Inspection Unit 1C

When You Are at Wits End

No matter how good you are, there will be situations where you won’t have any idea what you are dealing with. This can truly be a frustrating experience. Some clients just don’t respond well to any comment of ignorance. They will expect you to know what is causing the noise and the damage. Despite their irritation, never lie. If you don’t know what the cause is let them know. This doesn’t mean you just leave them high and dry. At the very least, you should be able to tell them what the problem isn’t. But you can do more than that. You can take measures to determine what the problem is. Here are a few steps you can take to reveal the possible cause of the problem.

First, when you find holes that you have some doubts about, cork them or cover them with newspaper. Newspaper has the advantage of being easily chewed through by rodents. In this way, they chew the newspaper rather than the building. If the paper hasn’t moved in 3-4 days, then you know the hole is no longer being used and can be closed off. (Wait longer if the weather has been unusually severe. Animals den up, especially in wintertime during bad weather, sometimes up to two weeks or more). Don’t use this technique if you think the culprit is  a bat or bird. They will have difficulty getting out. NEVER, NEVER seal off any hole unless you are dead sure positive it isn’t active. Failure to heed this advice can result in terrible consequences. As shown in the photo, I have crumpled paper on a painter’s pole to help me put paper into the hole.

For detailed instructions on hole papering, click Plug Test.

Second, you can set a track trap. Some Animal Damage Control Operators like to put flour down where they believe the animal will cross.  The softness of the flour allows it to take a track very easily. Tom Olander and Kirk La Pierre have both used flour and/or baby powder to check animal activity. But the problem with flour is that it can attract bugs. Use baby powder if this is a concern. Note the scratches in the powder where the squirrel climbed out onto the powder-covered sheet with bait in the middle.

Bottom 3 photos courtesy of Kirk LaPierre

Spritzer bottle Kirk has a spritzer bottle with lure, plastic sheeting, baby powder and bait. Peanuts are used as bait, which would work well for squirrels.

Peanuts on cloth.

In this image you see evidence of the squirrel going after the food. I don’t use this method. I don’t want to have to clean up the powder or worry about it possibly getting wet. I also have had doubts about how well the tracks will show. (If I knew the technique worked this well, I may have used it more often.) I did use this technique once early in my career. A family called complaining of a raccoon in their basement. They showed me a few piles of feces on the floor. I investigated and couldn’t find any hole that would allow a raccoon into the basement. There was also no damage to boxes, etc. that should appear if a raccoon was present. I did notice that a 6-year-old child was very interested in my investigation. There was something about the dynamics in the family that made me think that the child was the source of the feces. I asked his older brother. He said it was possible. The mother didn’t want to hear about it. So I opened a box of sardines, put them in the middle of the floor and encircled the sardines with ring of flour. I told them to call if the flour or sardines were disturbed. They never did. The moral here is that sometimes you work to mollify your clients.

Another technique is to place some glue boards in areas where noise is being heard. Obviously if the noise is in the walls, you won’t be able to put the glue boards there. You do want, however, to place them as close as possible to where the noise is coming from. I recommend using rat-size glue boards. I use glue boards with a stiff paper backing. These can be stapled down easily. You always want to anchor your glue board, in case an animal bigger than a mouse gets caught and tries to drag the board away. I personally don’t like glue boards. They seem to be rather cruel. But they do have their utility, even if only as a last resort. I thought one client had mice. I set a glue board and caught a flying squirrel. Sometimes you just want to set a trap. This has the advantage of quieting your client and gives you an opportunity to make some money. I don’t like to trap unless I know there is an animal around to catch. However, sometimes you just don’t have that choice. Choose a large enough trap and generic bait that can catch a variety of animals. I like to use a squirrel trap, baited with peanut butter on bread. If the peanut butter is gone one day and the bread is gone the next, then you have mice. I am sure you can decide what the animal is by what happens with the trap and bait.

Up to this point, I have been talking about what you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask the client to participate in the solution. I ask clients to start paying more attention to their house. I suggest they look at the building when they drive in and out of the driveway. Have them ask neighbors about any animal activity around their home. Have them perform a bat watch if bats are a concern. The bottom line is, if they want the problem solved you will need their help to solve it.

One client told me they thought an animal was caught in the wall. Knowing that animals are rarely trapped in a wall (they may live there but they aren’t trapped; Mike Page disagrees and contends that many times juvenile animals such as red squirrels, birds, gray squirrels, raccoons and mice can and do get caught between studs), I asked why they thought this. She said she kept hearing a squealing/grinding type noise. I asked, “For how long?” She said, “about three months.” If I had paid more attention to those three months, I would have looked first for a mechanical cause rather than having holes cut in the wall. We started to hear the noise again, and I started to unplug appliances. Sure enough, the noise emanated from the stove’s clock, which seemed to be on its last legs. Keep an open mind, but trust your instincts too.

Don’t be surprised if mice are the problem. Customers underestimate the noise that mice can create. Inspection is the art of reducing options. Setting mousetraps can solve a lot of problems. Finally don’t forget that a house can have more than one animal problem. It can have mice and squirrels, etc. Keep an open mind and an open eye.


Bill McRae’s article “The Art and Science of Spotting Game” American Hunter, April, 1996. Pp. 39-41, 61.

Stephen M. Vantassel, Wildlife Removal Handbook Rev. (Stephen Vantassel, 1999).

Stephen M. Vantassel, Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook, 3rd. ed. (Lincoln, NE: Wildlife Control Consultant, 2012).

©Stephen M. Vantassel 2005

Move on to Unit 2A