A friend recently told me that if she had to choose an animal for extinction, she would definitely pick squirrels.
After our recent, and what most likely appears to be second, infestation of these rodents in our 110-year-old Bala Cynwyd home, I would have to agree — especially after hearing my husband’s terrified call from downstairs around 11 o’clock Friday night.
“We have some kind of creature in the house!” he screamed, miraculously rousing me but not our three children.
Despite my instinctive realization that responding would ill suit my nerves, I found myself thrusting off the bedcovers and charging downstairs. Jeff hovered near the entrance to our living room, peering at the fireplace and clutching our children’s emptied Lego box in his hands.
“You see it right there? Right there?” my husband demanded, stabbing the air with the Lego box lid. “That’s its eye, glaring at us.”
Almost hoping that Jeff was experiencing a psychotic break instead of the possibility that a rodent was actually perching on our mantle, I quickly spotted the intruder — a beast neither Jeff nor I could identify by species but one that we both agreed should not be there.
Jeff told me how, as he sat on the couch, tapping away on his laptop, the creature had popped out of a hole in the masonry, skittered across the stone work and frozen, surveying the room with a glinting eye.
Terror clutched me as I began to understand that this late-night fiasco offered no satisfactory resolution — for us or for the rodent — especially after Jeff finally harnessed the courage to lunge at the fireplace with the Lego box in a failed attempt to trap it.
The intruder flashed back inside its nook. Jeff and I stood stunned and heaving, as if we had just finished a sprint, reasoning, hoping that the clawing we now heard was the creature retreating up and out of our chimney.
Emergency pest advice
At a loss for what to do next, Jeff soothed himself with Google, trying to match his memory of what looked like a pregnant mouse with a long tail, and his nearly indecipherable iPhone image of its glinting eye, with pictures he pulled up in the search engine. The deeper he delved into the repellent world of bats and other nocturnal vermin, the harder I found it to resist texting our exterminator, whose cell phone number I had managed to obtain during an infestation of grey squirrels in our eaves several years ago.
In those days, I would groggily wake each morning, our third baby on my hip, trying to ignore the scratching sounds in the kitchen ceiling as I sipped my coffee. Only when I started to hear those same noises in the walls of my infant’s room did we shake ourselves into action.
A kindly exterminator set an exit-only trap through which the squirrels left and could not return, and I weaseled the man’s phone number out of him for future emergencies.
This, clearly, was one.
“So sorry to text at this time, but we just had what we think is a squirrel come out of the stone façade of our fireplace,” I wrote. “Can you come out tomorrow?”
“Not likely a squirrel,” he answered, to my amazement, at 11:32 p.m., but without quite addressing my question. “Maybe a flying squirrel. Regular squirrels are sound asleep.”
“A flying squirrel!” I hissed at Jeff, who then started scrolling through harrowing images of the winged rodents and sharing disturbing trivia with me: Did you know that flying squirrels live in colonies? They chew through wires, causing house fires. And they are misnamed — the animals use the “parachute-like membranes connecting their forelegs and hind legs on each side” to merely “glide.”
“Advice?” I texted the exterminator, who had lapsed into unresponsiveness.
“Leave door open. Have to let it out. They will sense the air.”
As helpful as he had been in the past, his counsel now felt highly unsatisfactory — and, frankly, somewhat suspect. Was he drunk?
I was supposed to leave our front entrance gaping to the 31-degree November night and sit for however long it took until the nasty creature decided to glide out?
Calling another expert
My husband and I abandoned that plan after 42 chilly minutes. We shut up the house, cranked up the thermostat and closed the French doors to the living room, stuffing towels under the cracks for good measure.
At 9:01 the next morning, feeling only mildly disloyal, I arranged a date with a different exterminator for that afternoon and then texted my tale of flying squirrel woe to a couple of friends.
“I thought those were only in the Amazon!” one wrote back. “Panic attack!!”
Matters failed to brighten when the new exterminator climbed atop our treacherous roof with the aid of several ladders, confirmed that we were probably harboring a colony of flying squirrels, and said that it would cost approximately $700 for him to trap them.
“Do what you have to do,” Jeff said.
“If it was your house,” I anxiously inquired, “would you keep the den sealed off?”
“I’m an exterminator,” the man laughed. “I sleep with snakes in my room.”
He headed back up our roof, this time armed with several sinister-looking cages that we would have to check daily until they stopped filling with vermin.
“I really enjoyed talking to that guy,” Jeff later declared, to my amazement.
I, on the other hand, was determined not to fall so quickly this time. I decided that I will withhold judgment until our squirrels have flown the coop and until I have ascertained the quality of our new exterminator’s responsiveness to midnight texts.
And I’m going to keep stuffing the living room door cracks with towels in the meantime.