Life’s Funny


How faux predators scare pests — and others

By Maria Johnson

My friend was looking out for me.

“I have to tell you before I forget,” she texted. “About 5:45 p.m. yesterday, I was returning from a cousin’s graduation up the road from you, and as we passed the field behind your house I saw a white-gray wolf in the center of that field! Is that a stuffed wolf, or did I see what I thought I saw? If so, lock the doors and keep your sweet pooch inside.”

I’ll set aside, for a moment, the fact that my friend waited a day to tell me about a possible wolf near my home. She’s busy. And so am I, when I’m not being mauled by an oh-dang-it-WAS-a-real wolf.

In any case, about the same time I read her message, Nextdoor was blowing up with warnings about a creature on the same baseball field.

“Beware!” posted one user. “I saw a very LARGE coyote . . . Came home and Googled it, and it is definitely a coyote.”

I’d already seen the beast, out of the corner of my eye, while driving home.

My heart jumped at the sight of the low-slung, four-legged critter standing in center field.

I slowed down and craned my neck.

Bushy, reddish tail. Pointy face and ears. Fox, I thought.

My mind skipped to my dog, who is a foxhound — tally-ho — but she’s a sweet runt. Was she outside? Had she smelled the intruder? Was she kicking up a fuss? I needed to go see about her.

But first I took another pass at the field. The animal was still there.

“Sonuva . . . ,” I thought. “Bold. Brazen. Possibly rabid. And so . . . very . . . still.”

That’s when it dawned on me: I’d been punked.

The critter was a decoy, designed to fool the Canada geese who sometimes camped in the field and scorched the carpet-like grass with their droppings.

Sure enough, there were no geese around. The plastic carnivore — placed there by the school that maintains the field — had fooled the geese. Among others.


I thought of how people used other faux predators to scare off unwanted wildlife.

I’ve done it myself, once raiding our sons’ menagerie of plastic animals — a collection amassed over many visits to museums and zoos, as well as that cultural education center, Party City at Halloween — to solve a real-live bird problem.

Robins liked to build their sloppy nests on the pergola over our patio, so to discourage construction, I borrowed a rubber snake, climbed a ladder and placed the pseudo-viper in the robins’ favorite spot.

It worked. We enjoyed a robin-free spring that year — at least on the patio — and forgot about the anti-nesting system until the following year, when, while we were eating on the patio, the rubber snake fell onto the concrete.

It mattered little that the toy landed “Made in China” side up and didn’t move, except for a slight bounce. I was out of my chair and off the patio in milliseconds.

So that was, um, an effective deterrent.

I put the rubber snake back in the toy box and pondered other options for harbinger-of-spring control.

The life-sized rubber vulture that we wired to a fence at Halloween?

That startled trick-or-treaters. And me, every time I pulled into the driveway and saw its hulking black outline.

The 6-foot muslin-wrapped mummy that moaned and darted its eyes side-to-side whenever someone tripped a motion sensor near the front door?

That sent the little ones screaming. Me, too, when I fetched an Amazon package off the front porch a couple of days before Halloween.

The truth was, every time I’d tried to spook a real creature with a faux creature, I’d frightened myself.

The only fake predator I could abide was a swan, which some people plop into their swimming pools to keep away other water birds. Swans, as it turns out, are very territorial, which clashes with my idea of swans as the Switzerland of waterfowl. But, until I wake up as a heron, I’m not gonna sweat it.

Unfortunately, faux swans will not help the chipmunk infestation around the exterior of our home. (See Marianne Gingher’s delightful column about an interior chipmunk in O.Henry’s July issue.)

Apparently, there is no fake animal — startling or friendly — that will deter the hardy citizens of Chip City, a thriving metropolis that lies just under our home, judging from the many subway entrances around our foundation.

Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with the chips, but I do have a problem with their effect on our sweet Millie.

She hounds them with an incessant ark-ark-ark-ark, her best shot at flushing them out from behind the trash bins, even when they have darted out the other side, leaving their scent — adrenaline-spike pee? — which sends her into overdrive.

What to do? On a recent sweltering day, I mixed up a pint of homemade pepper spray, doused the bins, reached up to wipe the sweat from my brow and promptly set my eyelids on fire with eau de cayenne.

I can tolerate a lot of things. But the sound of chipmunks giggling at me is not one of them.

Which is how I found myself using my best vegetable peeler to whittle a bar of Irish Spring around the trash cans while wearing safety glasses to protect myself from a spray of lime-green soap shavings.

It was one of those moments when you ask yourself, “How did I get here?”

Here’s how: According to my rodent-based research, chipmunks and other animals hate the scent of the pungent deodorant soap, which I would describe as refreshingly gagging.

As I whittled, the jingle from the late ’70s Irish Spring TV commercial played in my head. You know the ad: a rugged Irish chap compliments an equally handsome fellow on his manly, soapy smell, and a Farrah Fawcett lookalike chimes in: “Manly, yes, but I like it, too.”

I made a small gagging sound as I whittled, and it wasn’t from the scent.

So far, the Irish Spring method seems to be working.

Either the chips hate the smell, or Millie hates the smell. In either case, she’s staying away from the bins.

Which is good, because I have only one bushy-tailed trick left, and the prospect truly scares me. And much of Nextdoor.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at

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