Published November 1, 2021
The high point of this story occurred on a Wednesday evening when, consumed with righteous anger, my husband and I found ourselves driving one and a half hours each way — in rush-hour traffic, no less — to the western suburbs of Virginia, where we purchased a life-size fake owl, a head flashlight, bird-deterrent spikes, and several other top-secret supplies.
We were going to catch ourselves a squirrel.
The unfortunate saga had begun about a week earlier, when I detected an ominous, repetitious clicking over my head. I was in our bedroom, sitting in an armchair and reading a book. The noises were too intermittent to be electrical, and the sky outside was bright blue, not a rain cloud in sight. I was baffled; this was a blissful era in my life, back before I knew that wild animals could inhabit an attic crawl space.
My husband and I live in a townhouse in Virginia, which, unbeknownst to me until now, boasts a tiny attic, the sort you can just barely squeeze into through a ceiling trapdoor in a second-story closet — and in which furry little mammals love to shelter as autumn approaches.
In our case, it was a squirrel, who, according to the exterminator who arrived three days later, had found his way inside through a tiny construction gap in the roofline. The same exterminator, after charging us a hefty fee merely for appearing on the premises, assured us that he’d take care of all our woes for the modest sum of several thousand dollars. There were nests aplenty upstairs, he said with a sigh, and he’d need to undertake a large sanitation project.
We sent him on his way, tempting as it was to have the problem handled by an expert. When we borrowed a ladder to examine the attic for ourselves, we found that, contrary to what the trustworthy exterminator had assured us, there was nary a nest in sight — indeed, hardly any evidence that a squirrel had been there at all.
Yet we knew that he had. The infernal clicking had continued apace over the course of three days, and it seemed to be escalating. Evidently, the little fellow was crafting himself a cozy home for the winter.
It was at this point that we violated the No. 1 rule of removing wild animals from your attic crawl space: Never, no matter the circumstances, blockade an animal’s access point before you’ve captured or otherwise done away with him. If you choose to violate this rule, you will bring upon yourself a world of hurt, a lesson we learned painfully over subsequent weeks.
When the squirrel had popped out of the attic for a bite to eat, our landlord helped us block off the construction gap with wire mesh and caulking, things no ordinary squirrel could chew through. Problem solved, right?
As it happened, this was no ordinary squirrel. Rather than noticing the obstruction of his normal entry point and going his merry little way, our rodent friend took the steel roadblock as an insult and something of a challenge. He spent the next three days chewing near-constantly at it, directly above our bed. He kept at his task from dawn until well after dusk, with occasional breaks to help himself to a snack in our front yard.
From our post in the living room, we’d step outside to watch him work. When he was feeling particularly cheeky, the squirrel would peek his head out from over the gutter, resting his paws on either side of his face, and stare down at us with a mixture of rage and sheer determination. He took to racing around on the roof during short breaks from hearty wall-chewing, issuing an odd cry that our neighbor — who happens to be a volunteer wildlife rescuer — described as a sign of squirrel distress.
“I think what this means,” he informed us, “is that our squirrel is depressed.”
He wasn’t the only one.
After several days of singular devotion to his task, the squirrel gnawed straight through the sheet-metal siding to restore himself to his rightful place as lord of our attic. He had won himself his prize, and he had a well-deserved mangled mouth to show for it.
At this point, I briefly considered packing up and moving to another home, allowing the squirrel to run rampant in ours for as long as he wished. There seemed to be little point in resisting a creature so hell-bent on retaking his turf. But my husband insisted we continue the good fight, and so we did.
Our neighbor, though he boasts an impressive record of wild-animal rescues, had little luck coaxing the insane squirrel from the premises. Over the course of the next few weeks, as the battles intensified, there were some unfortunate casualties better left unmentioned, and we were forced to try tactics we can never recount for public consumption, lest the relevant authorities discover us.
In the end, it was a war of attrition. As of this writing, we are the temporary victors. The second hole our squirrel so valiantly established in the siding has been patched up, and so far has been left untouched. He neither cries atop our roof nor nibbles at its walls. We can rest easy once again. But the disturbing truth is that the squirrel remains at large, and if I know anything about him, it’s that someday we’ll see him again.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.