, and I want to cover the other chimney with wire mesh as well, just as a precaution. But I’m so glad we managed to take care of the problem for only a few hundred dollars. Most of all, I’m thrilled that there are no more fierce wild creatures having a party over my head a 4 a.m.