I love my Aunt Ann– she is feisty, sharp as a tack, and still sweet as can be. She is also pretty much deaf as a doornail.

And she knows how to work that angle beautifully.

Enjoy this adventure, and be wary of raccoons. “Mother Nature’s Bandits” or not, they have a LOT to learn about residency laws in Pennsylvania.

Thank you for reading!

Unwelcome Visitors

Upon entering the incredibly tidy house, I collided with the wall of odor, which was quickly and unmistakably identified — urine.

I hesitated as long as I possibly could, but eventually (and very delicately) asked my 93-year old Aunt Ann two critical questions:
1.) Did she smell it?
2.) Was there any chance that its source was human rather than animal?

She lives alone and could see the direction of my line of questioning. Luckily, she has a terrific sense of humor.

“NO!” she exploded, followed by laughter. “No chance!”

“Can’t you smell that?” I persisted.

“No. A lot of times when your hearing goes so does your sense of smell,” my aunt explained. She is hard of hearing, and most definitely hard of smelling.

The chatter began. The best way to describe the sound is that of demonic, hyperactive toddlers who inhaled a few gallons of helium. I quickly located the source of the ruckus: inside the fireplace.

I shuddered and pictured them: the family of rabid raccoons, their kits with mouths half open, exposing their sharp fangs, jaws dripping with thick bubbly drool, their beady little soulless black eyes staring at us through the brick. They wore miniature mining hats and held tiny hammers and chisels in their red-gloved paws. And they were diligently working on escaping from their brick-and-mortar prison.

Why the loud, incessant chattering? To mask the sound of their chiseling, of course. In a few days, they would be free of the chimney and take over the house.

I had to stop them.

I called the local police who recommend two animal control companies to do the job. The first guy I spoke with mentioned something called “eviction fluid.” For a small fee, he would throw tennis balls soaked in the stuff down the chimney, then the mama raccoon grabs her little ones and out they go. It’s actually quite a genius business model– the refugee raccoons set up house in the next available cap-less chimney, conveniently next door, resulting in more frantic homeowners who need a raccoon exorcism.

Eviction fluid is a solution made of gland secretions and male raccoon urine. As is the bizarre ways of the animal kingdom, when a female raccoon has kits, the daddy often returns to the nest to have the family for dinner. Literally. So logically, if she would smell his urine, she would try to skedaddle away to protect her kits and avoid that whole “being eaten” thing.

So we tried it. The tennis ball went down the chimney, and as an extra precaution, my aunt blasted her radio all day and night to encourage the family to leave.

When I returned a few days later, the house was shaking and my aunt seemed oblivious to the vibrating walls. I yelled, asking her how she could stand it. Smiling, she reached into her pocket, deftly pops her hearing aid back in and explained, “There are a few advantages to being nearly deaf!”

I turned off the music and waited a few minutes for the ringing in my ears to stop. The prattling resumed, quietly at first but gaining strength and within ten minutes the family was arguing, laughing, mocking us, or whatever. Either way, it was loud. And still very, very stinky, especially since now the “eviction fluid” had been added to the urine cocktail mixed up in the chimney.

So onto Plan B. The next guy I spoke with offered to trap the entire family. I was encouraged, as this seemed simpler, more direct, and didn’t involve any unseemly fluids. I did ask if it was a “no-kill” trap. I was not especially interested in the well-being of the raccoons, but rather secretly hoping that the process would involve a little public raccoon humiliation– it would have done wonders for their slightly arrogant attitude.

Plan B Guy struggled with the rusted-shut damper, but after a little help from my brother, several crowbars and a few cans of WD-40, he muscles it open up a few inches, looks up into the chimney, and a blast of urine hits him squarely in the face. Score one for the raccoons.

After a stream of obscenities ( I thought it a bit crass to use that language in front of impressionable baby animals), and a trip home for a shower, Plan B Guy returns, reaches up into the chimney, contorting his body as best he can, grabs all the kits within arm’s reach, and unceremoniously stuffs them into the trap. Mama goes ballistic and eventually leaves the chimney. The trap containing all four kits is set outside the house beside the chimney, and that night, the frantic mama comes to the rescue and is trapped as well.

Success! Mama was reunited with her family (except of course the deadbeat dad), a new chimney cap was installed, and I performed the disagreeable task of scrubbing and disinfecting the fireplace of all the leaked raccoon urine.

But I wasn’t quite finished. Aunt Ann asked me to open the damper and remove all the nesting material and raccoon poop. I politely declined and explained to her that every relationship has its limits. And raccoon poop has no place in a healthy aunt/niece relationship.

Ignoring my refusal and explanation, she handed me a crowbar, a garbage bag, and a pair of gloves. And with another sly smile, pointed to her hearing aid on the coffee table.