Keep outside out

There are some living things that simply belong outside.

Bats, rats, mice, possums, raccoons, skunks and elephants are on that list.

While the chance of finding a pachyderm in your living room – at least in Iowa – is pretty slim, some of the others can frequently find their way into people’s homes, usually without an invitation.

Dakota Drish, Iowa Department of Natural Resources conservation officer for Webster and Humboldt counties, has some tips on getting lost critters back out into their own environment.

Bats are a frequent visitor; the insect-eating flying mammals are the subject of a few urban legends, especially when it comes to variations on the Dracula theme.

The best tool for rescuing them is found near the fishing tackle in the garage.

“A fish net works great to catch them,” Drish said. “Take them outside and release them.”

Other methods include putting a coffee can over the bat if it’s on the floor, then sliding a piece of cardboard under the can. Throwing a towel on them and then taking that outside is another method, but it carries a bit of a risk.

“Be careful when you pick up the towel,” Drish cautioned.

Regardless of how the bat is removed, it’s important to avoid direct contact with it. While most bats are free of disease, some do carry rabies.

“If you do get bit,” Drish said, “seek medical attention.”

If that does happen, the bat should be brought along for testing. If the animal is not available, medical professionals will have no choice but to proceed with a series of shots to prevent the disease.

Also, in Iowa bats are a protected species. With the exception of them being inside a residence, it’s illegal to kill them.

“Try to get them out without harming them,” Drish said.

Other animals invade homes too. Most of the time there’s a reason for it; it has to do with food, usually pet food, that’s put out outside.

“That will draw the animals to that residence,” he said.

The best way to get rid of them is to stop feeding them.

“Remove the food source,” Drish said.

That also includes the garbage, he said. Leaving the tempting can full of what the animals consider a meal outside is pretty much a signed invitation. Minimize the amount of time the cans sit outside before collection.

The best way to deal with nuisance animals is to live trap them, then releasing them elsewhere. While this isn’t a part of a conservation officer’s job, the officer can put homeowners in contact with individuals who are certified by the DNR to deal with nuisance animals.

Several options are not available.

For instance, it’s illegal to poison wildlife.

It’s also illegal to shoot nuisance animals within city limits. For residents who live in rural areas where shooting is legal, residents need to make sure they comply with hunting regulations.

Another option not available? Dialing 911.

Fort Dodge Police Chief Tim Carmody said the bat in the living room or the raccoon in the garbage is simply not considered a police issue.

“We don’t deal with wild animals or rodents,” he said. “Also, our animal control contract does not include wildlife.”

There are, however, private individuals and pest control companies in the area that do deal with them. By calling the non-emergency police number at 573-2323, a resident can be referred to them.

But preventing the problem in the first place is always better than fixing it later.

Drish suggests looking for points of entry and sealing them, removing food sources and cleaning up brush and junk piles that shelter small animals. Trim trees back away from buildings to deny squirrels access and get any foundation issues that harbor animals fixed, he said.