Alligators get the headlines, but if a squirrel makes a home in your attic or an opossum moves in, you may need the help of a "wildlife detective."
"It is sometimes detective work," said Dustin Hooper, owner of All Creatures Wildlife Control in Lakeland. "You have to figure out what it is, where it's coming from, how to get it, and then you just jump right in there."
Hooper started his business six years ago after working for another company for a year. As Florida grows, more trappers like Hooper are finding work.
"We do have a lot of wildlife issues, especially when they're developing new apartments and housing developments," he said.
TRUCK AND TRAP
On a recent afternoon, I rode with Hooper in his Toyota pick-up truck carrying a large, wire trap in the bed.
When we reached the end of a residential street, he stopped, grabbed the trap and began setting it up in a back yard.
"There has been a coyote spotted in this area," he said as he positioned the trap next to a fence and covers it with leaves.
He said coyotes are smart and difficult to trap (shooting holes in the image of the bumbling Wiley Coyote of Roadrunner fame). Hooper said unless coyotes are rabid, they're not usually dangerous to humans, but they can kill small dogs and cats.
Hooper said he caught his first snake at 7 years old and hasn't stopped. He doesn't trap alligators, but pretty much everything else, including raccoons, foxes, opossums, squirrels, armadillos, bats and wild pigs.
Not only does he capture them in his trap, he often captures them on video, too. His smartphone is full of video documenting his successes.
"We called him, and the next morning he came out and trapped the animals," said Daniel Smith, who works in a warehouse that was invaded by raccoons, opossums and squirrels. "We leave it to the professionals. Dustin got them."
State law dictates that nuisance animals be euthanized except under certain conditions.
"I don't like to kill healthy animals," Hooper said. "Thank God I have a few friends that have land that let me release certain animals. It's unfortunate that sometimes animals have to be euthanized. That's just the way it is," he said.
One fear among state biologists is that nuisance animals can be sick and infect other wildlife, but the state law is controversial.
Hooper is divorced with no children. He volunteers providing transportation to cancer patients, taking them to and from treatment.
Those trips are often made with the trap in the back of the truck. Later, he may have to climb into an attic looking for bats, or squeeze into a crawl space searching for an opossum.
It's all in a day's work.
"I get to help people and animals, and it doesn't get any better than that for me," he told us.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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