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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

What’s in the Attic?

The first time this house was infested, there was a horrific smell. Awful. As though someone or something had died.

“What IS that?” I pressed Benedetto.

“Most likely a dead animal outside, nearby….”

“Outside? I don’t think so.”

We were preparing to bring home our first son from Russia. He was already school-aged, although he had never been to school. No doubt his olfactory senses would be keen enough to whiff the Stink of the Century.

To further exacerbate matters, my husband was now on crutches. We had gone out for a celebratory lunch before flying out the week of our court date-to-be in Russia. There was a patch of black ice, he slipped, broke his ankle in three places, and court was delayed by six weeks.

So here we were, holed up in Stinky Hollow, still traveling non-stop, but with great difficulty on his part, and great difficulty on my part when we’d get home.

“Pee-yew!” The smell was getting stronger.

The smell was also getting stronger as my beloved insisted that I was not doing the grocery shopping as well as he could. I would not debate this matter, but neither would I make a federal case out of my buying vanilla yogurt instead of plain yogurt. He came to prefer vanilla. This was repeated with dozens of issues, dozens of times a day, involving food or non-food items. But with an Italian husband, it usually involved food. On one of my multiple grocery runs, an elderly woman in a powder blue Cadillac backed into my already-backed-up car in the supermarket parking lot. Now our back bumper was crunched, on top of everything else.

It was currently our one-week countdown to depart for our new court date. I had been shuttling Benedetto here, there, and everywhere, waiting on him hand and especially foot. With his right ankle broken, and two crutches necessary, he could not drive, he could not carry a cup of tea, he could not wear anything but zip track pants. Trendsetter that he was, he looked fine in tweed jackets, sweaters, and the track pants, with a special black sock to cover his toes. This would be interesting to see how he would navigate in the snows and ice of Russia, my one-legged man. I wondered if we would find vanilla yogurt there.

But for now, I scheduled faithful friends to be his drivers, and food shoppers, and right-hand assistants. As for me, I was off to Scotland for several days of speaking engagements, overlooking the Firth of Forth and eating roast chicken with the most proper mustard that knocks the wind out of the diner. Strolling the village of Carnoustie, enjoying the rough of the golf course, or the brisk breeze by seaside cottages envigorated me. I needed a break, not that this was any break except from being a 24/7 nursemaid. In another few days we would be in Russia, becoming parents to a 7-1/2-year-old boy. Before acquiring him, we had to divest ourselves of The Big Stink. And it was not going to be the Big Easy.

While I was in Scotland, Benedetto, as only a husband who is pushed by his wife beyond his comfort zone can do, called over his posse: a friend and another guy with some background in animal control. They opened the hatch and up into the attic they crept and crawled. Sure enough, they spotted a possum waddling back and forth, and the “expert” decided it would be best to shoot him with a .44 magnum. We had ended up with the Gomer Pyle of gopher control.

“Hellooooo, guys–you know, that’s my ROOF up there,” Benedetto called upstairs, supervising on crutches from below. “We don’t need any big holes on top. Can you flush him out and shoot him outside?”

“Sorry, sir, I only have a gun permit to shoot inside the house,” came the voice from above.


The expert didn’t want to get anywhere near a wild possum, but finally decided to lasso it. They found the dubious source of his entrance to be a vent where the animal had ripped the cover off. That was easy enough to seal. But now to get Fat Boy outta there.

The expert came at it with his pole-and-a-noose, not to mention his steel-toed boots. The men ran back and forth in the attic, chasing it this way and that, all the while not trying to rile him up. I wondered whether a Possum Whisperer existed and what you could say to such a funny-looking creature. At last they got him. Mr. Possum was sent back to the wild, the hole was patched, and I was regaled by the tall tales half a world away.

So here we were again, six years later, currently with four children, two dogs, and something upstairs scratching with claws along the floor.

“It’s a squirrel,” my husband declared. Had to be benign and cute, no doubt.

“A flying squirrel, probably with access into your home,” wrote one of our faithful blog readers. She relayed how a neighbor discovered flying squirrels by seeing their footprints on top of a china cabinet as she was dusting. Additional excellent reason not to dust.

However, the animal did sound as though he were in the house. Lying in bed, I heard an extraordinary ruckus in a spare closet. I dared not open the door. He was probably trying on different outfits, coordinating heels and bags for each, or rubbing his flea-infested body with my lavender sachets. Going in for my morning shower, the vent above would shake, rattle, and roll as Fat Boy tried to jump in with me. Needless to say, I was not one for group showers. I thought he might see things that would scar him for life.

My own guesstimate was another possum. I heard him on the move, lumbering here and there every morning at 6:30 and every evening at 6:30. At least he kept to a schedule. I had no idea if he was coming or going at these hours, but I often heard him flop down right above our bedroom. It was not a delicate flop, but more like a WHUMP! He had to be about the size of one of our Scotties, maybe 20 pounds or so.

This time, we called a national company. We needed an expert. A day later, he came to inspect the attic.

“How will the man know what kind of animal it is, if he returned to the outdoors?” Petya wondered.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” I whispered. “The man is a poop expert. He looks at the size and shape of whatever he finds up there. Elementary, my dear Watson.”  Petya’s eyes widened to imagine that we were smack dab in the middle of our own mystery, while he was immersed in reading “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

The expert emerged and climbed back down the ladder from the attic. This was no Gomer or Goober, this was Sheriff Andy Taylor, himself.

“Just tell me: it’s not a squirrel, right?” I looked up from my computer.

“Most likely a raccoon,” he acknowleged.  “The droppings were large, with some old possum droppings here and there.”

“That’s why we hired you–to catch him–and to vacuum,” I smiled, having made sure that this was indeed included in the price. “Did you see him?”

“No, and I didn’t want to poke around and get him upset, either. He has a nest toward the front of the home where he sleeps, then his urinal is above your bedroom….”

Well, that did it. I was not going to be nominating Mr. Raccoon for a guest appearance on the Wonder Pets anytime soon. A urinal? He would dare to tinkle above my head each night? I sincerely doubted it, in that location, unless the big guy flopped down right after doing his business. I daydreamed of him snoozing right above us upstairs, feeling close to his human family downstairs.

Mr. Animal Control’s plan was to set a trap outdoors with peanut butter, and if that failed, set one in the attic. It made me nervous for certain geriatric neighborhood cats and dogs that toodled into our territory on a regular basis. Could they climb into the cage and become stuck?

“Possible,” the workman said. “But I’ll be back every couple of days, and the cage simply contains the animal, it doesn’t harm him.”

Oh well, we’d have to live dangerously, then..

A few days later, on an early morning, an adolescent raccoon stared at us from inside the outdoor cage. He washed his paws and face and enjoyed the peanut butter. Without a phone, room service had to wait.

Benedetto and I were both right: he was big, but he was cute. The worker came and got him and we haven’t heard anything since from either the former nor the latter. Of course, the hole is still not patched and Mr. Animal Control hasn’t been back, yet, to vacuum, but we’re hopeful that he will complete the job and the adventure will be over.

At these prices, maybe our expert will vacuum downstairs, put in a urinal upstairs, and make all of us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


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