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Dealing with unwanted guests, humanely

A poisoned baby Franklin's ground squirrel brought to Wildwoods. She did not survive. (Photo: Wildwoods)

Do not ever use poison. Warning: there is disturbing content in this article which may not be suitable for some readers.

As the temperatures drop and winter gets nearer, critters make their way through holes into our homes. Please remember that they are just trying to survive and we have provided a fantastic habitat: safe, warm, food aplenty. Don't punish them for taking advantage of the opportunity, especially not with poison. It is a horrifying, painful and long death for them. Believe me, I've seen it.

Let's take, for example, rat poison. There are two types of poison used to kill rats: anticoagulant and non-anticoagulant. The first type, the most common, causes massive internal bleeding. The blood comes out of every place it can including eyes and ears. The animal bleeds to death over several days, suffering the entire time.

The second type of rat poison commonly used creates toxic gases in the stomach when ingested. The gas then permeates cell walls throughout the body, causing each cell to die. The animal experiences convulsions, loss of muscle control, vomiting ... often with blood present, paralysis, internal lesions and finally liver, kidney and heart failure. If you could see firsthand what poison does and hold an animal that is bleeding from its eyes, I guarantee it would haunt you for the rest of your days.

Poison is indiscriminate. It is designed to kill and kill it shall, no matter what it is. Secondary poisoning is what happens when an animal comes in contact with or eats another animal that has ingested poison. Animals that have consumed poison become lethargic and easy prey for wild and domestic predators alike. Even after they die the poison can reside in their livers and eagles, owls, bobcats, foxes and even pet cats and dogs who eat the dead or dying animals fall victim to secondary poisoning. They suffer the same effects of the poison ingested by the primary victim.

If you have unwanted house guests, there are a number of things you can do to evacuate them without condemning them to a torturous death. First and foremost, do the responsible thing and patch the holes where they are coming in. It's your house and your responsibility. You cannot expect an animal NOT to take advantage of such a perfect den.

It can take a long time to find all the places animals can get in. You'd be surprised how small a raccoon, mouse or woodchuck can get when they really want to squeeze through. But taking a life (or several) because it's more convenient than property maintenance is simply unethical and more animals will just find their way in.

Before you patch those holes, though, make sure there are no animals trapped inside. It's generally not a wise idea to live-trap and relocate. Not only can they usually make their way back, but many animals are territorial and will not allow an intruder to stay in their area. Especially at this time of year when animals have settled in for the winter, it can be a death sentence to move them to an area they are unfamiliar with, and far away from their food caches. And in the spring and early fall, there are often babies to be accounted for. Relocating the parents can result in orphans.

To safely and humanely encourage animals to leave on their own, place a rag soaked with cider vinegar, bright lights and a battery-operated radio playing a talk station in the area the animals have set up camp. They'll get annoyed and go somewhere else, still within range of their food caches, within their own territory, and will take their young with them.

The Humane Society has some great information on dealing with "nuisance" animals on their website.

Megan Stanton began volunteering with Wildwoods in 2014 and became a staff member this year.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

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