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Squirrels in the attic? Pointers on humane wildlife removal

George Rizer/Globe Staff/File 2006/Boston Globe

As much as my family and I love to have suburban wildlife around our New York-area home, some of the cuteness wore off when we found rodents living under the roof.

A mama squirrel had set up a cozy little nest in our attic — a wise move considering the temperature was dipping and she had a brood to care for. As Jack Murphy, cofounder of Denver-based Urban Wildlife Rescue, puts it: ‘‘They can live in a tree. And we can live all winter on the prairie in a tent. But having a house is a lot nicer.’’

So my husband, Paul — a do-it-yourself kind of guy (and looking to save a grand or so on critter eviction) — sprang into action. Once the little tykes were old enough to go outside the nest on their own — cute as can be, peering over the eaves of our roof — he rigged up the trusty humane trap, relocating them to places you’d think squirrels would like. One got new digs creek-side in a forest preserve. Another was escorted to a wooded college campus.

But it was with heavy hearts we later learned that his efforts were more misguided than magnanimous. Experts say most squirrels — even ones old enough to fend for themselves — don’t survive being moved. They succumb to everything from turf wars to an inability to adapt to new habitats.


‘‘Relocation is a feel-good myth,’’ Murphy said. State and federal agencies discourage relocating wildlife, and in some cases ban it.

Ned Bruha, who does business as The Skunk Whisperer in Oklahoma City, is another specialist in humane wildlife removal. He said the wiser move would have been to let the squirrels hunker down until they were ready to leave the attic on their own, and then provide them a one-way door for doing so. The danger of squirrels doing damage like chewing through wires is overblown, he said.


Once the animals are definitely out, Bruha deodorizes their former home and its surroundings with an industrial-strength cleanser designed specifically to neutralize the odors that wildlife like squirrels leave behind. Next, he identifies and repairs the spots that squirrels are likely to chew through: old attic screens and roof vents, among others.