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.”
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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.”