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Tales From My Childhood: Squirrels at the dog food bowel

January 31, 2012

I stopped aghast, the back door was open, and looking through the closed storm door I saw the cat, dog, my brother in full stride gripping a be-be gun, followed by my father, younger brother, and then my mother. They dashed past the doorway chasing a small frantic furry blur through the kitchen into the family room. FLASH. There was shouting and commotion as they disappeared around the corner into the breakfast nook.

Let’s backtrack a moment….

I grew up in a 1928 Tudor home, with 3 stories and two chimney stacks. One stack belonged to the fireplace in the living room and was used regularly during the winter holidays. The other stack belonged to the long-gone coal-burning boiler. The house isn’t fueled by coal anymore – thank goodness. It was converted to gas a long time ago (before me), and so, the chimney no longer had much of a function. It was unused, and importantly for this story, un-capped. I have since learned that undisturbed places are the breeding ground for pests. Spiders in the woodpiles and now apparently SQUIRRELS in the chimney.

Grosse Pointe, MI is heavily treed for a suburb of a major city.  Ann Arbor calls it’s self tree-town, but it is definitely rivaled by the elms, oaks, and maples of Grosse Pointe. An abundance of trees comes with an abundance of squirrels. If you from a different kind of place you may think squirrels are cute fuzzy critters  – wrong! They are rats with furry tails that chew up your flowers, infest your garage, eat through the trash cans, and get into the house! The number of neighborhood squirrels had gotten so out of control that a particularly daring one checked out the boiler chimney to see if it was suitable for residents and promptly moved in.

* * *

We ate like kings growing up. My parents cooked meals from scratch every day and the kitchen was the center of the house. It was early fall and the temperatures were just beginning to drop when my mother and father noticed a light scratching noise coming from the Lazy-Susan cabinet in the corner of the kitchen. This wasn’t so unusual because we did have a few hamsters escape from time to time that we would discover (just before the cats snatched them up) rolling whole walnuts across the foyer. A few walnuts were always dropped during the holidays and the renegade hamsters would end up pulling them from the dark corners under the china cabinet or dresser. We checked the hamsters and found them in their proper place. So, what was making that noise?

After pulling out the stove to gain access to the side of the cabinet, my father removed the toe-kick and used a flashlight to look back into the corner and along the walls – and there, a gray hairy something glared back! Disgusting! Despite the occasional hamster jail break our house was immaculate. We each had a chore list 5 miles long to complete every weekend before we could go out and play. What was in the kitchen? A rat?!

Cats chase rats, right? We had two cats growing up, Pearly and Emerald. Pearly was sassy and smart, and Emerald was skittish and shy. In her youth, she would deposit dead birds in your shoes if you left them by the back door (gifts to her masters) and once chased a dog out of the backyard. She was one tough kitty. My father plopped her down by the open toe-kick, with the expectation that if there was a rat in there Pearly would put an end to it. To our surprise, the cat took one look at the gray hairy beast and high-tailed it out of there. Whatever was looming under the cabinet had terrified our fearless feline and we wanted it OUT. A stick, some tape, and a small mirror, and my dad had whipped up a tool to get a clear view of the critter without having to get to close. He extended the mirror-on-a-stick under the cabinet and shone the flashlight just right he could see that…it was a squirrel!

WARNING: PETA members should stop reading now.

We tried everything to get rid of the little vermin.  It was nimble enough to steal the bait from the mouse traps without being caught, and smart enough to avoid the live traps. Finally, we resorted to ‘poison peanuts’ that we stuffed back into its blockade. The poison worked and the grizzly task of pulling the dead squirrel out from underneath the cabinet was given to my father. He used a wire hanger with a hook bent into one end to snag the body and reached under the cabinet to hook it when….it growled. To be clear – dead things don’t make noise. Again, he hooked the squirrel and began to drag the body out and, “grrrrrawwrrrr”… emanated from the depths of the Lazy -Susan (dramatic, huh?). One more swift tug and the body, stiff and flat, slid out onto the floor. It was dead and definitely could not growl……which ment that there was another one in there.

We were stymied. This second squirrel was obviously the smart one and was not falling for poison laced nuts or snack laden traps.

* * *

My family was out shopping and my father was home alone. The dog was sleeping in his crate while my father toiled in the basement on new toe-kicks for the cabinet. He ran up to the kitchen to check a measurement and, LOW AND BEHOLD, there was the squirrel plunked down on its haunches at the dog bowl helping itself to the chow. They both froze, the dog went nuts, and then squirrel dashed back under the cabinet.

It was all out war at that point and the wily squirrel was not going to win no matter how persistent or clever it tried to be. After a quick re-group, and some wide-eyed story telling when the rest of the family got back from the mall, a new plan was born. My mother would agitate the squirrel with the hanger so it would come out into the kitchen and my brother would shoot it.   My dad, younger brother, and dog stood by while one cat hid under the dining room table and the other watched from a distance. My older brother cradled his be-be gun in his hands and sprawled out (sniper style) on the floor.  My mother grasped the wire hanger and poked/ jabbed into the cabinet void until – the squirrel did something no one was planning on. With the last jab, it leaped out from the cabinet into the air – arms, legs, and tail whirling. My mother screamed, my brother fell back, and the squirrel took off into the family room with the cat, dog, my dad, brothers, and mom in pursuit. It zigzagged into the breakfast nook and into the dining room where it met the other cat under the table. The cat shrieked and the squirrel fled through the front hall, past the living room, and into the study.

I joined the chase as I came through the storm door at the back of the house, and we all cornered the varmint beneath the radiator in the study. Needless to say, it did not escape that time. The squirrel is no more and my parents house was rodent free….for a short while.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT this happened not once, but twice. The chimney went un-capped all winter and through the next summer, and the following fall another squirrel came down the chimney and into the house. My mother was hoping for a more pleasant ending for this one, and after some research decided that driving it out with music was worth a try. She came across a really obnoxious polka AM radio station while working in the garage. We kept a vintage radio in the garage that we would turn on when we were washing the cars, or stripping/staining furniture, and that day it was repurposed into the ultimate weapon – audio torture. With the polka station turned up to full blast and positioned right at the toe-tick the squirrel had nowhere to go but out of the house.

After a few days of round-the-clock polka and no access to food, the poor thing couldn’t take it any more and left.

The chimney was promptly capped.

Check out more Tales From My Childhood here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2012 6:15 PM

    Haha! Oh my, I enjoyed this story.

    The only living creature we had invade the chimney at my parents’ house was a rogue PIGEON! We kept hearing cooing and couldn’t figure out where it came from….and then we looked at the fireplace. Hello, there, you winged rat you. It took us awhile to figure out how to get him out of the house without releasing him to fly around the room.


  1. A Home In College Hill

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