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For All Your Wildlife Conflict Resolution Needs

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.

John measures the hole in the trim board that has allowed the raccoon mother to call Olga Williams's porch roof home. He seals it with the wire mesh, then cuts a hole for the one-way door, which he wires in. When the raccoons go out to forage that night, they'll trip the door shut behind them and will have to find someplace else to live -- someplace that won't inconvenience humans. John thinks the babies are already weaned and able to get out on their own. If they aren't, he and Lori will come back the next day to let the mother back in. Otherwise she might claw through the roof to get to her offspring.

After he has set the one-way door, John uses a stick to dab a blob of peanut butter on the outside. What kind of peanut butter, John?

"Choosy wildlife excluders choose Jif!" he jokes.

John and Lori do more than raccoons in roofs. They once set up an infrared camera connected to a motion sensor to find out what was living in a burrow near a client's foundation. When they checked the camera, they found they had gotten photos only of the animal going into the hole.

Says John: "It was like: animal butt, animal butt, animal butt. We had to diagnose it by butt type."

It turned out to be a groundhog. They excluded it.

Send a Kid to Camp

A cool hundred grand. That's about how much we need to raise this week. When I last checked the Send a Kid to Camp coffers, our total stood at $376,471.90, only $100,000 from our goal. With a big finish, we can do it. To make your tax-deductible donation:

Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

To contribute online, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.

My e-mail: kellyj@washpost.com.

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