For All Your Wildlife Conflict Resolution Needs

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By John Kelly
Monday, July 23, 2007

"The key to this business, really, is to think like an animal," says John Griffin of Wild Neighbors Humane Wildlife Solutions. "How does an animal use their space?"

This particular animal is using Olga Williams's space, and she's none too happy about it. About four days ago, she heard a scurrying sound coming from inside the porch roof of her house. Then a neighbor saw a raccoon and some babies peering out from a cavity that was exposed when a gutter pulled away.

"For me, once they're in there, I just want them out," Olga explains.

Which is why John and his partner, Lori Thiele, rolled up to Olga's Brightwood home in a shiny, equipment-filled van. Stacked on top are ladders of various sizes. Inside are a roll of raccoon-proof wire mesh, wire cutters, rope, gloves, flashlights, a flexible fiber-optic spotting scope, birdproof caps for chimneys and dryer vents . . .

What you won't find inside is poison. This is Humane Wildlife Solutions, after all.

The company is an offshoot of the Humane Society of the United States, an effort to settle human-animal disputes without resorting to violence. It's kind of touchy-feely. John and Lori's business cards read "Wildlife Conflict Resolution."

Snake in your basement? Sit down for arbitration.

John has climbed up to the hole and is peering inside.

"I can see a mom and at least two babies," he reports. They're at the far end of the roof, huddled against a rafter. (Raccoons, John explains, are thigmotactic. "It means they like to feel close to something," he says.)

The main tool of the humane wildlife specialist is a contraption made of 16-gauge wire mesh with a door that opens only one way. Raccoons can get out of where they have been holing up, but they can't get back in. You see, John and Lori practice what is called "wildlife exclusion." They don't do catch and release.

Says Lori: "Everybody's like, 'Just take them to Rock Creek Park. It's beautiful there.' But Rock Creek Park's already full. This animal has no idea how to survive there. I tell people, it's kind of like me taking you and dropping you in Chicago or New York City and saying, 'Make your way, little buddy.' You wouldn't know what to do."

Plus, in most area jurisdictions, it's against the law to release rabies-vector species. If you trap a raccoon, you have to kill it -- not something the Humane Society wants to do.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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