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Those of us who put out sunflower seeds for squirrels have noticed that the critters rip through a pile of black oil sunflower seeds like a kindergarten class through a bowl of M&M’s. Have you ever wondered how squirrels eat so fast. Think about it. They pick up a seed, chew off the hull, let it fall to the side, grab the meaty treat, then eat it. And they do all that in about a second. Before long, the seeds are gone, and I usually give the squirrels a second helping. I’m a sucker for cute animals.

When squirrels—which are rodents—get in attics, they gnaw on the worst thing they can gnaw on: electrical wires. (Rodent damage to electrical wires reportedly accounts for 20 percent of home fires—a shocking statistic, pardon the pun.) And anyone who has been treated to the stench of a dead squirrel in their attic, especially in the summer heat, knows the awful side of a squirrel invasion. If the homeowner is lucky, the critter died in an accessible part of the attic. Otherwise, it’s time to get out the tools and start cutting.

If squirrels get in your attic, call us and we’ll give you a free estimate on escorting them out, then blocking them out for good. And don’t worry, animal lovers, we don’t harm them. Our furry friends have a right to live… outside in the forest.

Back at my house—which is well sealed against rodent entry—I’ll continue to brave the morning cold in my pajamas, a scoop of sunflower seeds in hand, as the squirrels run and fuss and jump for joy in a lively scene that plays out on rear decks all over the San Bernardino Mountains.

Now that’s the best part of waking up!

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It was one of my first pest management lessons and it had nothing to do with pest management. It had to do with people management, and that’s more important.

I was a rookie and my manager Bill and I were inspecting the exterior of a vacation cabin that had hundreds of bats in the attic. The infestation was so bad we could smell the pungent bat guano from outside the home. Suddenly, the next door neighbor appeared and asked what we were doing. “The attic’s chock full of bats,” Bill said sarcastically, “but, don’t worry, they only suck the blood of virgins.” The woman turned on her heel and stormed into her house. Bill just shrugged and continued the inspection.

At the office the next morning, I answered the phone and it was the homeowner with the bat problem. “My neighbor called me,” he bellowed, “and said if I don’t get those blood-sucking bats out of my attic she’s calling her lawyer.” My boss grabbed the phone, apologized profusely and offered him a discounted bat job. A week later I had gotten the bats out of the attic, and, more importantly, learned a valuable lesson in customer service. 

Nowadays, whenever I’m treating a home and a neighbor starts asking questions, I go on and on about how great the weather is. If they keep asking, I use my go-to response: “Oh, I’m just doing routine maintenance, nothing special.” I keep repeating that phrase until the neighbor gets bored with asking questions. Once bitten, twice shy.

Finally, sometimes I’m at the supermarket and some wise guy will quip: “My neighbor’s a pest—can you get rid of him?” Sorry, but that question calls for an expert in the genteel world of the social graces. Try asking Miss Manners. Back in my world, next week I’ll discuss the proper way to clean up mouse poop. That’s about as genteel as I get.

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Hello again, readers, this is Home Defenders secretary Alejandra presenting another interview with my boss Mike. Enjoy!

Question: What pest do you most fear invading your own home? Answer: Well, I would say powderpost beetles—they’re tiny wood-eating beetles that can only be eliminated by a very expensive fumigation—but they rarely infest mountain homes. So my answer is carpet beetles. They feed on spices, bird seed, dog and cat food, dead rodents, just about anything except for, well, modern synthetic carpets. Once the critters get inside a home, the homeowner has to dig through every drawer, cabinet, pantry and closet and throw out the infested food. Blah!

Q: What’s your best winter advice for homeowner? A: Beware of firewood. Rats and mice nest in woodpiles, and the wood itself is loaded with all kinds of pests, like termites, carpenter ants, and wood-destroying beetles, as well as those Goldspotted Oak Borers that kill oak trees. Wood is food for so many critters you might as well pile logs of beef jerky against your home. 

Q: What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever done? A: One time a woman called and begged me to get her cat down from a tree. I told her I had no experience at saving cats, but I drove to her home, climbed twenty feet up a cedar tree, and the cat jumped right into my arms. Piece of cake.

Q: If a magic genie gave you one pest control wish, what would it be? A: I’d wish that homeowners would go outside and dig away all the dirt that washes against their home. That would save mountain homeowners millions of dollars in dry rot repair bills. But, I’d probably have to go into hiding from those unemployed repair contractors’ own magic genies so, on second thought… everybody just crack a beer and watch a ballgame this weekend. No magic genie needed.

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 “Oh boy, a wild critter!”

I glanced out the window to my back deck last week and saw only the backside of a furry animal—bigger than a breadbox—running down the steps. I quietly opened my sliding glass door, tip-toed to the handrail,  peered below, and immediately spotted the critter in question.

“Oh, no,” I thought. “It’s that master hunter, no doubt stalking the squirrels eating peanuts on my deck.” He was a handsome devil, but then again, all bobcats are beautiful. Luckily for the squirrels, his jaws were empty.

I love seeing bobcats, hawks, golden eagles, owls, coyotes, foxes and all the incredible predators in our mountains. Have you ever been lucky enough to see a pygmy owl? Google them and you’ll see one of the cutest animals ever.

Whether you appreciate their beauty or not, predator animals, like pest management professionals, do the important work of hunting rodents. We work inside the home; they work outside. That’s man and nature working in harmony. (Don’t worry though. When you call us, we don’t bring a bobcat.)

I decided to try and follow my visitor. Calling softly and walking gently, I crept closer and closer. To my surprise, he walked nonchalantly ahead with a graceful stride. When I was thirty feet away he turned to face me, sat on the ground and playfully folded his paws in front. I stopped in my tracks.

For a minute, we shared a Mexican standoff of sorts. He looked at me and I looked at him—no hint of threat on either side. We were just two professional rodent hunters going about our business, two peas in a pod… one of us young, handsome, regal, and the other, well… maybe not so much. You guess which was which.

Aw, come on, people!

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Hi, everyone, my name is Alejandra and I’m a secretary here at Home Defenders. This week I’m interviewing my boss Mike:

Question: What do you do when you see ants on your kitchen counter? Answer: I wipe them up with a sponge and soapy water, then wait to see if they come back. If they do come back, I go outside and look for trails, then knock them out with bug juice. 

Q: What do you do when you see spiders in your home? A: Spiders don’t bother me, so I grab a tissue and escort them outside. But, my home is sealed against spider entry so I get fewer spiders than most homeowners.

Q: What do you do when you see fresh mouse droppings in your buildup? 

A: I grab a handful of snap traps and go to war. Rodents carry diseases and chew electrical wires, so I never allow them to live in my home.

Q: What’s your favorite little critter? A: Jumping spiders—they’re cute as a bug’s ear. When I’m treating a home and I see one on a deck handrail, I escort it out of the bug juice zone. If you want a treat, google “images of jumping spiders.”

Q: What’s your favorite animal? A: Pygmy owls, they’re adorable little things… I see one once in a blue moon. I was surprised to learn that they prey on small birds like chickadees, but every creature in the natural world feeds on something.

Q: Finally, you see tree squirrels running around on your back deck. What do you do? A: We exterminators know that squirrels are one of the most destructive animals in the mountains, especially when they get into attics and destroy insulation and chew electrical wires. But, my home has been professionally sealed against animal entry, so I can toss the rapscallions some peanuts and watch the fun. I love cute animals, too—as long as the little monsters stay outside.

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This week, I’ll go over the three most common mistakes homeowners make when doing their own pest control. You smart readers may wonder where I learned about this subject. The answer is that do-it-yourself folks call me when they don’t get the job done, so I’m just as much an expert on incorrect pest management as I am at correct pest management.

Mistake #1: They’re blinded by the inside. Since homeowners experience pests inside their homes, they tend to focus their remedies inside the home. As a professional, the first thing I do after identifying a pest problem is walk the entire exterior perimeter, looking for the source of the infestation. All pest problems—with some exceptions, like termite-infested firewood brought from down the hill—come from our forest. And all pest solutions begin outside the home. 

Mistake #2: They cut the pest slack. Man, if you go to war with a pest, you better go the whole nine yards. When you find a trail of ants coming from a tree onto your home, spray that trail all the way back to the tree, spray up the tree as far as you can, then spray the entire circumference of the trunk. Don’t give them an inch, or they’ll invade a mile. 

Mistake #3: They underestimate the skill of pests. Over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of people say, “But a bat can’t get in that small of an opening.” My answer: “Oh, yes they can!” When sealing bats and rodents out of a home, if you can pluck a hair from your head and push it into an opening, then the opening is too big. No exceptions.

And lastly, most homeowners underestimate just how hard it is to rid a home of pests, and furthermore, they fail to appreciate just how good we professionals are at tooting our own horn.

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Quick—what sound does a pest technician most hate to hear? Is it the hiss of a leaky hand-held sprayer spewing chemical all over his leg? Maybe. Is it the thump-thump-thump of a flat tire at the end of a tough work day? Could be. Is it the boss’s gruff voice bellowing, “I’m going out to check on one of your jobs!” Bingo!

I recently got a call from a customer: “Mike, your worker just finished a mouse job at my cabin, but I’m still hearing scratching sounds in my ceiling. Can you take a look?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll head over.” I wasn’t angry at my technician because rodent proofing a home is very challenging. It’s like proofreading an article—it’s easy to miss the same typo over and over.

As I drove to the cabin, I wasn’t convinced that the “scratching sounds” were being made by mice. Mysterious noises are one of the most challenging pest problems because they can have many causes, including ones that have nothing to do with pests.

One time, I went to the home of an elderly couple complaining that they had a bird chirping inside their house. “That darn bird is going to town day and night,” the frustrated husband said. I went into their basement and, sure enough, a smoke detector’s low battery warning was to blame. God, I hate those things. 

Back at the mouse cabin, after doing a painstaking inspection, I found a small opening that allowed the critters to worm their way inside. My customer had been right all along. I showed the opening to my technician and he sealed it shut. Another problem solved… on to the next problem.

Oh, and if you see any typos in this article … blame it on the smoke detector.

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, this is pest reporter Johnny Fellini coming to you live from the 87th Annual League of Grandmothers Cutesy Awards, celebrating the mountain’s cutest critters. We’ve been waiting a year for the winners, so let’s get to the ceremony.

4th runner up: Baby lizards. (Johnny: “Ooh, the voters finally recognized lizards, a clear nod to the fact that, just like the good folks at Home Defenders, these tiny dinosaurs control ants and spiders. And anyone who has shooed a baby lizard out of their garage can vouch for how cute they are. Bravo!”)

3rd runner up: Pygmy owls. (Johnny: Wow, I cannot believe my ears! Sure, pigmy owls are adorable, but they prey on chickadees and that makes this a bold choice. The voters are sending a strong message that Mother Nature knows best.”) 

2nd runner up: Great horned owls. (Johnny: “Oh. My. Gosh. With so many   choices, the voters picked two different owls… and I predict that there will be blowback from those radical four-legged animal aficionados. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what they said about Galileo so I’m right too.”) 

1st runner up: Bobcats. (Johnny: “Yep, this is the safe choice. Not only are bobcats beautiful, they also control pests like rats and mice… and the well-behaved felines don’t pee on your Maserati rims like mountain lions and that really happened to my cousin Mario and he had to get new rims.”)

And the winner is: Flying squirrels. (Johnny: They’re furry, they have the eyes of an angel, and they glide from tree to tree. I would call them gorgeous… if they’d only stop getting into our attics and pooping all over the place. This is Johnny Fellini, advising you to put a cover on your Maserati and see you next year!”)