The critter getter: Watervliet resident shares stories of bouts with wild animals

Alan Barchett runs AAA Problem Animal Control from his Watervliet home. Since the late 1980s, he has, on a part-time basis, been helping Southwest Michigan residents to rid their homes and property of unwanted wildlife. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Alan Barchett runs AAA Problem Animal Control from his Watervliet home. Since the late 1980s, he has, on a part-time basis, been helping Southwest Michigan residents to rid their homes and property of unwanted wildlife. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

WATERVLIET — Alan Barchett is in the wild animal removal business.

As the owner of AAA Problem Animal Control, Barchett has dealt with animals since he was a child.

Born and raised in Watervliet, the 61-year-old lives in what was his grandfather’s house, where he has run his business since the late 1980s. His other job is more corporate, as he works as a supervisor for LECO Corp.

Barchett keeps his business within the constraints of Southwest Michigan, having gone as far as Allegan, New Buffalo and Niles.

Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski sat down with Barchett to talk about his unique side job.

How did you get into the wild animal business?

I grew up on a farm and always fur trapped as a kid. Anybody in the area who would need an animal removed would call me for help or advice. At that point, I decided I needed to get my (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) license so I could help anybody out any time of the year. I renew it every three years. I have to record all the animals I catch, who I caught them for and how I dispose of them. I have to report that every three years, so I keep records of everything I catch.

What sort of animals are you called to come get?

Normally it’s raccoons, but woodchucks are the biggest ones I see. Other times I get red squirrels, moles, chipmunks and skunks. This is kind of the slower time of the year. Raccoons start having babies in chimneys. Skunks are the same way only they’ll get under buildings where the males fight each other. A skunk will spray one another, which is fairly common.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Probably figuring out what type of animal they have and finding the best way of catching it. A lot of people call and say, ‘I’m hearing some scratching noises or vocal noises in the wall.’ I have to determine what critter they have based on their descriptions. I’ve had to cut holes in drywall to get squirrels out. Sometimes that’s the only way to get them out.

Do you have any funny experiences from the job to share?

I’ve caught a few badgers that were digging holes in the yard. Man are they ferocious. You get one in a trap and they are not to be monkeyed with. One time I remember letting one go and it ran 3 feet before it turned around and growled at me. I didn’t know what to do. It was definitely letting me know not to follow me.

This one time a few people tried to remove a skunk out of a wall and I remembered getting the address from the people. They told me I wouldn’t need the house number because I would be able to tell by the smell. When I got to the street, it was the only house with all the doors and windows open. Another time I was moving some young skunks from a house. When they are young, they are normally docile. I let my guard down and one sprayed me. That was unique. Every day is a new day.

What’s the strangest animal you have had to corral?

I caught a boa constrictor in a guy’s air duct. Evidently it got away from someone in the neighborhood. By the time I got there, it was late in the summer and it was starting to get cool and the snake was looking for shelter. There was a dryer duct left open on this guy’s house. The snake proceeded to go down through there. I took sections apart and all of a sudden it stuck its head out at me.

I’ve caught black snakes and bats and a ball boa constrictor. When you pick it up, it would roll into a ball. It might have been 3 feet long. It was bigger around than it was long. That was interesting because I had dealt with snakes, but nothing that big. I haven’t come across rattlesnakes, luckily.

What do you do with the animals once you catch them?

I try not to destroy animals, but I will never release a sick one into the wild. And I can’t just release them anywhere. I need permission from the property owner if I release them out in the woods. I try to release more of them than I have to destroy. A lot of times someone will call and say a raccoon is sitting in our yard, falling over. Raccoons are nocturnal, so when you see one in the daytime, something is wrong with it.

What do you think people misinterpret about animal removal?

I think people think its cruel and inhumane, but when you have a family of raccoons urinating in your attic, it becomes a health issue. It’s when these animals come into urban areas that problems arise. They are adapting to their new environment, so to them, it’s better to live in a nice warm attic than in a tree.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 30, 2015)

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