Dark eyes in the darkness; quick, narrow hands working at an entrance; then the coarse slither of a heavy body through the freshly made hole. He’s in — Procyon lotor, suburbia’s bastard essence, whose nights are a garbage orgy and whose days a chain of hangovers. Potent, nasty: the roundworm in his feces can make you go blind. He chitters discreetly, testing the dimensions of this new place: an attic, a basement, a chimney. He treads the silent tangerine-colored insulation; he meditates in the flue. Slumbering homeowner, bedded-down mortgage-payer, you know nothing of his moving-in. And by the time you do know, it’ll be more his home than yours.
ZEN AND THE ART OF RACCOON TRAPPING: Matt Grady has found a second career in animal evictions.
Baby, you’ve been raccooned.
If the interior of a man’s van can be said to reflect the interior of his head, then Matt Grady has a somewhat apocalyptic turn to his mental life. Front seat: GPS, Internet, bottles of water, protein shakes mixed in his lap as he drives. Rear: toolboxes, torches, breathing equipment, bales of wire, chimney rods, and cages, cages, cages. Big ones, little ones. Two ladders on the roof. And what’s that incongruously blossomy aroma? “It’s a citrus-based product that I generally use in attics,” says Grady, putting the vehicle in gear. “Little strong, huh? I climbed in here this morning and thought: does my van smell like squirrel piss?”
Grady is short, deft, pithy. In his spare time, he’s a kickboxer and amateur photographer, and he can handle a 20-foot ladder like a majorette handles her baton. Eight years ago, he traded a job in IT for a career in the emerging industry of “wildlife removal.” The bat, the mouse, the squirrel, the skunk, the raccoon — wherever in New England these characters are intersecting too brazenly or wantonly with the lifestyles of 21st-century America, there you’ll find Grady at work.
Each animal has its territory. The high-rolling gray squirrel loves the city, for example, while the raccoon is a mordant commentator on the architecture of suburban sprawl. “If you cut a brand-new road into the woods,” says Grady as we drive to the first job of the day, “and put 10 houses on it, you’ve carved out a portion of his habitat. And the houses are all built according to the same design, so he’ll be utilizing the same construction gaps to get into each one. These subdivisions, they’re full of very professional people in nice homes — the second they hear an unidentified noise, they call us.”
It’s the first day of spring: rain’s coming down, sap aspires in the leafless trees. Raccoon season. “The females are pregnant now, and they’re looking for a safe place to give birth,” says Grady. “So from St. Patrick’s Day until the end of May, that’s pretty much our focus.” BatGuys Wildlife Service, his company, is not made up of exterminators — they remove or “evict” pests, and then seal off their points of access. But given that state law requires that a captured animal either be released on-site (i.e., back into the yard) or humanely euthanized, the odd raccoon is going to have his career ended by BatGuys. “We provide a humane service, which is important to our clients,” explains Grady. “A lot of them are very concerned about the welfare of the animals we are removing from their houses. We euthanize animals as a last resort, and I have received harassing phone calls about it, but the animal-rights people — they’re not a very rational group.”
There are no markings on the BatGuys van. “People don’t necessarily want their neighbors to know they have wild animals living in their home,” says Grady. “I pull up, I look like the plumber.”
Hasta la vista, rabies
North Reading, Massachusetts. A large, Cape-style house at the bottom of a wooded incline. Hearing scratches and quibbles in the attic above her son’s bedroom, the homeowner assumed she had a squirrel problem. A preliminary visit from Grady’s partner, Mike Achille, however, has established that an illegal occupancy is being perpetrated by two adult raccoons.
For clean, successful wildlife removal, you need the forensic discernment of a CSI agent and the imagination of a Ghostbuster. “A lot of times,” says Grady, eyes on the GPS as we make our approach, “from the type of house it is and the positioning of the trees around it, I can tell what the problem is before I’ve even got out of the van.” We pull into the driveway. “Here, for instance, I can tell you that the point of entry was one of the gable vents.” He’s not wrong — we locate the vent in question, high up in one of the gables and missing several of its wooden blades. Below it is a perfect little crime scene: splinters and wood-shards littering the grass, neat paw prints of mud ascending the gutter pipe. To knock the blades loose, the raccoon must have swung one-handed from the roof-edge. We stand there for a moment, quietly digging his vermin acrobatics.