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All creatures great and small

The Grid

By Matthew Halliday View this article as a PDF

"Watch out for the raccoon feces."

Perched on the roof of a bungalow in Don Mills this past Monday, Brad Gates gestured to a pile of dried-out scat covering the shingles. "Raccoons like to do their business up high," he said.

Gates, 49, is the founder of AAA Gates' Wildlife Control, a "humane" wildlife removal company. He briefly became Toronto's most famous raccoon expert last month when a member of his staff found rare albino baby raccoons at an east-end home. In business for 27 years now, Gates spent his childhood in 1970s Scarborough raising creatures most people consider urban pests - rabbits, pigeons and a pet raccoon named Mandy, whom he found through an article in the Scarborough Mirror. "Raccoons are super-intelligent animals," Gates said. "Some studies place them just below monkeys."

Gates removes many different kinds of wild animals, including raccoons, possums, skunks and bats. On Monday, he was investigating strange noises in the attic of a house backing onto the Don Valley. The roof looked normal, except for the dryer's rooftop ventilation unit, which was wide open. Despite the nearby raccoon droppings, Gates decided it was too small an opening for a raccoon. He asked the homeowner about it, and she recalled an incident last summer when a squirrel tumbled down the vent and into the clothes-dryer. When she opened it up, the squirrel shot out and darted into the basement. That time, the homeowner dealt with the squirrel herself, using bed sheets to create a baited pathway to the front door. Gates had a different line of attack: he installed a one-way, exit-only door, set up at the vent opening and baited with peanut butter. He made a plan to return in two days. If a mother squirrel were waiting on the roof, unable to get back inside the house, it would mean there were still babies in the attic. Gates reasoned he would let the mom-squirrel back inside for a week or so, until the young were able to leave the attic on their own. And once they were out, he'd animal-proof the entry point.

Homeowners are often confused when the guy they hired to remove their animal invaders lets them back in, but Gates said they usually come around. "People call and say we don't have to be humane, they just want them gone. But as soon
as you show them the babies, they go, 'You're not going to hurt them, are you?'"

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