Mike Todd removes uninvited guests

AS SPRING ADVANCES wildlife control expert Mike Todd, who humanely removes unwanted animals, enters his busiest season.

Many a homeowner at some point must confront the problem of uninvited, four-footed “guests.” They can be messy, noisy and destructive when they eat plants, leave droppings and destroy insulation, and hazardous when they chew on electrical wires, are vectors for disease and invade living areas.

Last fall I discovered I had several of these guests: squirrels were interfering with a roofing job. As soon as we plugged one entrance hole another would appear. They ate through wood and tarpaper to get back to their nest. A wire mesh, one-way exit I installed didn’t work, although it had worked well in the past. I thought about setting traps inside my attic but didn’t feel up to the task. I worried that a trapped squirrel might bite, or die before I could remove it.

I called Mr. Todd. He’s been removing wildlife from people’s homes for over 25 years, ever since he left a position as a field engineer at IBM. Margaret Roach, the Copake Falls garden writer and horticultural expert, is a long-time friend of Mr. Todd. “Catching an animal and letting it go elsewhere is against the law,” she told me. “It could spread disease. You could get bitten. You might not follow all the protocols.”

Mr. Todd offered similar advice. “People think this must be easy,” said Mr. Todd. But New York State law requires that animals caught alive must be relocated to an appropriate and legal location. “You could buy a trap and set it, but without a transport license, you could get into trouble.

At my home he identified openings I hadn’t noticed and determine which were active. He set traps anchored over the openings with nails. It turned out that both grey squirrels, which leave home to feed during the day, and nocturnal flying squirrels were sharing the house with me. Mr. Todd’s knowledge of each type of squirrel’s habits helped him catch and relocate five of them quickly. He charges by the animal and text messages photos of the animals he catches to his clients.

All last winter Mr. Todd was busy removing squirrels, skunks, raccoons, possums, mice, porcupines and bats from people’s homes, where the animals sought an escape from the cold. “Animals are breeding and you have to be careful to remove the babies along with their mother. If they are left behind, they will die.”

“Some people get a raccoon in their attic. They catch it and remove it, and then hear crying that sounds just like a human baby,” he said. The females like an attic or a chimney. It helps them keep the young safe from the male, who will kill them. There are chimney traps meant for raccoons. I take them all as one group.”

“Skunks get under decks or into a crawl space, right under a house. The males will fight over a potential mate and spray. You don’t want that…. Homeowners who build decks don’t realize they have created a desirable nesting place for skunks and woodchucks.” In March alone, Mr. Todd caught and relocated 20 skunks.

A raccoon or skunk can enter a house through a dog or cat door, and a skunk will spray. “People have had to throw out all their clothes. It can be so bad your eyes will sting,” he said.

He called red squirrels “among the worst,” saying, “They are hard to catch and they bite.” said Mr. Todd as he removed a trap containing one from near the foundation of a farm house in Germantown. “Possums can make horses sick. They live inside buildings. I catch a lot of them.”

Mr. Todd catches most animals with wire spring-loaded traps of the Have-a-Heart variety. No one trap is right for every job and his truck full of traps for every kind of creature. He modified one trap to catch a whole family and built a trash can trap for raccoons, which are often too smart to enter the wire box traps. The spring-loaded trash can cover he devised flips up and rocks them in.

His customers sometimes have educated an animal to a trap, he said. “If an animal gets out once… they aren’t going back in.”

Some people set traps and forget about them. “I check the traps every day,” said Mr. Todd. “I don’t want the animals to suffer.”

Once he has trapped and released an animal, the trap has to be disinfected and treated to remove scent or it won’t be effective the next time.

He fine tunes his bait. Squirrels have a weakness for pecans. Raccoons like oils and fruit pastes. They also favor sardines, which bears also like. Bears have destroyed some traps to get at the bait.” When I started 25 years ago, we didn’t have bears. You have to be careful of the baits you use so you don’t attract them. It’s hard.”

He dislikes bird feeders because they attract bears and rats and stresses that they should not be used except during bear hibernation.

Mr. Todd has removed beavers and coyotes for farmers and businesses. At Catamount Ski Resort a beaver blocked the water supply to the pump that runs the snow-making machines. Coyotes kill livestock.

Every spring he sees ponds with new beaver lodges built by two-year-old bachelor beavers hoping to start their own family. He advises people not to swim in a pond with a beaver lodge because of the risk of blastomicosis, a potentially fatal illness.

“I used to catch coyotes for Odyssey Farm but the new owners are a tree nursery and appreciate that coyotes eat deer, who are a more serious problem for them than the coyotes. They eat mice too.” he said.

During the November-to-April trapping season he was also occupied with what amounts to a second job trapping beavers and coyotes and preparing their hides for sale.

“This was a busy winter for me,” he said.

When Mr. Todd began trapping game as a teen, the market for animal pelts was more lucrative than it is now, but it still exists and he and a friend sold close to 1,000 pelts to an overseas fur dealer this year.

Mr. Todd’s line of work can be risky. He travels with three different ladders and is out in all weather setting traps on roofs. Once while checking a beaver trap in Canaan, Mr. Todd had a close encounter with a bear. He had no place to go and backed into the water until he was up to his chin. The bear retreated. Mr. Todd handles all wildlife except bears. The Department of Environmental Conservation removes them.

Wild animals harbor diseases that can harm humans: In addition to beavers, raccoon droppings often contain round worm eggs. “A round worm egg can survive 25 five years in a gallon of gasoline,” said Mr. Todd. Bat guano also has a pathogen. To clean it up as he gets hired to do, he uses a mask designed to protect against micro organisms.

He has been bitten close to 100 times by ticks. They are worse now than ever he says but he has not contracted Lyme disease though he did have the tick borne babesiosis. He gets tested annually for rabies vaccine titer and gets boosters as needed. Since rabies is transferred by saliva which could be left on a crate he could be exposed without knowing and has to be proactive. He is he is a frequent visitor to the health department where he brings animals, especially bats, to be tested.

Woodchuck season began two weeks early this year thanks to the warm weather. “There are more woodchucks than there are people in this county,” Mr. Todd said, as he drove to an undisclosed location to release a woodchuck and a possum, that day’s catch. This time of year he sets as many as 40 traps a day.

He has taken courses from professional wildlife organizations but says he learns most from the animals themselves. “I still learn something every day,” he said as he showed me life-sized models of dead geese he had set up next to a client’s pond. They were being observed by a cardboard life sized coyote stationed on the opposite side of the pond. Geese flew overhead but did not land.

Placement is the secret, Mr. Todd said.

“I’m glad I have this job,” he said. He quit IBM when he discovered that it was possible to make a living removing wildlife. He got his license and never looked back. “Some friends say, you can put a fishing pole in your truck and fish during part of your day. I haven’t fished in 20 years.”

To contact Mike Todd call 518 851-5111 or 518 249-7390.

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