Critter Getter: New Service Removes Nuisance Animals

LIVING

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It seemed like a good idea at the time. And besides, it sort of dropped into Rim country resident Pete Hold's lap:

"This guy just happened to be passing through town, so he stopped at Bank One and asked who in town had a telecommunications business."

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Pete Hold, owner of Critters Etc., shows Craig McMullen, Arizona Game and Fish field supervisor, one of the smaller traps he uses to catch nuisance wildlife. Hold releases the animals back into the forest.

Hold did, and the guy, Lee Queen, wanted to buy it.

"We met in the Safeway parking lot and that's where it started," Hold said.

What started was a life of leisure for Hold. Only it turned out it wasn't all that great.

"For two years I've been playing softball every day, going to the gym three days a week, walking five days a week," he said. "I needed something else."

Something else ended up being Critters Etc., Hold's latest venture. He calls it a "wildlife control service."

"If people have nuisance wildlife such as skunks, coons, bats, foxes, bobcats, ground squirrels, I'll go trap them and remove them from the premises, take them out in the wilds, and let them loose," he said.

He forgot to mention snakes. Of course, Hold charges for the service.

"In the local area, I charge $45 to go out and survey the situation, set up the traps," he said. "It doesn't really cover all my expenses, but then I charge per animal.

"For a skunk and a coon I charge $70 apiece, bobcats 80, squirrels 30."

Hold is licensed by Arizona Game and Fish.

"This is a really outstanding program that we run statewide," Craig McMullen, Game and Fish field supervisor, said. "We have just a limited number of officers in the state and the volume of calls we get to try to address human-wildlife conflicts is way too high for us to be able to address every one of them, so the department licenses people like Pete to be able to handle these calls that we cannot get to."

Previously, people with a nuisance wildlife issue had to call Gila County animal or rabies control, or they had to deal with the problem themselves.

"The county does it," Hold said, "but I think most of the animal control people would just as soon not do it."

Due mostly to manpower issues, Game and Fish actually encourages people to handle animal problems themselves.

"Because the volume of calls is so high we can't get to every one of them, our normal course of action on a human-wildlife conflict is just to provide some educational materials and encourage them to self-help," McMullen said.

"This program affords the person with a wildlife conflict another option, so if they don't have the time or the ability or the willingness to actually work on other solutions besides removing attractants or something like that, Pete can come on the scene and he's trained, licensed and he's educated on handling all these different things."

Another significant plus to the program is that the animals are returned to the forest rather than killed. Hold uses traps primarily, but not for snakes.

"I got a set of forceps out there with a five foot long handle to pick them up, because you can't trap a snake," he said. "If it can get in a trap, it usually can get out."

Game and Fish insists that all animals be treated humanely.

"You, as a private citizen, can kill a nuisance animal if you want to because it's a varmint," Hold said. "I can't do that, and I have to keep a log of everything I do. Besides, it's good for business when you keep 'em alive."

Actually, Hold takes animals at least 10 miles from where he traps them.

"That way they're not going to come back, at least right away," he said.

Before calling Hold, people need to realistically assess the problem.

"If the animal is doing no damage, it's no problem," Hold said.

But damage can be broadly defined. It ranges from raccoons getting into the insulation of a house to bats in the attic.

"Another thing coons will do frequently is catch ornamental fish, and they'll tear open your garbage can or whatever it is you're keeping your dog or pet food in," McMullen said. "When you have grubs that grow in your grass, a lot of times they'll just tear your grass up to get at the grubs. They can be heck on gardens."

An encounter between a domestic pet and a nuisance animal is rare, but not unheard of.

"If a dog gets possessive over its food and a raccoon wants it too, a raccoon can really tear up a dog," McMullen said. "Generally we don't have a lot of that, but it sure is a potential."

Skunks are also a frequent source of problems.

"They're nocturnal animals and if they're living in the interstices of your house, they can keep you awake," McMullen said. "They've got the smell, and then of course they're harbingers of disease."

Although Hold is no longer bored, he won't be wrestling a bear anytime soon.

"He can do any predatory or fur-bearing animal, and also non-game animals -- basically anything but big game and game mammals," McMullen said. "We handle lions and bears -- the big ones."

Hold is just fine with that.

"I'm having fun so far," he said.

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