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August 2005
Stop the Stomping! A Guide to Humane Pest Control
By Kymberlie Adams Matthews


So you’ve finally moved into your dream apartment—or at least one that’s bigger than a breadbox—and are looking forward to settling into happily ever after (or at least until the next rent hike). But no sooner do you finish carting the last box of bootleg CDs up six floors and plop onto the couch for a well-deserved evening of soy pizza and Everybody Loves Raymond re-runs, when you realize you’re not quite alone. A scratching sound from your wall fills you with dread. Hold the eerie music please. This sound—the scampering of little paws—is all too familiar for urbanities. Rats! Mice!

And though Tofu Pups may flourish in your freezer, no amount of compassion can get you to adopt the squad of cockroaches scuttling about your kitchen floor or that leggy spider lurking under your toilet. Let’s face it—your prized apartment has already been leased. Welcome to urban living!

The good news is that dealing with these unwanted roommates is not impossible. There are many simple ways to solve your domestic disputes without resorting to toxic chemicals, cruel traps, or stomping feet.

Basic Preventative Measures
• Tightly—and I mean tightly—store all food. Make sure those lids actually fit the Tupperware containers filled with savory leftovers and companion-animal food.

• Move over Tim the Tool man Taylor, it’s time to take on a little home improvement tasks of your own. To keep critters from entering your home, be sure to completely seal holes with quick dry cement or other sealant; screen over ventilation and other openings; and stuff steel wool around pipes in the kitchen, bathroom and openings for electric and telephone wires, sewer pipes, and drain spouts.

• Okay, I know it is no one’s favorite thing…so flip a coin or play a game of rock, paper, scissors, just please take out the trash! Garbage is the number one cause of all infestations. And make sure your trash bins have securely fastened lids.

• Make sure you rinse out your recycables—nothing quite like a morsel of goopy dog food or vegan take-out to attract a stampede of crawlies. And take out your recyclables and clean the bins regularly. Like trash bins, they are high on the list of tasties for pesties.

• Although I am rather guilty of this next one, never, ever go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. In fact don’t do anything after a meal until you wash your plates. And be sure to scrape scraps into the garbage before placing them in the sink.

• Wipe off your counters thoroughly. It is also important to remove grease—a popular food for insects, especially cockroaches—from stoves, ovens, microwaves and countertops.

Non-Lethal Remedies
These little insects really do travel in armies and can easily perform a mass invasion overnight. The best way to keep the troops from raiding your home is to remove all sources of appeal—namely, food. When the ants do come marching in, try to pinpoint their entry. Use caulk to seal all possible entrances into the house, remembering that ants are tiny and can fit through almost any small opening. Thankfully, there are many natural repellents you can place around your home to prevent ant conflicts. Try placing cinnamon sticks, cayenne pepper, lavender, garlic or dried peppermint leaves near ant entrances. Try liberal applications of these (the more concentrated the better) on a regular basis. A concoction that may work can be created by steeping one crushed clove of garlic, one tablespoon of cayenne pepper and one quart of water for about an hour and then adding one tablespoon of liquid soap. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spray it around the house. Planting mint around the foundation of the house or in window boxes will also help keep ants at bay.

Nature addicts—green thumb or not—attempt to bring a bit of nature indoors. Unfortunately aphids, those small soft bodied insects, commonly come from our indoor greenery. To discourage nesting, recreate the conditions of outdoor plants—dew and breezes—by regularly spritzing with water and running a fan on the plants.

Besides being downright annoying, these pesky insects do plenty of harm to our companion animals. Fleas are the leading cause of dog and cat allergies, skin infections, anemia, and tapeworm infestations. Try repelling them by spraying your carpet or furniture with tea-tree, eucalyptus, mint, rosemary and lavender oils mixed with water. Being the mom of many furry ones, I strongly recommend some type of flea control for your companion animals. A plethora of herbal treatments can be found at

Flies & Fruit Flies
What’s that sound? A bird? A plane? No, it’s a fly—run! There is a lot of animosity toward these small insects. And it’s really no wonder, they seem to be everywhere—especially on your food. They also have the potential to contaminate food with bacteria and other disease-producing organisms. I found the best way to keep them out of your home is to use fine mesh screens on windows or by burning citronella oil or basil oil near open windows. Hanging mint or a fresh pine branch around the home also repels flies. Citrus peel is a great repellent—scratching the rind of a fresh orange or lemon and leaving it out will allow the citrus oil to escape and help say goodbye.

The best way to avoid problems with fruit flies is to eliminate sources of attraction. Produce that has ripened should be eaten, discarded or refrigerated. Cracked or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables should be cut away and discarded in the event that eggs or larvae are present in the wounded area. A humane approach to eliminating fruit flies is to construct a trap by placing a paper funnel (rolled sheet of paper) into a jar that is then baited with a few ounces of cider vinegar. Place the jar traps wherever fruit flies are seen. This simple, but effective trap will catch flies who can later be released outdoors.

The best way to keep roaches and other insects out is to make your home as undesirable to them as possible. No access to food! Water is also a necessity for roaches, so even a few drops in your kitchen sink is an attraction. Now you can try placing bay leaves, cucumbers, garlic, or catnip around your home to repel them. But unfortunately I have got to tell you, NYC roaches seem to be in a class of their own and are immune to just about everything.

You can also trap and release roaches humanely by taping newspaper to the outside of a glass jar, smearing Vaseline along the inside of the jar’s lip, and placing food inside. Roaches who climb into the jar are unable to climb back out over the Vaseline. Simply release them outside.

Rats and Mice
I bet you had no idea that a rat’s fur smells like grape soda or that they can hold their breath for three minutes and can tread water for three days. You don’t have to like them, but folks, you really should respect them.

The first line of defense is to rodent-proof your building to prevent more animals from entering. Keeping mice and rats out of buildings is no small feat, especially if your landlord is unwilling to make the needed repairs, in which case you may have to settle for proofing just your apartment. You can also rodent-proof a cupboard by ensuring that there are absolutely no cracks—caulk works great. By preventing access to all food sources, you will force rodents to move out in search of more hospitable lodging.

For those critters already inside, live traps are an excellent alternative to the deadly traps commonly used to deal with a house mouse or rat. On a side note, rodents tend to live in family units, therefore it’s a good idea to remove the whole family together. When using the live-trap method consider setting up a box or tank in a garage or closet to house captured critters while you trap additional members so they can all be relocated together.

Bats, Pigeons and Other Winged Critters
So, a winged critter has flown into your home. First thing first: do not panic. I promise they are more scared of you. Quickly but gently, walk around the room closing all interior doors. Create an escape route by opening one window or door to the outside. If that doesn’t work, try to capture them with a towel—being careful not to bruise, crush or suffocate this extremely fragile critter—and escort them outside.

Humane Equipment

I know this sounds a bit X-Files-ish, but I know it really works! The latest ultrasonic devices produce discomforting, but not harmful, high frequency sounds, audible only to nonhuman animals. Many household pests hear sounds far above the hearing range of humans—the products emit ultrasonic sound waves that are specially designed to repel mice, rats, ants, spiders, moles, dogs, and others from the area. To learn more contact or (800) 800-1819.

Live Traps
When all else fails, humane live traps can be used to trap and relocate urban critters. Traps range in size to accommodate small animals such as mice and rats, to larger ones that can trap raccoons and even dogs. The traps are usually comprised of plastic or metal rectangles with a spring-release trap door at one end that automatically shuts once the animal enters the trap. The trap then doubles as a carrier so the animal can easily be relocated. Live, humane traps are widely available and have the added benefit of being reusable. To learn more contact or (800) 800-1819.

So when critters come a-knockin’, politely tell them, sorry buddies, but there’s no vacancy.




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