Those little woodland creatures that look so precious in the movies can be a nuisance in real life. Whether it’s a raccoon digging in your trash or a family of skunks living under your front porch, there’s several options when it comes to removing unwanted wildlife, including the “Kritter Gitter.”
Ronnie Crowder, of Bristol, has been a licensed Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency nuisance wildlife trapper for the last 13 years. He gets calls about a wide variety of animals including owls, snakes, chipmunks, opossums, skunks and the most popular — raccoons.
Crowder says the nocturnal creatures will eat just about anything and can be aggressive at times, especially when searching for food.
“They don’t have people feeding them and taking care of them,” he said. “They’re just doing what they can to survive. A dog or cat just waits around for you to feed them.”
Raccoons will often mimic the behaviors of domesticated animals when they are fed by humans, which can lead to trouble later. Many adult raccoons will raise their offspring to pick up these same habits, too, said TWRA Officer Jeff Prater.
“They’ll see a raccoon, who has kits (babies), and they think they’re cute and want to help them out,” he said. “They grab food and throw it out in the yard. Once that happens, it’s like a stray dog.”
When raccoons decide to make human homes a daily pit stop or a permanent residence, it can cause issues for the owners. Dorothy Schill of Johnson City said she felt trapped in her house once a one-eyed female raccoon began hanging around her home in the middle of the day. The animal became so comfortable it would come near her while she was outdoors. Schill says at one point she found herself in a corner with only a broom between her and the raccoon, which it quickly snatched from her.
“Some days I would get so nervous that I wouldn’t even go outside,” said the 83-year-old.
Once wildlife becomes an annoyance, or even a safety issue, there are several options for homeowners. The TWRA regional office can offer simple tips on how to potentially stop the problem and they may also give technical advice on how people can trap the animals on their own. TWRA officers, however, cannot come on site unless the problem is related to large animals such as bears or deer.
Prater instructs people to only feed domesticated animals as much as they can eat at one time and to never leave pet food out at night.
“Once they remove the food source, it usually goes away,” he said. “Most people can help themselves, but if they’re not familiar with wildlife I would definitely recommend calling a professional.”
Crowder, or the “Kritter Gitter,” says he gets numerous calls from people who have trapped a bothersome animal, but don’t know what to do next because transporting a wild animal is illegal without the proper permit. Crowder is authorized to trap and take wild animals off site, while animal control is restricted to dealing with domesticated animals.
Because Crowder performs such specialized work, there is a fee required for his services, which sometimes bothers customers who say it should be free. Although Crowder is licensed by the TWRA, the “Kritter Gitter” is an independent business.
Police officers are also limited in the amount of aid they can offer to those who have wildlife problems. Maj. Mark Sirois of the Johnson City Police Department says officers are allowed to go on site whenever an animal is rabid or has signs of being rabid.
“On occasion we’ll get a call on a wild animal or something of that nature,” he said. “Maybe it’s coming up close to people or has signs of rabies. At that point we will observe and take the appropriate actions.”
Many callers ask Prater and Crowder why nocturnal animals are outside during the day. Both say that it is not unusual to see wildlife during daylight, especially if there’s a food source available.
“They shouldn’t think it’s rabies just because they are out in the day time,” Crowder said. “When they get too tame and people feed them they’ll come out three times a day.”
Prater says infected animals are not hungry and usually appear emaciated and have matted eyes. Additional signs include walking in circles and sideways.
For advice concerning nuisance wildlife, call the TWRA region four office at 587-7037.
The “Kritter Gitter” is based in Bristol and serves the surrounding area including Washington, Unicoi, Carter, Greene, Sullivan and Hawkins counties. Crowder may be reached at 361-2247 or online at http://krittergitter.yolasite.com.