Seattle Press
Roger's Home Journal
Putting Pest Problems in Proper Perspective
Creatures of the natural world are not always easy to appreciate. They can be fascinating and wonderful when out in the wild, and each of them appears to have some important role in the great scheme of everything.

Problems arise, however, as certain animals and insects try to move in with us. We feel pestered when squirrels, rats or bats inhabit the attic, making assorted noises and messes. We're bugged by carpenter ants or powder post beetles who chew on important parts of our dwelling. Pigeons start their monotonous cooing and dung production at a ridiculous hour. Crows also get up too early, take part in rude noise competitions, and tear off pieces of the roof just for fun.

It would be easier if we could set limits on our interactions with critters. I don't mind having to escort a spider out of the house every so often. An occasional mole under our yard creates mounds that I find interesting. Sometimes, though, wildlife seems to be ganging up on me. Raccoons have moved into our tree fort. Possums live under the deck. Birds have squeezed passed the bird blocking between the roof rafters. I wouldn't mind that, except that their nests are full of mites.

It's starting to feel like an Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling story. Consider this alphabetical list of recent trouble: Aphids seem innocent enough, but they took advantage of their diminutive stature to sneak into and overpower the dining table flower display. Bees then began boring through our siding in a sinister and threatening way. A cat has been "spraying" on the screen door. What can it mean? A local dog does doodoo daily in our front yard, and doesn't bring a plastic bag-equipped attendant. Earwigs are lurking by the back door. We don't like them because of their disgusting name.

Fleas seem to think my ankles look good enough to eat. Gnats keep flying into my eyes and nose. Houseflies hatching in a light fixture made my daughter suggest that we move. An iguana named Manuel scratched my nephew and the cut got infected. A june bug dropped into my Aunt Blanding's mint julep. You'll just have to believe that this list goes right on through to the Zorapteran (termite- like) insects which I discovered attacking our porch.

Most humans desire to dominate and control nature, perhaps because we're vastly outnumbered by all creatures, great and small and nearly invisible. Sometimes we respond to little irritations in ways that make matters worse. I have a few stories and examples.

Rats are a typical problem. We don't want them in our homes, since they steal food, leave droppings, and carry disease. They also look at us with beady little eyes, which makes us want to kill them. People often use poison to do the job, and then are upset when a hidden rat corpse produces an overwhelming odor. I met a family who had to leave their home when a poisoned rat died in a concealed location. The ductwork carried that horrible smell to every corner of the house. This distribution of stink was the clue that led me to the body, directly under the furnace blower. I could have been a great detective.

A better solution than poison is preventing access to food that a rat might enjoy. This may mean searching through everything in your house and switching to metal containers. Sometimes we also have to convince neighbors to stop leaving pet food on their porches, or asking them to alter their composting arrangements. Rat traps can also be effective. I became a world class expert on this while living on a retired tugboat. I may someday write a book.

Live animal traps are a good way to rid your attic of squirrel families. Be sure to release them many miles away. Don't let those cute bushy tails and chubby cheeks fool you. They're fairly smart and remarkably good at finding their way home. Squirrels can also be evicted by playing a certain talk-radio station at high volume for several hours or days. This method doesn't work on rats.

How about those raucous crows? Is there any way to discourage them? My advice is to do nothing at all. One neighbor tried to chase them away, then had to endure years of attacks from revenge-seeking birds. Generations of crows have been taught to screech at this fellow. It isn't worth it.

(Roger Faris is the Coordinator of the Well Home Program at the Phinney Neighborhood Association. The program provides advice, encouragement, tools, and classes for home improvements and repairs. You may also enjoy listening to Roger's "Homework" segment on KUOW Public Radio (94.9 FM) on Wednesday mornings. Call him at (206)789-4993 for more information. --Ed.)