On Old Campus, unwanted room raiders

When Elsie Sowah ’13 awoke one morning, just weeks into first semester, she found an unexpected visitor in her room — in fact, perched on her forearm.

“I felt its little claws on my forearm, and as I woke up it jumped off my head and onto my roommate’s head,” Sowah said. “I was traumatized.”

The suite of Natalie Willis ’13 in Welch has been invaded by squirrels multiple times this year. Other suites have also reported unwelcome guests, but officials say the problem is not widespread.
Brianne Bowen
The suite of Natalie Willis ’13 in Welch has been invaded by squirrels multiple times this year. Other suites have also reported unwelcome guests, but officials say the problem is not widespread.
For years, squirrels have caused problems for residents of Old Campus.
Brianne Bowen
For years, squirrels have caused problems for residents of Old Campus.

That eventful morning marked the first of three squirrel-related incidents the Welch Hall resident has dealt with during her freshman year. And she is not alone: Residents of several suites in Welch and Farnam halls have reported the mammalian room invaders. Jerry Irizarry, an Old Campus facilities superintendent, said his department has not identified the presence of squirrels in dorm rooms as an ongoing or widespread problem and that issues are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“The squirrel situation is a much bigger issue than I think anyone wants to tackle,” Irizarry said. “I think attempts were made in prior years, and the steps that were made have been met with resistance.”

But for Sowah’s room, there is already a solution in the works, the superintendent said. An exterior screen, much like a large metal cage, will be installed over the two skylight windows of the fifth-floor “princess suite” room. The screen will attach to the roof and allow the windows to open but — with any luck — will keep squirrels out.

The installation will test whether exterior screens are an effective solution to preventing further squirrel- and pest-related issues, Irizarry said. Such a screen is only being considered for Sowah’s room at the moment, he added.

“That is the [room] that has been brought to our attention — it is the one that I’ve heard, from discussions with our pest control contractor, has been a repeated problem,” he said.

Indeed, the room has presented numerous squirrel-related issues to both its current and its former occupants. But with no tree branches near the windows, no one knows exactly why that particular fifth-floor room is such a target.

Sowah had her third squirrel-encounter of the year in mid-March, when she returned from class to find her room in utter disarray — M&Ms on the ground, toiletries scattered about and books knocked everywhere. She called Facilities to report the problem and was later told by the representative who inspected her room that an animal had been building a nest beneath her bed. When Sowah and roommate Alexa Sassin ’13 examined the messy construction, they found it included items from throughout their room.

“The squirrel was a genius,” Sowah said. “It brought a handkerchief across the room that was attached to the fridge by two magnets over to the nest that it was making under the bed because it knew that it needed more cloth.”

Danielle Wiggins ’12, one of two students who occupied Sowah’s room last year, said she and her roommate had problems with squirrels from the start of the fall semester. After the animals chewed through her window screen, as well as the tape she used to mend it, Wiggins was reduced to keeping the window closed at all times.

Things got better in the winter, she said, but took a turn for the worse immediately after spring break. Wiggins and her roommate left the window open for a few hours in late March 2009, and within that brief time span, a squirrel entered the room and created a nest from tissues, blankets and other scattered items — in the exact same spot as the one Sowah found this spring.

When an exterminator later arrived to clean the room, he discovered two baby squirrels wrapped inside one of the blankets.

The squirrel problem is especially prominent within the Welch princess suites — two-floor lofts on the top levels of Welch. Current members of four of the six princess suites said they have encountered squirrels within their suites at some point during freshman year. At least one other suite within Welch also reported having a furry interloper.

Davenport College Dean Craig Harwood said he believes Facilities has managed to fix squirrel problems in prior years.

“Some persistent squirrels have gotten into Welch in the past, but it is my understanding that Facilities is aware of the issue and is taking care of any problems,” he said.

But the problem spans beyond Davenport’s freshman housing. Meg Sosnowski ’13 said the rodents frequently visit her Farnam Hall suite.

On one particularly memorable morning right before Thankgiving break, Sosnowski said she stepped out of the shower to see a squirrel “nonchalantly walking through the bathroom.” Another time, her suitemates found acorns scattered around the common room.

Though they kept the windows closed during the Thanksgiving break (which succeeded in preventing any squirrels from entering), Sosnowski said she returned from break to learn their windowsill had been chewed away by squirrels from the outside.

Sosnowski said she and her suitemates called Facilities multiple times to file complaints — mainly because their bathroom window lacked a screen entirely — but never had a screen installed in response.

Still, Irizarry said there is no single effective solution for keeping squirrels and other pests out of campus buildings when windows are frequently left open and screens often torn. He said installing exterior screens on many windows would not be practical and that the squirrel issue demands case-by-case examination.

What’s more, he said many students worsen the problem by openly feeding and caring for squirrels on campus. He added that squirrels at Yale are unafraid to approach humans.

“It’s like a Catch-22,” he said. “We’re trying to prevent [squirrels] from coming into the buildings, but they’ve also become accustomed to being fed and taken into the buildings as pseudo pets.”

But at least Welch residents have a brighter future ahead when they move into Davenport College, Wiggins said. She recalled the words of Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld ’71 MED ’76 when he greeted the sophomore class on their first day in fall 2009:

“Do you know what one of the biggest differences between Davenport and Welch is?” Schottenfeld reportedly said. “There are no squirrels.”

Comments

  • BR

    This happens a lot in Vanderbuilt as well.

  • BR

    It never happened to me in Vandy but it used to happen to me all the time last year in Branford. They trashed my room on one occasion. The facilities guy promised to install screens, but then they couldn’t due to budget problems.

    I think the squirrel thing IS a widespread problem, just one they don’t care about.

  • JB

    Squirrels mark the areas they nest in, which leads to other squirrels to the area too. Good luck keeping them out once it’s “squirrel territory”. Chicken wire (they can’t squeeze through and they can’t eat through it) over the opening and extended well beyond, is the only way my neighbors and I keep them out of our houses. Don’t know how that would look over your windows….

  • Jennifer L. Julier

    A few years ago, before Tomcat was airlifted into the space behind Rose Alumni House, those of us working at the AYA had a nice view of Pierson College. On one fine spring afternoon, we watched a squirrel go into an open window on the third floor, and after a few minutes he came out with a pair of panty hose. Unfortunately for him, the hose snagged on the window sill and although he worked hard, he couldn’t get them lose. What he was going to do with them, we really don’t know!
    Jennifer Julier ’77

  • DC ’13 princess

    Another squirrel anecdote: my suitemate was studying in her fifth-floor room, heard scrabbling, and turned around to find a squirrel eating her food. Two weeks later was my birthday, and my parents sent a cake. I received a text message from my mother: “Hide cake from squirrels.”

  • BR10

    I used to wake up every morning in Vandy to a squirrel tearing up the screen trying to get into my room – even in the winter when my window was closed. One day when we left the window open I came back to a YDN nest on one of the beds – the squirrel had torn up an old paper that was in the recycling. And its Vanderbilt (not Vanderbuilt, @ #1).

  • Cantab

    A friend of mine up the road at fair Hahvahd won one of those humongous shell-on peanut-filled thingies. She left it in her dorm room over Spring Break.

    You figure out the rest of the story…

  • CC’09

    Twice while living in Calhoun, I woke up to find that a squirrel had crawled down my chimney. Pretty awesome.

  • BR Squirrel

    Why do you think we’re the Branford Squirrels!? :P

    No really, I actually heard it was because of such frequent invasions. This is not a new phenomenon.

  • Y11

    One time, when I was a freshman in L-dub, I woke up to find a squirrel tearing through my stomach lining.

    From the INSIDE.

  • History of Collegiate Squirrels

    So who will create the definitive history of Yale squirrels? Check out the Harvard Squirrel Archive:

    http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/phall/harvard_squirrel_archive.html

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2009/4/23/more-to-squirrels-at-harvard/

  • @Y11

    pics or it didn’t happen

  • DPort

    I sure hope they find a solution to this problem. Not being able to open the windows in the fifth floor rooms of welch (which are essentially attics–there is no air circulation up there and it is stifling hot) will surely be uncomfortable in this warm spring weather. And who knows where those squirrels have been…I wouldn’t want them walking all over my bed and pillows!

  • Squirrel Hunter

    We’ve been having the same problem. However, our new found recipe – squirrel pot pie – seems to have acted as a deterrent.

  • Morse ’10

    There’s a weird girl in Morse who actually keeps the squirrels as pseudo-pets.

  • joey ’00′

    Squirrels put nuts in their mouth for later

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