Nuisance animal control 101 

If you've lived in a freestanding house for awhile — especially an older home — chances are you've heard it at least once or twice: the disconcerting rattle of tiny toenails in the attic. Animals run on instinct, and for creatures like raccoons, rats, squirrels and bats, their instinct tells them that one of their top priorities in life should be to find a dark, dry space and make it their personal crash pad. Whether that's a hollow tree or the place you store your Christmas decorations all summer doesn't really enter their furry little heads.

Nuisance wildlife control is a multi-million dollar industry in Arkansas, with most of the calls coming from urban homeowners who don't feel comfortable dealing with the problem themselves, or who can't take the matter into their own hands because of various cities' regulations on not-so-PC solutions like traps, poisons and discharging a firearm. Though other states have varying degrees of licensure and regulation over the industry, like a lot of smaller, niche professions in Arkansas, nuisance wildlife control is largely unregulated. Those on both the business and government side of things say that can be a problem. Still, as with anything, there are ways to help make sure you get a company that will get those noises out of your attic or crawlspace without causing an even bigger mess than you were trying to solve.

Josh Hankins is the owner of Absolute Wildlife Nuisance Animal Removal, a 5-year-old company that travels all over the state, removing animals and making repairs to damaged caused by invading critters in both private homes and government buildings. Hankins is one of a handful of nuisance animal control operators in the state that hold both residential and commercial contractors' licenses through the state contractor's board. The residential license is required to repair any damage over $2,000. The commercial license certifies his company to repair damage over $20,000. As for the removal of the animals that has to take place before those repairs can begin, Hankins said that there is some basic regulation of the industry through the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (which oversees the control of fur-bearing animals) and the Arkansas Plant Board (which deals with issues related to the removal and relocation of unwanted honeybee colonies), but he believes there needs to be more. Lax regs, he said, open the door to "fly-by-night" operators who might not know what they're doing.

"There is no regulative body that watches over this industry in particular, and it's unfortunate because it hurts people like us who try to go in and do it right," he said. "It makes a bad name for the industry if a customer has dealt with two other companies that didn't do it properly."

In most urban cases, Hankins' company live-traps animals before relocating them outside the city limits. While people in rural areas generally handle the issue of nuisance animal control themselves in ways that would probably get PETA's knickers in a bunch, Hankins said that taking an animal issue into your own hands isn't always feasible, comfortable or wise. He's seen jobs, for example, where a homeowner patched an exterior entry hole and unwittingly sealed an animal inside an attic, with the creature then proceeding to either find a way to bust through into the living space or dying in there, turning a $300 problem into a stench that costs thousands to clear out.

"People will hear something in their attic and see a hole and think: Well, if I'll patch the hole, it'll fix it," he said. "I always tell customers: if you see a hole, the last thing you want to do is patch it if you've got any indication that there's something inside. A lot of the animals that we deal with are communal. If you go patching a hole, you could potentially trap hundreds of critters inside."

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