In our house, we have four cats. I’ll spare you the details of how that arrangement came to be, so let’s just say that if you feed a stray, and she has kittens on your porch, and you end up adopting them all because your five-year-old daughter says, “We have to keep them because you can’t break up a family…” that’s how you end up with four cats.
This means we have four full-time, well-fed, furry assassins.
The non-stop delivery service of captured creatures is part and parcel of the gig: Field mice, chipmunks, moles, voles, and birds all varying in health from alive to completely disassembled. I once had to apologize for background noise during a conference call when a Goldfinch had been brought inside the house very much against its will and was in the process of escaping. An ambiance that can only be described by Imagining The Blue Angels practicing in your Living Room while being chased by The Blues Brothers.
I used to be afraid of snakes, but the cats helped me get over that when they started to deliver them to me… alive. Kiwi (our All-Black cat), went so far as to hide a snake in my laptop bag last year. I discovered it when going to get a notepad, and out it came. By now I was so used to the abundance of these visitors that I just said, “Oh, a little baby! Let’s get you back outside, okay?”
I’ve rescued and cleaned up enough fauna over the last four years that I was confident in my ability to handle anything… or so I thought.
A few Tuesday nights ago, my family was cleaning up after dinner. My wife, Lynda, remarked that she’d heard the squeaking of a field mouse earlier that day, followed by the sounds of cats crashing into several of the baseboard radiators downstairs. We’d found three mice strewn about downstairs and figured that had been all for the day’s capture.
Suddenly, a shriek came from the living room.
Lynda ran to the cry. “Oh. My. God.” She exclaimed. You know that whatever is going to follow that opening is rarely good news. I walked into the living room. She didn’t even give me a chance to ask, but just pointed toward the baseboard.
“There’s a squirrel in the radiator.”
Looking down, I could see a tail, two little paws, and the side of its head. The tail was jammed upwards through the vanes of the heater, while its head was wedged underneath. It had been stuck there for at least four hours. The cats had run it underneath, but it was clear their quarry was no longer a part of the game; they moved on and left him there.
In my head, all noises ceased. All systems halted. All neurons froze in mid-fire, and synapses gapped. There was really a squirrel – a live squirrel – trapped in my house. The only thing I could think of was a seemingly useless page from my Boy Scout Handbook from 1981 or so: A pair of squirrels can destroy a house if left alone. If you ever have one inside, do not attempt to capture it yourself. Call for help.
I figured I’d go with outsourcing since the radiator was holding this guy in place. Eventually, I managed to reach a local wildlife trapping company that advertised itself as being able to handle emergencies. When the receptionist answered the phone, I could feel myself breathing out – help would be on the way, soon. She was understanding, empathetic, and took down all the details of our situation. Then she said, “Our normal business hours are 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday, so I’ll make sure someone is able to come out and take care of this for you tomorrow.”
“Ma’am…” I pleaded, “There’s a live squirrel in my living room right now. Squirrels don’t operate on a work schedule. You don’t have an on-call person for emergencies?” She replied sadly, “No, no we don’t.” So, they handle emergencies, but only during business hours. Got it. I thanked her and hung up.
Sensing I was at a loss, Lynda suggested, “Do you want me to call my dad?”
To any women out there, married or someday-to-be-married, please know that for men, this statement is the third rail. When your wife suggests calling her father while you’re trying to solve a problem, it acts as an ego-seeking missile that cuts through whatever defenses you have and hits your primal core with unimaginable force. If any man has a thermal exhaust port that can be used to turn him into a ball of supercharged, glowing, instant shrapnel, it’s when your wife suggests calling her father for help when you’re already at your limit.
While this might be very much well-intentioned, there is only one interpretation that a man will glean from such a suggestion: You can’t do it. I’d better get Dad.
MARRIED MAN RULE 1:
All married men spend their entire lives attempting to not be idiots in the eyes of their fathers-in-law.
MARRIED MAN RULE 2:
Any father of a daughter knows that it doesn’t matter – the husband will ALWAYS be an idiot.
“No…” I said to Lynda. “Please don’t.”
I knew that there were two possible outcomes here: Either I somehow free the squirrel and trap it, or I free the squirrel and it launches in a full-on wild animal panic, tearing around the house until the cats catch it, or I do. The third outcome I wanted to avoid was a last option: I’d get a shovel and take care of things quickly with one shot (hopefully). I really didn’t want to do that. My daughter, Katie, was watching this scene with her eyes as wide as plates, and when I looked at her, all I could think about was Jodie Foster as Agent Clarice Starling, telling the story about the lambs to Hannibal Lechter, and how they kept screaming…
I could only imagine what it might sound like if I got it wrong.
And then the front door opened. “HELLO…” boomed a familiar voice, as my mother-in-law walked in for an unbelievably-comically-timed, drive-by visit. “SO! How are things?” she asked. I was standing in the front hallway holding an upturned broomstick. I deadpanned, “Fine. There’s a live squirrel trapped in the living room.”
“There’s a what?”
“A squirrel,” I answered. “a live squirrel. In the radiator. Right now. Over there.”
I was radiating stress. I attempted to give off every non-verbal queue I could that perhaps now was not a good time. My mother-in-law looked past me over to the set of squirrel legs sticking out of the base and, the bushy tail sticking out of the top of the radiator. “You do,” she said. “You have a squirrel in your radiator.” And then she walked right past me and asked Katie, “So, how are you?”
The sun in my mind was suddenly blocked out, as the boulder teetered at 50.1% under control.
I just waited, contemplating. I had to acknowledge that now there was no way for my father-in-law not to be aware of the situation. If I was going to resolve it and keep from getting run over, I had to move into action, now.
I moved the couch away from the wall and walked over with the broomstick. With a little prodding, the squirrel clawed and shrieked, then moved down a few inches. The cats gathered around, as if they suddenly remembered, “Oh yeah! We forgot about this one.” While I was poking along, Lynda came over and said, “My Dad texted an idea. He said we should get the Shop Vac, so we don’t have to risk getting shredded by its claws…”
My brain immediately split into two debating halves. One side was all, HUZZAH! This is a great plan! No risk, we capture the thing like the Ghostbusters did to a spook, take the vacuum outside, set it free, and go home happy!
The other side replied, So let me get this plan right. You want to use a Shop Vac to attempt and pick up a trapped, panic-stricken, woodland creature from below your baseboard radiator. You want to VACUUM up something about the size of the hose and then set it free, assuming it lives after being sucked into a dark flex tube by hurricane-force winds. Sorry, but we vote Nay.
I must confess that a part of me really did want to see how the cartoon-like attempt at Hoovering this little guy would’ve played out, but I also had some compassion left – he was breathing very quickly, and just looked too big to fit – I didn’t want to risk it.
Lynda and Katie went upstairs, and I got back to moving him down with the broomstick. Lynda suggested, “Open the front door. It might run out.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Sure. Because everyone knows squirrels are polite creatures and will head for the door…” But I opened it just the same, because really, what difference would it make?
I pushed a little more with the broom, and it shrieked and clawed its way forward a few more inches. When it did, its little head popped out. I sensed something was about to happen, so I poked one more time…and with a sound like a diving board in mid-summer, the radiator base popped up, and out came running our little squirrel.
It ran right past all four cats, all of whom pivoted their heads in perfect unison, then turned towards one another, as if to say, Okay, who’s in?
“It’s OUT!” I yelled upstairs. “Stay there! I don’t know where it’ll go next!” I went running after it, holding the broom like a hockey stick in one hand, and grabbing a trash can in the other. The cats followed closely behind – It was a poor man’s fox hunt. I figured if I couldn’t corral it, the cats could.
The squirrel crashed into the closet door, turned hard right, and ran up the hallway in a full-tilt boogie. It’s worth noting, it somehow was heading right for the front door. Before I could turn the corner to catch up, I heard the unmistakable sound of a critter noggin crashing headlong into glass; I came around to find the squirrel desperately clawing at the storm door…as it could see outside.
I reached over as quickly as I could and unlatched the storm door. The squirrel leaped into the air, arced through the opening, and landed in the garden. It looked back, pivoted, and then soared into the darkness, leaving behind a contrail of leaves from the flowerbed. It scampered across the lawn into the night, as the cats watched the great escape play out.
I closed the door and sank to the floor. “It’s out…” I exhaled. Lynda answered, “It’s out? How?” I had to take back all my sarcasm and give credit, “It went out the front door, just like you said it would.”
In my imagination, I used the last bit of adrenaline to push my boulder back up toward the top, and let it rest. I allowed myself the slightest of smiles; partly because things had all worked out, and partially because I really, really, really needed to know: Could a ShopVac really suck up a squirrel?
If I get the chance, I’ll let you know.
Maybe I should try it with a mouse first.
When not paddling or running, Bob resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania with his absurdly patient wife, his 17 year-old daughter, and four cats that pretty much run the house.