Animal-removal companies in the GTA are getting swamped with calls to deal with troublesome squirrels, a side effect, they say, of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
With more Torontonians working from home, fewer squirrels have been run down because there aren’t as many vehicles on the road. That has led to more opportunities for homeowners to become annoyed with scratching and clawing in their attics and roofs.
Bill Dowd, president of Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control, said squirrel-removal calls to his company had risen 30 per cent since the pandemic began, and have surpassed the number of raccoon-removal calls by 15 per cent.
“Pre-COVID, [they] might hear something in the walls or ceiling, and then they think it’s nothing. And then it might take them another week or two before [they] hear that again,” Mr. Dowd said. “People kind of try and talk themselves out of it, but now if they’re working from home every day, and they keep hearing the noise day in and day out, they’re like, ‘Okay, we got to do something about this.’ ”
Brad Gates, president and chief executive of AAA Gates’ Wildlife Control, said his company has been seeing a rise in the number of red squirrels, particularly in North York, Willowdale and north of Highway 401.
He estimated that the number of red squirrels, which tend to be more aggressive and destructive than black and brown squirrels, has “more than doubled” since the start of the pandemic.
“Right now, we have a bit of a boom in our calls for squirrels because the baby squirrels now have their land legs and they’re starting to move about within the attic,” Mr. Gates said.
“When people have been experiencing the noise of one squirrel, they can have as many as seven or eight in there now. They were in there all along, but they now hear seven or eight moving about in the attic.”
In Markham, he added, the red-squirrel calls have gone “out of control.”
“I would say every second job I do is for red squirrels this year, when I might deal with 12 calls in an entire season.”
He credits the drop in traffic as a key factor in the bushy-tailed population explosion: “If the cars aren’t moving about in the city, they’re not running over squirrels. For every one [female] squirrel that doesn’t get run over, it’s going to give birth twice in a calendar year, producing 12 more babies. So that would add up very quickly, just by having one less squirrel run over by a car.”
The increase in food waste during the pandemic – with people eating at home more often – has made raccoons a bigger issue as well. Mr. Gates said he has seen the number of calls about raccoons increase 30 per cent since the onset of COVID-19.
“There’s lots of old houses that they can break into and make a den site. There’s plenty of food available,” he said.
“Even though we’ve gone to these green bins, there are people that feed them, there are bird feeders, there are people that just don’t put their food waste in the proper bins or don’t lock the bins. Those bins are stored outside, so any time you have those two components in abundance, you’re going to see a population boom.”
This has been happening as raccoon rescue calls made to Toronto Animal Services (TAS), which only deals with calls for sick or injured animals, have also risen in the past year.
TAS supervisor Carl Bandow said the city has seen a “severe outbreak” of distemper among raccoons since the pandemic began.
“This picked up in the late summer, early fall, where we were receiving close to 2,000 service requests a month, just for sick raccoons,” Mr. Bandow said.
Distemper is caused by an airborne virus and affects animals such as ferrets, raccoons, skunks and grey foxes. For raccoons, specifically, it causes them to become disoriented, lethargic and less aggressive.
Raccoons with distemper can approach people and sleep in public spaces. They can also be prone to seizures, foaming at the mouth and discharge coming from their eyes and nose.
Humans can’t contract distemper, but if they come in contact with the virus, they can transfer it to their pets from their clothing.