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The Duchess Doesn't Fit into Family's Life Style

August 03, 1989|NICK NOVICK | Nick Novick is a free-lance writer who lives in Irvine

When I switched the radio station from heavy rock to classical music, I knew our relationship had changed. I could no longer look upon her in the same old way. I was no longer the callous pursuer.

Four weeks before, at about 11 p.m., my wife and I were awakened by what I thought was a large animal on the roof of our Irvine home. Its claws were making a frightening, scraping noise. My wife insisted that the noise was coming from the attic crawl space. "Impossible," I said.

The next morning I found two holes in the far recesses of the eaves on the second-story roof. I then checked the crawl space and saw three tiny raccoons lying with their mother in the insulation in the front part of the house. The mother was very big.

I retreated to the library and did my research. Raccoons are nocturnal. I read that I must make their environment so uncomfortable and antagonistic that they will seek a better life style. The suggestions were medieval, but pest-control companies will not try to capture a raccoon's young in a confined space until they know the mother has been isolated or captured.

That night about 9 p.m., the mother appeared under the eave. She just sat there, and we stared at each other for about 15 minutes. Neither of us said a word. We knew there was no hope for a negotiated settlement. My plans were made. I laid out my weapons.

The next day I scattered two cans of mothballs in the crawl space where the raccoons were sleeping. The odor was overpowering. Success! The mother moved her young--to the crawl space at the back of the house, directly over our bedroom, where human accessibility would be even more difficult.

Because of the mothball odor, we had to seal off the front of the house. Success?

Next, I half-filled two empty soup cans with ammonia. These, together with ammonia-soaked rags, were placed in strategic areas of the crawl space. When I checked the next day, I found that the cans had been knocked over and all the ammonia had spilled into the insulation.

I set traps everywhere. I filled the closed end of each trap with succulent chicken, tuna or overripe fruits or vegetables. This was to entice the mother with a menu of choices and give her a false sense of security. Each morning I found the doors on the traps unsprung, the food untouched. My wife took umbrage that her food had been spurned by uninvited guests.

I returned the traps to the feed store. I was weary and red-eyed. When I told the owner my tale, he discounted the rental fees by 50% because, he said with pity and sympathy, "You have a street-wise raccoon."

In the crawl space day and night for four weeks, I had a radio tuned to hard rock at high volume, with a 150-watt spotlight burning. About four times a day I poked my upper body into the crawl space and banged a big metal pot with a big metal soupspoon. I was a kid again, and it was New Year's Eve.

It worked--on us. The music was so inconsistent with our life style that we moved our sleeping quarters to the lower floor for two weeks.

I admired the mother's determination. That's when I noted that we really had a love-hate relationship. We began to refer to her as the Duchess.

The Duchess would leave her young anytime after dusk to forage for food. Her exit across our bedroom ceiling was anything but quiet. In her absence, her young would cheep and move around. Her return at 3 or 5 in the morning was accompanied by cheeps of welcome home.

After two weeks, we switched the radio to classical music and moved back to the master bedroom--though we were obviously no longer the masters. The Duchess was a sophisticated beast; perhaps this gesture to refined music might urge her to acknowledge victory, take her young and leave.

In the fifth week, I sealed both places where Duchess had gained entry to the crawl space. I thought that she would be unable to get out that night, and then the next night, after I removed the obstructions, she would immediately grab her young and leave.

Wrong! She panicked. She tried clawing down through the ceiling and made horrible escape noises all over the crawl space while searching for an outlet. At one point she got into a heating duct, and we confronted each other at the register in the living room. It was about midnight. I immediately went on the roof and removed one of the obstructions.

The next day I got in touch with Brynne, who specializes in humane critter catching. She built a sleeve at the entry point I had unsealed and set a large trap with doors at both ends. The Duchess would have to go through the trap to exit, and she would spring the doors.

But each morning, I found that the food in the trap had been untouched, and the Duchess was nowhere to be seen. There had been no panic in the attic. Her footprints in flour we had sprinkled on the roof told us that the Duchess had left and returned.

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