By BRENNA GRITEMAN

LIFE EDITOR

It’s a scenario nightmares are made of: You shuffle into the kitchen for a late-night snack, unassumingly switch on a light and, what’s that stopped dead in its tracks?! A tiny, hairy face of evil staring up at you!

You both freeze in wide-eyed panic. You scream and haul your pajama-clad self back to the couch where you huddle helplessly.

The mouse makes its getaway back to whatever corner of hell it came from.

And just like that your moonlit dreams of popcorn and chocolate-chip cookies are dashed. Now all you can think of is those tiny mouse hands, the beady little eyes, and whatever family it might be harboring in your now sullied home.

Do you need to find a new place to live now? How can you wash and sanitize an entire home?

As the calendar ticks closer to autumn, this unfortunate scenario will no doubt gain frequency in homes across America.

And local rodent control experts’ schedules will become busier.

“Typically in the fall my mouse calls increase because of colder nights, the crops being removed from fields,” says David Hartzell, who has operated Critter Getter in Findlay since 1989.

Hartzell says the most common mice he encounters in homes are deer mice, which are tan-colored and marked something like a hamster. And once these mice have found a way into a home, “it’s very easy for the population to get out of control.”

A female can have four to seven pups per litter, and may birth up to four litters in a year. Therefore, it is very important once a mouse is detected in the home to determine and close off any potential access points.

Jim Riley of Mauger Exterminating Co., also of Findlay, advises including rodent control efforts in your regular home winterization process. This includes inspecting the seals around doors and windows, checking the foundation — especially where siding begins, and searching for any air leaks.

“You want to do the same for other types of invaders — not just the cold air,” Riley explains. “A mouse, if it can get its head inside an opening, it can easily get its body through … some people say (a space) the size of a nickel or smaller.”

Both Hartzell and Riley identify an overhead garage door as the most common rodent entry point to a home. Other recommendations include assuring that tree branches or other landscaping do not touch the home, and removing heavy ground cover or weed patches near the house, which can harbor mice and rats.

Attics, too, offer “safe harborage” for rodents, Hartzell notes.

So how do you know if you have a rodent taking up residence in your home?

Keep an eye peeled for droppings or damaged food products. Gnaw marks or shredded packaging are a pretty strong indicator that “you’ve got residents,” Hartzell says.

After all, mice and rats are foragers who, along with a cozy place to sleep, are on the hunt for a handy food source.

“Their sense of smell is easily better than a dog’s,” Riley says of mice. “All they’re doing is what nature generated them to do. So they’re looking for food.”

He advises keeping candy and other treats contained inside plastic containers or glass jars, even inside a pantry.

“When you eliminate the food source, you’re going a long way in eliminating the rodent itself,” he says.

The rest of the elimination process, it seems, depends on who you ask.

According to Hartzell, baits should be employed over traps, as baits work 24/7. Traps can assist in controlling a mouse population, he says, but they must be set correctly, placed in a heavy-mouse-traffic location and dutifully maintained.

Rodent bait stations used by Critter Getter are tamper-resistant, in accordance with the law, meaning children and pets cannot get into them. Still, Hartzell prefers to place bait systems out of small arms’ reach, such as under the stove and refrigerator and in the attic.

Rats, he warns, are a bit harder to deal with, based on their high intelligence and their propensity to establish a pattern of behavior. Further, they will avoid an area where they’ve previously encountered humans.

“Rats are extremely wary. And extremely intelligent,” Hartzell says. “With rats you have to disrupt their normal feeding habits to get them to cooperate with what you want them to feed on.”

Riley, on the other hand, “strongly discourages” using rodent bait inside a home. He points out bait could backfire by attracting rodents to the area and also doesn’t work as immediately as a trap.

Further, he cautions that mice are foragers and tend to retreat to their nests in wall voids and attics, leaving the homeowner with no good method to remove their bodies.

Riley suggests using glue board traps inside kitchen drawers, for example, and using multi-catch traps elsewhere in the home. These no-kill traps corral mice and have a translucent top that makes your mouse-catching progress easy to track. An old-fashioned snap trap remains an effective tool as well, although Riley notes this type is easy to trigger accidentally.

Unfortunately for those innocent, mouse-fearing, pajama-clad folks mentioned above, Hartzell says mouse calls to his business are on the rise. Already this year he has responded to more distressed homeowners than he did in fiscal 2017. He attributes this unfortunate trend to the milder winters sweeping the Midwest.

“We’re having more creatures survive winter due to the milder temperatures,” he says.

You have been warned.

Griteman: 419-427-8477

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Twitter: @BrennaGriteman

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