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Bella English

When there are bats in the belfry

By Bella English
August 23, 2009

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It had been nine years since I laid eyes on Gary Paduch, and I was grateful, but not glad, to see him.

Gary’s a great guy, but he runs a business called Gary’s Wildlife Services in Middleborough. When Gary shows up, it means you’ve got a “wildlife problem’’ at your house. My wildlife specialty is bats, and my problem is that I have a deep phobia, honed by years of being dive-bombed, at night, in bed, by what Gary once described as “a colony of bats’’ residing at my house.

A colony? As in Sir Walter Raleigh and the 117 doomed souls who followed him to the New World? God almighty.

In August 2000, Gary and his crew got rid of our squatters by building one-way exits in the attic, screening the chimney and sealing cracks and holes. Donning haz-mat suits, they cleaned up the toxic guano. No more bats banging into screens at night, circling overhead, provoking my dog and terrorizing me and the kids. (My husband managed to sleep through most of the trauma.)

But now they were back again, or at least it was. On one of those recent sweltering nights, a bat found its way into our living room. Screams, curses, and wild barking ensued, as did a dive for my tennis racquet and a nearby basket for my head. Then I called Gary, left a hysterical message, and spent the night sitting up in bed with the lights on. Bats loathe light.

Gary, bless his brave heart, showed up the next day sporting his company T-shirt with a picture of a bat on the back. Lately, he’s been inundated with bat calls and e-mails. “Have about 12 bats that seem to be living between roof shingles and underlayment,’’ wrote one man. And others: “Possible bat colony in attic.’’ (Make that probable.) “We have bats in our attic.’’ “Seeking to have bat removal and exclusion from residence.’’

First, Gary checked our attic. “There’s not a single bat dropping up here,’’ he announced.

No, that’s because this bat is smart, and obviously prefers our living quarters. Gary went room by room, looking for the bat(s), who, he said, could be anywhere. He checked every single curtain and closet. He looked behind picture frames and in vases, pots, and pans. The strangest place he ever found a bat, he says, was in the middle of a soap dish, just chilling out.

Gary says the bats in this area are large brown bats, which is unfortunate. Given a choice, I’d take the small brown bats. He sought to reassure me, explaining that he’d never seen a bat chase anyone down a hallway, or dive for someone’s hair, despite “The Office’’ episode in which Meredith gets hopelessly tangled up with a bat, thanks to Dwight. He did say a woman client had been bitten by a bat after she donned a nightgown that the bat was clinging to. The bat was rabid. (Reminder: check nightgowns.)

Thankfully, Gary did not use that lame line: “They’re more scared of you than you are of them.’’ Hogwash.

In the kitchen, he said the bat could be under the refrigerator. In the living room, he said the bat could be in the cracks in the molding. “You could tear the house apart and not find him,’’ he said. If the bat didn’t reappear, he added, it had either found its way out or died.

Last year, Gary’s Wildlife Services was called to the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Marshfield. Seems there was a bat colony in the attic of the North River Sanctuary headquarters. “They’ve been there for years and years, and it was a small enough colony that it was really not a big deal,’’ says Sue MacCallum, sanctuary director. “It was really fine,’’ says MacCallum, who as an environmentalist, loves all living things, even bats. “It was pretty fascinating to see them on the property, going in and out.’’

But then the colony grew; there were maybe 35 bats in the crawl space, mucking up the insulation. The Audubon folks called Gary. Being good conservationists, they decided not to evict them until springtime, so the bats stayed in their comfy digs that winter. “We waited until there was warm weather and there were insects to eat,’’ says MacCallum. Mission accomplished; Gary banished the bats.

Gary never did find that bat in my house, and we haven’t seen it again. I’m hoping it decided to visit its kinfolk in Costa Rica. But my tennis racquet is still by my bed.

Gary, who belongs to the National Wildlife Control Operators Association, goes to conventions in places like Vegas and Biloxi, where they talk about the latest in skunk and flying squirrel removal. He won’t laugh at you if you show up wearing a bike helmet or a basket on your head; trust me on this. He understands bat phobia, and says he has seen grown men cry.

“They’ve slept in cars overnight rather than in their house with a bat,’’ he says.

Sounds sensible to me. I know I’m going to hear from bat lovers out there; in fact, I already have, on Facebook. “You should be happy,’’ scolded my friend Ellen. “A lot of bats are dying from a weird fungus or something. Bats are maligned creatures.’’

And Dave, a normally sensible guy, added: “Bats are your friends. Bats eat mosquitoes and other annoying germ-ridden carriers of pestilence. So, congratulations! Did you give it a name yet?’’

Yeah. I’m gonna name it Dave, after you. Congratulations!

Globe columnist Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at english@globe.com.

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