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What to do when critters invade your yard

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Skunk

The simplest way to shut down the urban wildlife thoroughfare in your yard is to install a heavy wire mesh.

DEAR JOAN — We have had a critter digging under our fence for over 30 years! We recently set up a camera and found a skunk, who is going from our yard into the neighbors'. They have a very overgrown yard and keep chickens in a coop.

We don't mind the skunk but don't want the holes under our fence. We had to fence off our patio area 20 years ago to keep the dogs contained, otherwise they couldn't resist digging at the fence and making the holes bigger.

We don't know what to do. We can't determine where it stays and don't want to confine it in our yard if it has a nest elsewhere. Originally there were two holes, one on each side of the yard. We would put rocks and bricks, and these would either be moved or a new hole dug. The hole on the other side of our yard seems to not be active any more.

We thought it was a fox because we found light reddish hair. We have also found poop near our house in the dog area that looks like an animal that ate a lot of berries. We totally cleared out our yard of ivy and other vegetation and junk — it's now mostly dirt now — and we installed the camera.

We would like to have the dogs go in the larger backyard without them trying to investigate the hole and dig or try to wiggle under the fence. We've tried repellent but that does not seem to bother the skunk. Suggestions?

Sandi Kovach-Long, San Jose, California

DEAR SANDI: Wow. Your yard sounds like a South Bay Serengeti with lots of different creatures moving through. You should be getting some excellent wildlife videos.

As you've removed the ivy and other vegetation, you probably don't have wildlife living in your yard. You would have seen signs, although if you have a deck, raised patio or outbuildings, check beneath them to see if any critters have moved in. If you are sure nothing is under them, then you won't need to worry about trapping any wildlife in your yard when you close up the entrance beneath the fence.

The simplest way to shut down the thoroughfare is to install a heavy wire mesh — hardware cloth is an excellent choice — at the entrance. Bury it two feet down and secure the top part of the mesh to the fence, blocking the entrance and preventing anything from tunneling under it.

While you're at it, you might as well do the entire fence because critters can be persistently pernicious, and if they can't get through in one spot, they'll dig in another.

I've no doubt you've got a visiting skunk, but the red fur you saw likely is from a fox, and the berry-loving animal is probably a raccoon. The heavy rocks and bricks that get moved are signs of a raccoon at work. They have an advantage over other creatures in that they have strong and agile hands.

Keep in mind that when creatures can't burrow beneath fences, they will go over. You can stop them by installing a harmless shock wire, or just let them pass through if they aren't doing harm.

If you allow your dogs more access, they can be a deterrent, even if they aren't present at night when the animals call. Word will get out that they're around.

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