By LINDA HICKS

SPECIAL TO THE LOG CABIN

Few relish the thought of dealing with skunks, raccoons, bats and snakes. However, that is not the case for Andrew Shell of Vilonia.

Thirty-three-year-old Shell said he has been catching wild varmints since he was a child. For the past seven or eight years, he has been a go-to guy when it comes to catching them for others. He recently decided to turn his "word of mouth" operation into a full-fledged business — Critter-Getters of Arkansas.

His office is based out of his house and his pickup truck. The territory he covers is far reaching and his hours tend to vary. Many of his calls come in, he said, after midnight. He recently was extended an invitation to go to Florida and try his hand at catching gators. He is still pondering the idea.

"I think I could do that," Shell said. He figures it is all about mind over matter.

While he generally is a one-man operation, he said he has a cousin on standby for any potential jobs needing more than one person. His tools are far from fancy and he doesn’t have a degree in animal behavior. Referring to his attributes in regard to his business, he talks about what he learned from his grandfather as a child and his hands-on experience from an early age.

"I rely a lot on my common sense," he said.

He’s equipped with live-traps, transport cages and other homemade devices. Being adaptable is an important aspect of his business, he said, because he often finds himself working miles from a hardware store. A majority of his work, he said, requires crawling on his hands and knees. His hands and his cellular phone with a built in camera are the tools he uses the most. He tells about sticking the device into small areas — giving him a first-hand peak inside — before he goes in for a closer look.

Most of his calls, he said are in reference to removing squirrels, rats, bats, raccoons, armadillos, snakes, possums, moles, rats and skunks. He uses the word "adorable" to describe the latter—at least the way they look. One of Shell’s claims to fame is odor-free skunk removal. To maintain his motto, he uses a household blanket combined with his acquired understanding of skunk behavior. As for himself, he says all bets are off whether his luck will hold out, but to date, he has been able to calm each skunk down and stay out of the line of fire.

"I pay attention to everything around me," he said. "I’ve never gotten sprayed or been bitten but it is always on my mind."

While most of us squirm at the mention of snakes, Shell takes them in stride. His scariest snake call involved catching a large rattler in Rose City. He said he has been catching them with his hands since he was a child. His playtime was spent in the woods — hunting, fishing and trapping. And, one of his best pets was a baby raccoon. Yet, they are not a pet he would recommend for others. They tend to be mean, he said, and can carry diseases.

Commenting on some of his memorable stories, he talks about catching a flying squirrel for a woman in Jacksonville, trapping some raccoons determined to live under a tackroom in Greenbrier, rats in Little Rock and trapping four coons creating havoc in an attic. They were eating all of the insulation off the duct work and there were coon droppings everywhere. He referred to it as a dangerous, unhealthy situation.

Bat removal, he said, can only be done certain times of the year. Rat jobs, he said, are the most difficult and tend to take the longest. One of his jobs, he said, involved catching "city rats," with bodies measuring the size of an 11 1/2 shoe.

"You could see them walking single file — 15 at a time," he added. "It took weeks and weeks to get rid of them."

Other than the rats, Shell said, he operates as a catch and release operation. He said he utilizes land owned by the Game and Fish Commission. For more information, Shell may be reached at 501-231-7784.