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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!”)

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Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy a cup of coffee and prepare to set sail on a voyage to the heart and soul of a rat catcher’s mind. We expect calm seas—though squeamish folks may want to skip this journey. Anchors aweigh!

1st port of call: Questions. When a rat catcher starts a job, he asks himself: Has another company been here and failed? Have the homeowners put out poison? Has anyone tried to block entry openings? A short conversation with the owners—who are sick of dealing with a rat infestation—answers those questions.

2nd port of call: Inspection. The rat catcher walks around the home, carefully inspecting for openings that allow rat entry. He looks high and low, sometimes crawling on his hands and knees. He doesn’t dare miss the smallest opening or the whole job may blow up in his face. 

3rd port of call: Determination. Drawing on years of experience, he selects the best make and model of trap for this particular job. Since rats carry disease, gnaw on electrical wires, and destroy heating ducts, he is determined to succeed. He sets the deadly traps.

4th port of call: Victory. Days later, he opens the crawl space door and sees rats in the traps. His plan has worked, and he’s on cloud nine. He snaps a photo and texts it to a co-worker—then gets a high-five emoji right back. He can’t wait to tell the homeowners that their nightmare is over. That’s the best part of the job.

Last port of call: Soul. Despite the thrill of victory, he thinks: “What a shame it is that someone didn’t repair those entry openings sooner. What a shame it is to kill these noble animals whose only crime is trying to survive. What a shame.”

But, people are more important than pests, so he writes “job completed” on his work order, gets in his truck and heads to the next port of call.

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God, I hate her. She drives me crazy and I swear I’m kicking her out of my life for good. And this time I mean it!

Rats, mice, moths, flies and other pests are having a banner year, Covid has shut down most forms of recreation, and I’ve been escaping stress with sugary treats. For the record, I love the classics—pie, cookies, cake—but my favorites are those Magnum ice cream bars, the kind with a gooey caramel layer under the chocolate shell. Whoever invented that treat should be hailed as a genius—then promptly tarred and feathered.

love sugar, but I hate her too. I get hooked, gain weight and then lose the energy I need to get through the day.  At my age, sugar is poised like a leopard, eager to pounce on the last vestiges of my youth. The beast is so close I can smell her breath… it smells like… my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls. No wonder she has me in her claws.

“Sorry, Sugar, I’ve got a thing for kale now and we should go our separate ways.” 

That’s what I’m dying to tell her. But, man oh man, when the good times are rolling and she and I are out on the town, having crème brûlée, I am in heaven. Why can’t she just stay at her place while I stay at mine? We can get together, maybe share a chocolate malted, but then she needs to leave me alone. With all these pests infesting our mountain, I’ve got enough monkeys on my back.

As I write this, I’ve broken my sugar addiction and she and I are getting along fine—she sends her love—but it’s Saturday night and she’s on her way over. I sure hope she didn’t make a pit stop at Dairy Queen and whisper “peanut buster parfait, baby” into that drive-through microphone. Once I start, I just can’t stop.

Oh well. A little taste won’t hurt. Right?

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“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

 “We interrupt The Shadow Radio Hour to bring you breaking news. Take it away street reporter Johnny Fellini…”

“Step aside, Babe Ruth, there’s a new hero nibbling on the Big Apple and the dailies have given him the moniker ‘Flood Rat’. The furry little lug gained his fame sheltering behind a subway support beam as floodwaters threatened to wash him out to the East River. Hey, Flood Rat, say cheese and smile for the cameras!”

“New York is so smitten with Flood Rat we’ll soon see him on Broadway with a bevy of bare-ankled beauties in a show of skin that will make this reporter blush like a Dominican friar at a Rockettes revue. Yowza!”

“With me now is pest control ace Mike Nolan of Home Defenders Rat Catchers & Cockroach Smashers. Mr. Nolan, is Flood Rat just another flash in the pan?”

“Uh, no, Johnny, this critter knows how to save his own skin. He’s a survivor.

“Say, Mr. Nolan, speaking of rats, how can New Yorkers keep them out of their tenements?”

“Well, Johnny, I always tell people to rinse their stool buckets in the river at least once a week. Rats love the smell of fresh stool.”

“Er, thanks, Mr. Nolan, our listeners will have that image in their noggins until those bungling Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series. Wait, this just in—oh, no! Flood Rat has met his maker in a Home Defenders snap trap. Oh, the tragedy! Oh well, good night, greasy prince, sleep tight.”

“And now the rest of the story. Nolan was hailed a hero for ridding the city of rats and was last seen with a bevy of bare-ankled beauties. Which has this reporter asking the age-old question: how much more skin could women possibly show? This is Johnny Fellini, signing off and on his way to a cold shower. Yowza!”

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This week I’m going to do what few service companies do: encourage you to call my competitors. But wait, there’s a catch—there’s always a catch.  More on that later.

It’s come to my attention there are pest companies giving really low prices for rodent control… prices so low that I know exactly what they’re up to: placing bait stations—those small black boxes that hold poison—around the exterior foundation of the home. That’s the easiest and cheapest way to do rodent control, and, by the way, it requires that the company come back monthly to put more poison in the stations—for a fee. A bargain isn’t always a bargain in the long run.

The problem is that the rats, mice, chipmunks and other critters that feed on the poison die outside… and then coyotes, foxes, bobcats and owls eat those poisoned animals, becoming poisoned themselves. That’s called “secondary poisoning” and it’s a serious problem.

So, what’s the responsible way to get rodents out of mountain homes? First, trap the rodents with snap traps baited with peanut butter. When the infestation is under control, seal the openings around the exterior foundation that allow rodents to enter. This usually includes repairing the buildup/crawlspace door. If the home has no foundation then blocking rodents out is more difficult. The best option is—working from the crawlspace—seal the openings around pipes that allow rodents to climb into kitchens and bathrooms. A rodent control job is essentially a small construction project.

If a company’s bid to rid your cabin of rodents seems high, by all means, get other bids. Just please be sure that the low-price company isn’t one of those second-rate operations that poisons the forest. All’s fair in love and war—and business—but poisoning the bobcat that hunts mice in your back yard isn’t fair at all. In fact, it’s just plain wrong.

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Have you ever thought about picking up a live rat? A wild one, I mean. Picture this: You’re working in your kitchen when you suddenly see a rat scamper by. Would you reach down and grab the critter by the scruff of the neck and holler, “I got you, you varmint!” Would you?

I’ve worked in pest management for thirty years and I’ve never once thought about grabbing a live rat. When I was a rookie, I was warned by a veteran pest tech, “Never corner a rat. They’ll run up your leg and go for your jugular.”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when my pest manager Gilbert showed me a photo of himself wearing animal control gloves and proudly holding up two live rats. I suppose he could have faked the photo, but he had a story to back it up.

“Well, Mike, all we did was corner the rats in a buildup and then force them into a little plastic trash can,” Gil said nonchalantly, as if he grabbed rats on a daily basis. Looking over the photo, I thought, “Darn … what’s the learning curve on that skill? Wouldn’t you get attacked a few times before getting the knack of it? That’s nuts.”

As Gil admired his photo, I said, “Well, uh—good job!”

Autumn is just around the corner and rats will be looking to invade your warm home. If you hear mysterious noises or see telltale rodent droppings, call us and we’ll give you a free estimate to escort them out by the hair on their chinny-chin-chins. Here at Home Defenders, we believe the only good home is a rodent-free home.

Some of you may be wondering when I myself might try grabbing a live rat, thereby joining Gilbert’s elite, though lonely, “Rat Grabber Club.” Here’s my answer, short and sweet: Never ever.

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 I hate to give more bad news in what may be the worst year for bad news in history, but… the County of San Bernardino just announced nine confirmed cases of rabies in bats in Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Apple Valley. There have no reported cases in the San Bernardino Mountains. Nevertheless, all of us—especially children—need to stay away from bats. That’s easy because bats want nothing to do with humans. If you see a bat flopping on the ground, it may be sick. Do not approach it.

Also, on the bad news front, two construction workers remodeling a cabin in Big Bear were recently diagnosed with hantavirus—a respiratory illness—which they likely contracted from breathing air contaminated by mouse droppings. Some of you may remember that 2012 hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite Park that cost a reported three people their lives. According to the CDC, the fatality rate of hantavirus is 36%. And those who survive reportedly can have health complications for years. Hantavirus is a brutal disease. 

The good news is that you can easily avoid contracting rabies and hantavirus by, first, staying away from bats, and second, if you’re working in an area littered with rodent droppings—and all crawlspaces/buildups—wear a respirator and gloves. If you need to clean rodent droppings, first disinfect the droppings with a bleach solution of one part bleach to ten parts water. The same rule applies to bat droppings.
 Here’s more good news: we at Home Defenders are experts at getting bats and mice out of homes. If you need our help, we’re ready to go to war against pest-borne diseases. If you have questions, give me a call. 

And finally, on the best news of all front, the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains is the greatest place in the world to ride out this never-ending COVID pandemic. Have a safe and pest free week.

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This week’s article is special because we have new corporate sponsors. What can I say? Money is tight with this COVID thing and we need all the help we can get, so  this week’s article is sponsored by… Hacking Cough in a Can.® Need to get out of jury duty? Try Hacking Cough in a Can® and by… Bob’s Cat Hair Cannon.® Mad at your neighbor? You need a cat hair cannon. Try Bob’s. (Cat hair cannonballs sold separately… check out our new Calico line!) Now on to my list of the three most common conditions that lead pests into homes:

#3: Earth-to-wood contact. When household wood members—like deck posts and siding—are in contact with dirt, Mother Nature cooks up a batch of special fungus that turns wood into mush. Say what you will about Mother Nature, the old gal ain’t lazy.

#2: Utility pipes. More specifically, the openings around those pipes that allow rats, mice, chipmunks, spiders, ants and other pests to enter your home. You have two choices: 1) Cancel all of your utilities. 2) Grab a caulking gun, load it with sealant, then spend an hour sealing the openings… but where’s the pioneering spirit in that?

#1: Tree limbs touching roofs. Most homeowners don’t realize that ants live in trees, especially old oaks and pines. Remember, folks, we exterminators have families to feed and if you cut the limbs from your home ants are less likely to invade. We could lose a lot of work, so please, grab a cold beer, sit on the couch, turn on a ballgame before the commissioner cancels the season again, and call us when ants invade.

Be sure and join me next week for a fresh new article, sponsored by…                        Bob’s Toe Pinching Socks®… because sometimes those tootsies just feel way too good. (Toe pinching inserts sold separately.)