Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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DECEMBER 21, 2010 2:19PM

Friendly ways to get bad guests the hell out of your house

Rate: 32 Flag

tomatoes jardin

Garden fresh deliciousness to us, totally disgusting to spiders


The last few weeks, I’ve read about some OSers in difficult critter infestation situations.

The solution always seems to be removing the offending animals/insects by killing them.

Many people have grown up believing that if an unwanted organism is in your home, you have a right to destroy it.  Many people also believe that vermin and insects have no souls, intelligence, or even the ability to feel pain.

Though I may never be able to convince you to change your mind regarding souls and intelligence,  science has proven you wrong about not feeling pain.  A few months ago, OSer Snoreville Redencocker (at least that’s what he’s calling himself today; he changes names more frequently than Diddy) blogged an astute post about research that proves even the tiniest ant has pain receptors in its body. 

I know what it’s like to live in a place with unwanted visitors.  In Georgia, we had silver fish everywhere, no matter how clean we kept our home.  And here in my apartment in Paris, sad to say it’s spiders.  I have extreme arachnophobia, so this the worst kind of pest for me to have to deal with, to put it mildly.

Yet I find it’s hard to kill a spider. Not just because I’m afraid it will jump on me and attack me, but also because when I think about it, much as I don’t like them, it’s not spiders’ fault that I find them so terrifying, nor that they’re in my home, which is warm in winter and was built on land that once belonged exclusively to flora and fauna. 

If you think some or all of the things I’ve written here mark me out as some kind of crazy animal rights activist, I can honestly say you’re wrong.  I’m not even a vegetarian.  Growing up with a mom who was a very skilled vet tech, my siblings and I often got to visit operating and consulting rooms full of animals, including exotics.  I’ve observed surgery on cats and dogs, have witnessed the results of animal cruelty, and have even seen a pet hedgehog put to sleep.  One thing that always struck me is, no matter how unfriendly or strange the animal, there was always that undeniable glimmer of life in its eyes.  I may not be able to see the world as a bug or a mouse or a hedgehog or even my cat sees it, but I know we’re all living and trying to have a good existence and save ourselves from trouble.

When an unwanted animal or insect comes into your house, it’s an annoying and even frightening discovery, and you worry that this visitor will bring more of its kind – and sometimes it will.

At this point, you have three solutions. 

The first is just to put up with the intrusion or even infestation and try your best to go on with your life.  Not an option for most of us, which is understandable. 

The second solution is to call your local exterminator or animal control officer and have the animal(s) or insect(s) removed from your house, regardless of the method used.  Or to get rid of the offending animal(s)/insect(s) yourself, with products like bug spray, mousetraps, and poisons. 

It’s easy to savor the convenience of someone getting rid of your wild intruders, or to put down traps on our own and try not to think of what happens to the roaches when they go into that little motel, or to the mouse when it nibbles those pretty-colored pellets.  In reality, these living beings will die – not quick, merciful deaths, but agonizing ones involving torment and internal bleeding.   

Okay, so maybe you don’t care that these animals suffer.  But some traps, be they old-fashioned mouse traps, or poisons and insecticides, can also harm small children and pets.  Chemicals could get into your food or drinking water.  Suddenly, it’s you and your loved ones that you’re exterminating.

So,  you might be thinking, then how am I going to get these critters out of my house with minimal cost and bother?

Luckily, as society is going greener, so are animal/insect removal methods.  Here are a few I know about and am a fan of, with links:

1. A bug vacuum.  It’s a little gun-shaped vacuum that kids can use to suck up insects without harming them. The insect is stored in a clear plastic area of the gun, where it can be “observed” (ugh).  Then, you can unscrew the compartment and free the insect into the outside world.  I’ve had a bug gun for a few years now, and it alleviates my conscience.  Here’s one similar to mine.

But please be careful if you want to buy one of these; some bug vacuums are made to just catch hard-to-reach bugs, with no concern for their welfare. Always make sure the product is made for observation and release of bugs, and that it says “harmless” at least once in the product description


2. If you like cats, get one.  The very scent and presence of a cat is a powerful deterrent to rodents.  Before my boyfriend got our cat Ali, there were mice in his apartment. Once Ali had established himself (and caught a few mice, which my boyfriend was able to rescue and carry outside, far from our building), the mice vanished.  Ali has been in this apartment for about 5 years.  We’ve been mouse-free for about four and a half. The bonus with this method of natural pest control is that you can also save the life of a cat or cats who might have been abused or abandoned.  It’s always best to adopt a cat from a shelter, rather than a pet shop, which may obtain its animals from unscrupulous breeders.


 Ali tired

Pictured: Effective (and adorable!) natural pest control.


3. There are many natural remedies said to repel pests.  I’ve experimented with tomato leaves as a spider repellent, and it’s true that in the areas where I’ve put the leaves, I haven’t seen any spiders.  Unfortunately, I can’t cover my entire apartment in tomato leaves, but I can put them up high in certain corners.  WARNING: Please remember that tomato leaves and many other kinds of plants can be toxic to house pets.  Our leaves are stuck up securely in high corners so that Ali won’t get them.  Here’s one site that has a long list of natural pest repellents, as well as an organic pest repellent product line.

 4. In some cases, if you have to call animal control or an exterminator, they may have humane, catch-and-release traps available.  My mother insisted on this recently when there was a squirrel in her house.  Even in extremely rural Georgia, the exterminator had catch-and-release traps.

In an ideal world, we’d get along and live in harmony with all living things.  Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world. Still, with a little effort – and usually very little difference in price – you can give an innocent animal or insect a chance at life – while being sure it stays the hell off your property!


 bug gun

You can have my bug gun when you pry it from my cold, dead - oh heck, if I could, I'd buy one for everybody. 


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Does anyone have any other humane, natural suggestions?
I played the Doors-Rider on the Storm- loudly and on a regular basis until the pest in the adjoining duplex moved. Does that count?
Dr. Spudman, I think that definitely counts. I know it would probably do the trick if someone wanted to exterminate me!
I use a special chalk from Chinatown.. works out fine.. but I do love the bug vacuum :)
rated with hugs
Alysa, you are such a lovely person. I wish I had your heart. I hate bugs, period. That said, I don't kill most of them. Spiders, unless they look big enough to bite and leave a scar or cause gangrene, I leave alone because, bless their hearts, they kill bugs for me. The millipedes that invade my home every evening I sweep up (alive) into a dust pan and move back outside.

The only thing I kill, remorselessly and with a certain delight, are roaches. Hate, hate, hate, hate them and here in my semi-new tropical home they are huge and sometimes even fly, which I see as proof that the devil is abroad in the world. So I whack 'em with a shoe and feel the world is a better and safer place afterward. My attitude towards roaches and their right to life is probably an aspect of my personality I won't want to look at too closely.
Alysa you are so sweet. I'm sorry you cannot enjoy the crunch of stepping on a really hairy spider. RRRR
I would add that Hedge Apples are good for repelling insects of many types. They are the natural source for pyrethrins which are used in insect repellents and in some insecticides. They grow wild around here (here being the southern end of Illinois) and a quick check show several sites online selling them for this purpose.
I live in an old house that is impossible to keep spiders and insects out of. It's at least 80 or more years old, and while it's been re-molded from time to time, you can't cover all the tiny holes. I try and take the spiders on a piece of paper and take them out, but if they are on me, I freak out. You have a heart of gold to take the care you do to not kill anything.
And here I thought I was the one suffering from a paralyzing delicacy.
Dang, I thought this was about getting bad HUMAN guests from your house, lol Anyhoo, good tips.

In Phoenix, there are a lot of scorpions, and cats are great for getting rid of those too.
bug gun...I need to get one before spring
Linda - Very interesting, the chalk. I'll look out for that over here. I'm glad it works.

500 words - The way you feel about roaches is how I used to feel about silverfish. I still hate them but I try to imagine they're little Gregor Samsa's, and then I just feel sorry for them. I admire roaches, though I think they're gross - but I mean, they are the ultimate survivors. Also, I have to confess the shorts and movie "Joe's Apartment" sort of made them a bit endearing..well, not super-endearing even so...still terrifying. At any rate, if you're ever interesting in changing methods, I hope you'll find one that will work.

Amy - Thanks...and no, me being anywhere near a hairy spider only involves terror, screaming and throwing things. My arachnophobia is so severe that when my parents took me to a psychologist for it, the treatment only made it worse! Still, it's not those little guys' fault....

bobbot - Thanks for this tip. I don't know what hedge apples are, but I'll look them up and then try to find the French translation so that I can try to buy them here. Bravo for using a very ecological way to get rid of bugs.

scanner - It is hard with older places. I admire you for making an effort to get those spiders out safe and sound...and completely, completely understand about freaking out if they touch you. I can tell you that the bug vacuum works wonders, unless the spiders are extraordinarily large or have VERY long legs.

Monsieur Chariot - Touché!

Lady Miko - Hmm...the same could apply...if they don't like cats, or if they have allergies to certain foods, or if you try to suck them up with your vacuum cleaner. :-)

Oryoki - Thanks for this tip. We had scorpions when I lived in Georgia and I was so purely terrified of them that I never thought about how to get rid of them - that was back in the days when I didn't think too much about pest elimination. Thank you for letting us know about a very good way to get those suckers gone!
hyblaen - It will seriously change your life.
I have no suggestions though I think any hatred of cruelty is a great thing. I was just thinking that I've been lucky with pests. I never had to deal with a rat or mice in my quarters(life is long and now they'll all come by) and I ignore spiders though I've never been faced with an unignorable tarantula or anything.

I will put roach traps and not lose sleep but otherwise I cannot kill things so I'm ever grateful I have only been bothered by roaches and recently by... gnats. Long story and I wrote an ode to them as they would drop dead before even going near them and I remained guilt free.

It's a tough one. I too am not a vegetarian and so never feel comfortable about feeling as humane as I'd like.
We have a miniature pinscher -- they were bred for ratting -- who is a *very* effective deterrent. Last year, a chipmunk somehow managed to get into the house, unbenownst to us. But not the dog.

He spent the evening running around the family room, sniffing and snorting and generally making a nuisance of himself. Next morning, we found the chipmunk corpse, along with evidence that it had started to make a nest -- chewed speaker cables and gnawed speaker stands.
So, this is not about people. :o) Sigh. . I know exactly what I need. A bug gun and of course a new feline companion. Love Ali's picture - after a job well done? ~R
I use Claymore mines, effective on all unwanted creatures.
I want one of those guns for Christmas!
Great suggestions! I don't kill bugs either. I gather a bug onto a piece of cardboard or something and I take them outside. That gun is cool!
I keep empty lidded jars in several strategic places around the house for catching creepy crawlies that find their way inside, even wasps. Quick and easy and a harmless little adventure for them before they're once again outdoors.
Like Miko and Fusun, I thought - given the season - that this was about human guests. A gun of some kind might work, but not that cute li'l bug gun.

As for critturs, I ignore bugs pretty much, tho I destroy cobwebs occasionally, and six cats mean that the mice population stays fairly low.
Love the bug gun idea. It's been dixie cups and sheets of stiff paper for me up until now for catch and release. We have spiders the size of slald plates down here!

Thnak you, thank you, thank you!
I don't harm spiders when I see them outdoors, I'm brave enough to know that most of them are harmless, beneficial even, in the ecosystem. But once they're in my apartment, the little blighters have crossed battle lines.

I have two mammalian pest control units AKA better Mousetraps AKA cats living with me. Dmitri does that funny chatter and goes in hot pursuit whenever he sees fly ing insects, and attacks his catnip toys ferociously. I'm just not sure he'd have a clue what to do with a live mouse if he ever met one. =o)

(And here I thought you were talking about human guests overstaying their welcome... silly me!)

Thanks for all the good tips for getting rid of pesky houseguests. I noted with pleasure the natural pest control. He looks familiar.
fernsy – I’m glad you haven’t had to deal too much with household pests. And I totally know what you mean about gnats – sometimes they do just up and die randomly, poor things. It makes me want to learn more about their lifespan/cycle. I’d love to read your ode to them – is it on OS? I also agree with you that not being a vegetarian does make it hard to feel humane. As much as possible I try to eat animals that were allowed to live good lives before meeting their end. I also don’t eat anything that seems overly cruel (for example, live oysters). But still, there is that guilt, you’re so right!

Boanerges – Very interesting. It’s true that some breeds of dog are also good at hunting down rodents – hopefully only needing to kill once, or even not at all, to deter others. For me, the ideal is to have a pet that will make pests fear them, but will not be very violent – sort of like Garfield.

Fusun – Sorry to disappoint, but I’m glad you like the idea of the bug gun. I can’t say enough how much this invention has changed my life. I also wish you luck in choosing a new feline friend. I know it’s not easy to overcome the feelings of loss but when you’re ready, I know you’ll make another cat very, very happy.

Harry’s – You make a very good point. But all the clean up!

kate – I’ve never heard of using baby powder against ants! Thanks for a great tip!

sweetfeet – The bug gun is just amazing. I hope Santa grants you your Christmas wish. If he doesn’t, rest assured that these guns aren’t very expensive – usually around $20, and the model I have, at least, takes standard AA batteries (we use rechargeable) and rarely needs them replaced. It’s really a great investment.

Hannah – Glad to hear that you don’t kill bugs. The paper method is indeed popular – in addition to yourself and some of the other people who’ve commented here, my boyfriend also used it before we got our glorious bug gun!

Matt – That is such a great way to look at it! Bravo for your method of catch and release!

Myriad – The bug gun looks cute, but it can really handle some intimidating critters. But you seem to have things under control. I grew up with 8 cats and you’re right – we rarely had bugs in the house (besides those silver fish –but I think that might be because even the cats couldn’t stomach them) and never mice.

Linnnn – Glad you like the bug gun idea, but despite what I’ve just told Myriad, the bug gun does have its limits. I don’t think it could take a spider the size of a salad dish (the very thought of such a creature has me shaking involuntarily in my bottines). The fact that you would be able to handle these critters without intervention of anything more than a Dixie cup, makes me admire you and I have decided you’re some kind of superhero.

shiral – I agree, spiders or any insects outside are absolutely to be respected. I also love how you describe the “chatter” of your cat – I know exactly what you mean! Ali does this when he watches pigeons outside our window. And sorry I’ve disappointed you about the human guests. As I pointed out in my first set of responses, I do think some of these solutions could also drive away unwanted people, too, though!

maryway – Thank you, and I’m glad you found this useful. You’re right – the “natural pet control” model is none other than our cat Ali. He salutes you for saving a life tonight!
Just this afternoon I was talking to David about pest control. I'm not as sweet as you. We use Orange Guard. Safe for us but not them. Sometimes we let bugs out nicely but not so often. I'll be looking in to some of your ideas, especially the bug gun.
I don't mind spiders. They catch the other bugs. You'd hate my house in the summer when there are webs up along the eaves. I also feed the birds in the yard because again, natural bug catchers. And of course the cats.
I'm going to try not to make this too comment long but I have some experience in this area and my history as to lengthy comments isn't that good ... apologies in advance. (See? Already.)

Hedge Apples are also known as Osage Balls and last time I googled were available online. They work. My house is 97 or so years old. Often I don't go into the basement every day and then when I do I have to fight my way through cobwebs on the the stairs. Hanging osage balls in net onions bags took care of that problem.

Millipedes also eat spiders I understand but probably are heavily outnumbered in my basement. Which brings me to my philosophy on killing them. Something's going to. Everything dies. I just try to make it quick and painless as possible when I am the agent of any death.

In Minneapolis it is illegal to get rid of invasive squirrels by any means other than humane trapping and turning them over to Animal Control or someone certified in wildlife removal. Squirrels are rampant in the city and I know of at least one neighbor who supplements his diet with them and the equally plentiful rabbits. I don't know about his relationship with the raccoons. Another neighbor spent the fall shooting them with a BB gun after the nest some of them made in his attic caused the ceiling to collapse in his kid's bedroom. I do not approve of that method and doubt it was effective.

When my mother had a nest of squirrels in her attic she had a wildlife remover out to deal with them and then kept traps active in her yard in case any other locals got ideas about her house. (Besides, they ate the bird's seed.) She would give the traps to my brother to release at his house 35 miles away. The wildlife trapper told her that 30 miles is their range and if they were released closer they would just return. When she gave me a trap to take to my brother's house I was not comfortable keeping it in the trap over night and so I released it by the river 2 miles from her house. (Also, I don't like my mother.) It was back in her yard the next day.

My point is, when you catch and release, it might be a good idea to take the species' range into consideration.

I'll spare you my mouse story. Suffice to say cleaning the pantry after not wanting to kill them was a disgusting and horrible job and now I have a tough-ish former street cat.
That bug "gun" is so cool -- I've never seen one! I'm terribly afraid of spiders, but I'm getting better. I'm grossed out by roaches (and we live in the Big Roach Capital of the World) and that's not getting any better.
LOL--Oh, THOSE kinds of "guests"--I said to myself after arriving here. I had in mind more of the Christmas relatives type--or the ones you invite to dinner who don't seem to own wrstwatches. Still, great tips. Thanks> Though I might have to disagree with you on the spiders. They come in..they die. Period.
very well written and amusing . your cat looks tired from catching ALL the spiders! how about an open onion, it works for everything specially for germs maybe just MAYBE for spiders.
You an write about anything, and it's delightful.
I never kill bugs and spiders are good luck if there is one in your house.
Love your kitty. P.S. can't seem to get the image of Bonnie's yeast inflated mouse out of my head...~r
heidibeth – Everyone has to make his or her own choices, but I hope this post helped you see there might be some more ecological alternatives. I’m so glad you say you’ll look into the bug vacuum. It really is a wonderful invention.

Dom – I’ve heard about geckos – my stepfather lived out west for a while and always told me I should have one in my room! Of course, that would be a bit unsettling. But whatever the case, it’s so cool that you can rely on this totally ecological method of pest control. I wonder if they sell geckoes at Galeries Lafayette?

ocular – Sounds like you’ve got a great system going there. If you don’t mind spiders, it means you are living on a higher plain than I, and I admire you for it. Bravo for living in harmony with so many critters!

nerd cred – This was so interesting! Thanks for all of this detailed info, especially about the hedge apples/osage balls. I will be looking into those. And thank you also for your very helpful information about catch-and-release. All very good to know!

Bellwether – I’m sorry about the spiders and roaches. The bug gun is awfully danged cool and also will suck a lot of them up, and then you (or, if you’re like me and still afraid to go anywhere near a spider after sucking it up, your husband/another loved one) can unscrew the observation part and put the little critter outside somewhere far away…or near a hated neighbor’s window.

Bonnie – Thanks, and I patted Ali for you and he says thanks. As for the mouse story, how sad and horrible. I guess at least he died doing something he loved, but I hope he didn’t suffer too much…not sure….how sad and strange. Thanks for writing about this, because in addition to a very unexpected story, it reminds us to carefully store our yeast.

Satori – Both kinds of guests can be annoying, but the human ones are protected from meeting a deadly end…usually, anyway. : - ) I’m glad you enjoyed the post, even so.

Simone – Thank you for the tip. Onions do seem like powerful herbal tools – if I run out of tomato leaves I may just try that!

Joan – Thank you! I’m glad that you don’t kill bugs or spiders. I’ve heard it’s good luck to have them in the house, but I don’t think that rule applies to me… And yes, Bonnie’s mouse story is haunting me, too. I hope it will at the very least remind everyone to carefully store yeast.
Flower Child - It's great to find yet another person who takes pity on household pests. And I thank you for your sympathies about my arachnophobia and envy you your ability to at least moderately deal with spiders. As far as flies go, I've never captured a winged insect with the spider gun - so far we haven't really had a problem with those here. But I think it would be okay and wouldn't rip off their wings. After all, it doesn't do anything to spiders' legs. I say it may be a very good investment!
Veronica - Great to know! Thanks for giving people another way to get their hands on a bug gun of their very own! And I'm glad you guys use them!