Maynard Stanley, Jr., an Owls Head wildlife control professional better known as the “Critter Catcher ,” is used to getting frantic phone calls from people seeking his help to deal with mice, rats and other pests invading their homes.
Still, a call he received a few years ago from a young midcoast mother stands out. The woman called him as a raccoon stood on a garbage can outside her home, peering in through a screen to her porch. Agitated, she told Stanley she thought the raccoon was going to break into her house. Stanley asked her if she had been feeding the raccoon.
“She said, ‘Well yeah, we fed him for awhile, because the kids liked it.’ I said, ‘and you stopped?’ She said, ‘Yeah, the kids weren’t entertained anymore, so we stopped feeding him,’” he remembered her telling him.
Bad idea, Stanley thought. Then things got more frightening on the other end of the phone call.
“She says, ‘I think he’s going to try to come into the screen room.’ Then she started screaming. The raccoon ripped the screen out and came into the porch while she’s talking to me,” he said.
It was scary — but it was also an opportunity to learn something important about the natural world. To Stanley, who has been catching critters for more than 35 years, animals are not complicated, unknowable beings: they are simple. When you feed them, they believe that they are in charge — not you.
“When you feed a raccoon or any of these animals, they see you giving them your food,” he said. “They don’t think, ‘oh, these kind people are giving us something to eat’ … this is what happens. The raccoon knows the food’s in there. He knows he’s in charge. He doesn’t understand why you’re not giving him the food, so he’s going to come in and get it. So it’s a lesson to be learned. Animals don’t see us as benevolent, kind creatures. They just look at us like inferiors.”
But many people don’t know these basic truths about wild animals, which is why he’s very happy to share with others the wisdom he’s gleaned from a lifetime of hunting, trapping and catching critters. Stanley, 65, a friendly bear of a man wearing head-to-toe camouflage, has just the kind of competent presence you would want when a raccoon is breaking into your home or in other wildlife emergencies.
He got his start in his field as a child, when he was taught by his family woodscraft and respect for the natural world. He started trapping back then, getting rid of nuisance animals such as woodchucks for his neighbors, but then moved away from wildlife control as an adult. Instead, he tried his hand at other types of work, including a stint at the local cement plant, gunsmithing, and even running a bakery. He continues to pursue hobbies such as competitive cooking, and won third place this year at the Maine Lobster Festival seafood cooking contest with his entry of a lobster, shiitake and leek spring roll.
He got into wildlife control after he was working as a caretaker for a family with animal problems. Stanley solved those problems for them, and they told their friends. For awhile he was busy helping people as a favor, but eventually, he and his wife, Norma, decided that they could make some money if they did it as a business. Critter Catcher has grown every year, he said.
People call them to trap animals such as mice, rats, squirrels and bats that have gotten into their homes, he said. But the company’s primary business is to keep animals out of the houses in the first place, and he has some tips as to how to do that.
The number one thing, he said, is to stop feeding wild animals.
That feeding of the animals can be intentional, as it was with the mom and the raccoon, or unintentional, the way it is when people leave pet food out all the time. Dog and cat food that’s just sitting around in pet dishes will draw rodents such as rats to your home, and once they’re there, they quickly multiply.
“Rodents will take over your house,” he said. “One pair of mice can be responsible for over 100 mice in one year. If you don’t take control of your property, wildlife will take it over.”
One of his clients had a rat problem but thought it would go away on its own. It didn’t. By the time they called Stanley, the rats had started to take over the kitchen, by doing things like knocking over boxes of dog bones and ripping the box to shreds before eating all the bones. Entire loaves of bread would disappear. He trapped 30 rats in their home before he was done.
Which brings him to another tip: how to best trap animals from a house. Stanley does not believe in using poisons, such as chemical traps, to kill rodents, because the animals will head outside to die.
“They’re out wandering around half dead, their stomachs full of poison. And then the owls and hawks eat them and it poisons the hawks and owls,” he said.
He traps and relocates critters such as squirrels, bringing them at least eight miles away from the house so they won’t find their way back, but just before winter that’s not very humane.
“This time of year, for me to relocate a squirrel is like me taking you up to the Allagash and kicking you out and saying ‘have a nice winter,’” he said. “You’re taking them away from their food, their home. They’re just going to starve or freeze to death. Better to kill them and feed them to the other wildlife.”
For trapping and killing rodents, he recommends that squeamish people look into the clothespin style of mouse traps, where you don’t have to touch the dead animals. Instead, you hold the traps over a bag, squeeze the back of it and the mouse or rodent falls out and the trap gets reset automatically. What to do with the dead rodent? That’s easy, too, he said. Just find a spot in your backyard where crows or other animals can find it and eat it. Always use the same spot and the other animals will keep it cleaned out.
“Most people say they don’t want to kill animals, but I tell them you’ve got to recycle. You’re putting them back into the food chain,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing.”