To Trap a Marmot

Imagine you’re walking along a path and you encounter an overpass. On one side of the sidewalk, there is a hillside covered with rocks and on the other side there is a small gravel area and then a creek. Like this:

marmot overpass

Sitting in the small gravel area, are two people in camping chairs, facing the rocky slope, eating and reading books.

marmot overpass

Would you think this was strange? Would you have the nerve to say something to these people? Or would you stare straight ahead, hoping they wouldn’t lure you over with a chocolate cupcake?

crazy cupcake lady

What if I told you there was a marmot in those rocks? And these people were trying to trap it, so it could be returned to the mountains where it belonged?

marmot overpass

That wouldn’t seem so crazy, would it?

You better be shaking your head no, because that’s exactly what we did about two years ago….

One day, on my regular walk during lunch (because I am very diligent about my exercise routine, as you all know), I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. There was this creature standing on one of the rocks, up on his hind legs, surveying the area.

yellow bellied marmot

Now, I’m no expert on the genus Marmota, but this was certainly a yellow-bellied marmot, and he was not supposed to be living this close to the Cherry Creek Mall. If he needed a new winter coat that badly, he could stop at the outlets in Silverthorne – much closer to his desired habitat of 6,500 feet or higher.

marmot mountains

I contacted the Division of Wildlife and was essentially told that if I trapped the marmot, they would take him back to the mountains. Um, okay. You’re the Division of Wildlife, and I’m a nurse who works in an office and have had zero training in setting traps, handling a wild animal, and preventing the spread of zoonotic disease, but sure, I’ll give it a go.

Instead of going right to the animal trap store, because that would be silly, I made a few more calls and was finally referred to Jack. Jack was a very busy man. You see it was raccoon season and he had a huge shipment of raccoon feed coming in for all the rescue raccoons residing in his backyard. But, he’d already had calls about this marmot. Yes, my marmot was famous. He’d been tracking the little guy as he made his way down the creek, from one neighborhood to the next.

I convinced my boss to let me go early, because, duh, there was a marmot that needed tending to at the creek, and this took precedence over people with complaints about their healthcare.

Jack set up his trap and we watched and waited, and watched and waited. An hour and half later, Jack had to go. There were more raccoon centric chores that had to be done and it was getting late.

That’s when my poor husband got involved. The next day we tried the trap that my dad let me borrow. We set up our chairs and intently watched our baited trip on the rocky hillside. Within minutes a bunny sniffed out the booty. I jumped up and shooed the saboteur away. A few minutes later he returned. And again, I shooed him away. As soon as I was about to panic, the marmot’s head appeared from within the rocks. He scampered over to the trap, triggered it and then ran right out. The trap was too small.

So the next day, we went to the ranch and home supply store and asked for the traps.

“What’re you trying to trap?” asked the man.

“A marmot,” I said.

He shrugged. “That’s a first.”

I shrugged back and sipped my iced soy latte with cinnamon.

“You’ll want the raccoon sized one,” he said.

I nodded like this was quite obvious.

We placed the trap and waited. Now it seemed like he’d never show himself again. More and more people started to pass. We got strange looks, curious looks, sideways looks and suspicous looks.

marmot overpass

A few people came right up to us and asked what we were doing. I began to keep a tally. Passerby’s fell into three categories: avoids eye contact, gives strange/distrusting looks, or says something. At the end of the day, most people fell into the ‘avoids eye contact’ category.

We spent almost the whole day there and yes, the marmot did show himself. He walked right up to the trap, gave a sniff and then grabbed onto it and shook it. When it didn’t trigger, he walked around to the to the back, stuck his hand through the bars and tried to reach the food. He couldn’t reach it, but he also didn’t go back in the trap. He’d figured out.

We tried again a few more times, but never caught him. Then one day I never saw him again. I tell myself he found a ride back to the mountains, and now he bores all his marmot friends with the story of how he outsmarted two humans and ran off with their apple.

Using my Superpowers for Good (Or Rescuing a Stray Cat)

The first time I heard it, I thought it was the cry of an injured animal. The next time, I thought it might be the wail of a small child. Unable to take it any longer, I yanked the curtains open to see what was making such a dreadful sound.

I expected to see a grotesque mythological creature whose limbs had been torn off and was bleeding from the mouth, but instead it was just a cat. And it looked okay. Fine really. So, why was it screaming like a small child who just got their iPod taken away?

A few days later the cat was hanging out in my backyard, and I got a glimpse of his backside. Oh, that’s why. He wasn’t neutered. An unneutered stray cat. Great.

Using the special sense that allows animals to identify me as a sucker for their cute little faces, he quickly realized that my backyard was a good place to take up residence. He proceeded to spend his days eating the food I put out for him and either lounging in the sun or yowling as he paced around the house. Obviously, I’m the encourager of bad behavior.

stray cat

Here he is lounging with my cat.

This began in August and didn’t stop until February. By then I couldn’t take it any more. The temperatures had been dipping well below freezing and he began crying at the door, desperate to come inside. So, this is what I did:

1. I waited for my husband to be out of town to take action. This would have been much easier to handle with his help, so naturally I tackled it on my own.

2. I got my trap and set it right by the window so I could watch the events unfold, aka stare at the trap all day, using my telepathic powers of suggestion to get him to go in it.

Flashback: I tried to trap a yellow-bellied marmot two years ago, which conveniently led to me having the perfect sized trap to catch the cat. See, things do happen for a reason. Or perhaps I have precognitive superpowers, as well.

3. Like I said, I patiently waited for him to cross the yard and, well, walk right into my trap. He he.

4. After almost catching two squirrels and my own cat, he finally went for the bait. The trap didn’t trigger, though. I knew from my marmot trapping experience that this was a problem. If he got full without triggering the trap, I’d have to try again another day. Or worse, if the trap was triggered but he managed to get out, I may never be able to lure him in again.

5. I tried to use my telekinetic abilities to trigger the trap, but I was having an off day. So, I opened the back door and startled him into triggering the trap–just as I had planned, or so I told myself.

cat in trap

Here he is in the trap. I don’t think he was very happy with me at this moment.

6. I celebrated for a second and went into full animal rescue mode. (Yes, in addition to procrastination-panic mode and spousal-manipulation mode, I also have animal rescue mode. I’m quite versatile). So, I prepped my car and donned my non-regulation animal trapping gloves.

DSC06225

My husband’s snowboarding gloves. I’m sure the people at the animal shelter were impressed.

7. Then I was forced to use my superhuman strength to carry the cat. The cat weighed strikingly more than my cats and was thrashing about in the cage. Certain I would be scratched and die from some rare cat borne illness, I held the cage as far from my body as I could and set him in the back seat of my car. Don’t worry; my use of superhuman strength was discreet so that I didn’t call attention to myself. The last thing I need is to end up helping people move.

8. I wasn’t sure what kind of music he enjoyed, so I kept the radio down and talked in that soft, calm voice that lulls all animals into a state of relaxation. You know the one I mean.

9. At the intake center of the Denver Dumb Friends League (DDFL), I explained our situation. This time I used my verbal powers of suggestion to sell all his good qualities and explain how he would make a wonderful pet. I did so well, I almost walked out with a new cat.

10. The man explained the process and reassured me that they would do their best to get him adopted. He also said they might be able to do a TNR (trap, neuter, return) if he wasn’t a candidate for adoption. I made it quite clear that I would be happy to take him back and let him live in my yard. I entered spousal manipulation mode as I pondered the cute little cat house my husband would be encouraged to build for the backyard.

11. For the next month, I used by ability to obsess over things to check the DDFL  website at least daily, sometimes hourly, to see if he was on there. With each day I began losing hope. His little face never appeared on the adoptable cats page and I hadn’t gotten a phone call asking if he could be returned to my yard. I tried to convince myself that they were busy socializing him. Who knew how long he’d been living on the streets? But I had a terrible feeling that he might have been euthanized.

I began to question whether I did the right thing. My superpowers were only supposed to be used for good. What had I done?

I’ve wanted to write about this experience for some time, but I didn’t want to do it unless I knew there was a happy ending. I was perusing the Internet yesterday (instead of writing this post) and that’s when I found him. He’s up for adoption!

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 2.57.03 PM

His adoption bio. It compares his life to a book, which is strange because I’m a writer. Cue mysterious music.

I will now use my telepathic powers of suggestion to persuade someone who lives in the Denver Metro area to take a trip to the DDFL. Everyone reading this: you’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. (Wait – that’s hypnotism. Oh, well. It could still work.) You’re on a beach, with the sun shining down. Then a cute brown tabby jumps in your lap. You fall in love instantly and begin filling out the adoption papers…

Warning: This Post May Cause Itchiness

Just think of all the icky things you might encounter while staying at a hotel: mystery stains on sheets, a stray hair clinging to a shower tile, boogers on the nightstand…

Lucky for me, I’ve encountered my fair share of icky things.

My previous job took me all over the state of Colorado and I had the pleasure of lodging in a wide variety of establishments. Some were your run of the mill mid-level chain hotels; others were small, outdated and sometimes a little scary.

map Colorado

All the places I visited for my last job. My favorite was Dinosaur in the top left corner. The streets are named after dinosaurs, like Brontosaurus Blvd. and Tyrannosaurus Trail.

But my worst experience has to do with, of course, bugs.

It’s strange how it happened. It was like fate or something. I was talking about an upcoming trip with a coworker and I told her where I was going.

She gasped and her eyes widened. “Where are you staying?” she asked.

“Why?” I responded.

She explained that another group had just been in that area and the hotel where we usually stayed had, gulp, BED BUGS!

bedbugs eating

A pair feeding on a willing host.
(Image courtesy Medill DC via Flickr)

We proceeded to Google everything we could about the awful creatures–what they looked like, how to find them, what to do if you find them.

My brain absorbed the information like a very frightened sponge.

Did you know they can live about a year without eating, depending on their environment?

They can survive temperatures below 14 F (-10C) for five days and it takes 7 minutes of temperatures above 115 F (46 C) to kill them. In fact, many exterminators use heat to rid homes of the pests. The house is brought to temperatures above 120 F for at least 4 hours to zap the critters.

Now, they do have natural predators, but who wants to unleash scores of cockroaches, ants and centipedes in their house!?

cockroach says hi

Hello there. For just a few crumbs a day, I can help you with your bedbug problem.
(Image courtesy sirtrentalot via Flickr)

centipede babies

Don’t mind me. Just making centipede babies. You did say you had a bedbug problem, didn’t you?
(Image courtesy Wendy Eiby via Flickr)

Prior to the mid 20th century they were quite common. On History.com it’s noted that in 77 AD they were thought to heal snakebites, ear infections and other ailments. According to Bedbugs.org, about 1/3 of homes in America had them in the early 20th century, with nearly every residence in some areas infested.

And it looks like they’ve made a comeback. According to a Time Magazine article, the number of reported incidents in New York City alone rose from 500 in 2004 to 10,000 in 2009!

And lucky for us, humans are their favorite food.

A few days later I set out on my trip, booked at a hotel in a nearby town.

I lugged my giant suitcase and oversized wheeled bag up the stairs and pushed the door open. Right away I knew something was wrong–the headboard was off the wall and on the floor, propped against the wall.

That’s strange. The bugs are often found behind the headboard.

I took out my flashlight, just like all the websites said to do, and peeled back the blankets. My fingers pulled the thick cord around the edge of the mattress back. Nothing. Then, I lifted the tiny strip of fabric at the seam and looked for any signs of bugs.

mattress seam where bed bugs hide

One of their favorite hiding places.

It didn’t take long.

First, I found a shedding (they go through a molting process where they shed their exoskeleton).

Then there were spots of blood.

Then I saw it. It looked a little different than the ones I saw on the internet, more translucent (turns out he was a nymph–still a baby).

nymph bedbug

Bedbug nymph feeding, also on a willing victim.
(Image courtesy liz.novack via flickr)

He remained still, hoping I wouldn’t notice him. I poked him with the edge of my keycard. He took a couple of steps. I gasped and went into full fight or flight mode. My adrenaline pumped, my heart raced. I nearly passed out. I’m not sure why my reaction was so severe, it’s not like he was going to leap through the air and latch onto my face. Right?

I backed out of the room, tripping over my bags and let the door slam shut. Down the stairs I went, my suitcase nearly tumbling down without me. A lady passed by, giving me an odd stare.

“I need to check out,” I said to the front desk clerk in a hushed voice.

“May I ask why,” the woman responded.

I looked to either side and then leaned forward. “You have bedbugs,” I whispered.

She stepped back and cleared her throat. “All right,” she said. That was it. No argument, no apology. No ‘I’m sorry we almost made a meal out of you. Here’s a coupon for a free breakfast’.

I got in my car and panicked. Where was I going to stay? The next closest hotel was the one the last team said had bed bugs, but that’s where I headed.

The man at the front desk greeted me cheerfully. Yeah, but I wasn’t going to be fooled. The lady at the last place was just as cheerful as she put me in a bedbug filled room.

“I have to ask you something before I book a room,” I said to the man.

“Yes.”

“Do you have bedbugs?” I whispered, trying to read his face.

He paused, startled by my question. Then he insisted that they did not.

I scoured the room, tearing the bed apart. I looked behind the pictures on the walls, around the baseboards, anywhere I thought one of those awful critters would lurk. There was nothing.

That night, I woke up almost every hour, flicking on the light, waiting for bugs to scatter, but there was nothing. The next morning I searched for bites, certain one had gotten me while I slept. Luckily, I was fine. A little itchy and paranoid, but fine.

When I returned to the office I reported the hotel to Consumer Protection. And yes, at least five rooms were infested. The inspection report was detailed, to say the least. Multiple nesting sites, sheddings, eggs around the baseboards.

The hotel knew about the problem and had been trying to get rid of the bugs. How nice of them to book me in a room known to be infested (that was why the headboard was off the wall).

Of course, I’m now the crazy person who checks every hotel room while my family watches with amusement. I used to check all clothes before I brought them into the house, but let’s face it, I was too lazy to keep that up.

Now I look back, at that fateful conversation with my coworker. Had she not said anything, I would have booked at the hotel where we usually stayed, the one without the bugs. But I also never would have had my up close and personal experience with the things, which has made me very diligent in searching hotel rooms. And it makes for a good story 🙂