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(Graham Roumieu for The Globe and Mail)
(Graham Roumieu for The Globe and Mail)

Facts & Arguments Essay

A nightmare on squirrel street Add to ...

I live in a house with "character," which in many cases means a house to be had at a bargain and fixed up lovingly by a do-it-yourselfer.

In our case, we paid a premium for character and the only thing we've done since moving into the house in January, 2008, is hire someone to put in a laundry room on the second floor. We hired him because he had worked on our house before we owned it. It helps to have a person in the know ease the transition into ownership and maintenance.

It was this contractor who first called attention to the problem. On his regular breaks for "fresh air," he'd smoke while watching the house and soon observed, "You've got squirrels in the attic." The squirrels to which he referred were literal, not the metaphorical ones I've lived with for years.

So, shortly after the moving vans disgorged our worldly belongings, we began the process of squirrel eviction. The first company I phoned sent out an inspector who confirmed that we did indeed have squirrels, but there was nothing he could do because it was baby season. He would phone in June when the babies were likely to be out of the nest and he'd do the squirrel-proofing then.

June came and went, and I listened to the multiplying pitter-patter of squirrel feet in the ceilings.

In July, when I phoned to remind the company of our problem, another man came out to assess the situation. He also confirmed that we did indeed have squirrels, but there was nothing he could do because it was baby season.

"But it was baby season when the last man was here," I protested. Apparently squirrels are busy creatures and have two litters a year.

Two months later, when it looked like we might actually get the one-way doors on so the squirrels wouldn't get back in, the man said he would not recommend paying for squirrel-proofing, since the wood on the roof and underside of the eaves was so rotten, the squirrels would just chew through next to the wire mesh.

While we were in the process of procuring estimates for replacing the rotten wood, one of our noisy tenants managed to get into the air-conditioning duct in the attic and fell three floors to the kitchen, where he scrabbled madly to get out of the vent. I called another company, who, it turned out, had worked on our home before. They had a rather lengthy file on the house, as a matter of fact.

Enter my hero, Stephen. He came, he heard, he released the hapless rodent from the kitchen vent. He also found one of the squirrel's long-dead kin in the same vent - yet another creature with a relationship to my house that was longer than my own.

Alas, Stephen did not conquer, not on that trip nor on the subsequent four visits to patch and to put in one-way doors. The squirrels still had an undetected way to get into the house.

Finally, one snowy day, he came out while the snow was fresh on the roof and tracked the squirrels to their entry point. All access was now barred, and the house was quiet.

All of this had been a mild annoyance. I did not like hearing the squirrels in the house, I did not like the fear that another one would fall down the vents, nor did I like the thought of what disease and destruction they may harbour. Mostly, I did not like the idea that my home was permeable. It rankled, and I wanted to know that the house we had paid too much for was ship shape, tightly sealed, closed to forces of physical and mental disturbance.

One day in late fall last year, a dozen large bluebottle flies appeared in the house. "Odd," I thought.

The next day there were three dozen outside the attic hatch. I phoned the squirrel people in a panic. I said I was living on the set of a horror movie and the house was infested with flies.

It was the weekend, but Stephen gamely arrived to inspect the attic. He contrived to get up into it - no small feat, since the entry is in the wall of the cube-shaped skylight - and did a thorough search. Lots of squirrel droppings from years past, but he could not find a corpse. It might be that a squirrel had died in the attic next door to our semi-detached house. The flies, he said, would soon go through their life cycle and leave the house.

Little did I know what horror movie material awaited. The next day, I came onto the landing and saw dozens of flies in the skylight. The problem was obviously getting worse.

Impatient for the fly life cycle to occur and for these vermin to shuffle off their mortal coil, not to mention off my lovely white walls, I took matters into my own hands. I sent my husband and our three boys outside to wait for me, and I sprayed insecticide up into the skylight. The effect was immediate and dramatic: The flies from the skylight fell like rain. Plop. Plop, plop. Plop, plop, plop, plop, plop. Then an infernal buzz came from inside the attic, amplified, of course, by the acoustics in the skylight cube. They began escaping from the attic hatch, the buzzing getting louder and louder. There must have been hundreds still up there.

I ran out of the house screaming, fly corpses dropping on me as I fled.

This, I tell myself, has been a rite of passage, and the house is now our home. As I have gotten to know and love our house, its permeability is no longer a major source of disturbance, though its frailties continue to drain our coffers. The squirrels managed to get back in this summer, but Stephen returned and solved the problem quickly, with no further loss of rodent or insect life.

Nathalie Foy lives in Toronto.

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