05.03.2003 - This house was the worst-smelling house that I've ever been in. The odor was unbelievably wretched, both in stench and power. The house was completely unlivable. I knew, as did the owner, that a dead animal lay somewhere in the house, rotting.
The smell had afflicted the house for ten days.
I put on my HEPA filter mask and searched all around. I searched the attic extensively, but I couldn't find the source of the odor. Amazingly, I did find some living baby raccoons. I suspected that the mother raccoon must have died somewhere, but I could not find it. I even searched outside the house for clues, and there, in the gutter, I found another living baby raccoon. It was over 100 feet away from the other raccoons, and tiny and its eyes were still sealed shut, and it had somehow crawled away and out of the attic and outside into the gutter. The resilience and will to survive of these animals is absolutely astounding. These little babies were only 2-3 weeks old, and hadn't yet starved. I collected the young and put them in a warm, safe, box, and later brought them to a wildlife rehabilitation clinic.
But what about the horrible smell? I was having no luck finding it. I spoke with the homeowner about it, but he could offer no good clues. In fact, we didn't speak the same language, so it was very difficult to talk to him at all. I remember that we spent fifteen minutes as he struggled to get across the idea that perhaps it was the mother raccoon's afterbirth that was causing the odor - a ridiculous notion, given the strength of the smell, but even more ridiculous to try to convey in Spanish, while I spoke only English.
I went back into the ceiling and I noticed that much of the duct work in the attic had been torn open. I wondered if a raccoon had crawled through the ducts. I continued to search and sniff around, when suddenly I stuck my head into one of the ducts, and the odor was horrible, even through my mask. I knew that the raccoon had to be inside. I looked around and noticed that this duct came directly out of the air handler. There was no access to the air handler from the attic, so I went back into the house, and motioned that the animal was inside the air handler.
I got permission to cut it open, so I got my knife and cut an opening in the air handler, and sure enough, therein lay the dead and rotting raccoon. I believe that it became electrified and died on the coils inside the air handler. As I removed it, all sorts of sparks flew. It was dangerous, but I did not get shocked. I borrowed some sort of gripping tongs from the man, and pulled out the raccoon, as showed in the above photo. I removed all of the spare bits and pieces, and bagged it all and sprayed the area and fixed the air handler.
The owner of the home was incredibly grateful. It had taken about an hour and a half. In addition to paying me my $40 fee, he gave me some of his native Cuban raisin wine. It was almost as ghastly as the smell of the dead raccoon. Still, I was proud of a job well done, and I brought the little raccoons to the rehabber, and everyone was happy foreverafter.
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As weird and uncanny as it may seem, coming across dead animals in your air vents is not as uncommon as you may think. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the odor gives away their hiding spot which makes the removal as well as sealing off potential hiding spaces for wild animals much easier in the future. On one hand, you are now bothered with the removal of a raccoon but on the positive side, you know what to do for the future.
Step 1: How to identify a dead raccoon?
When it comes to raccoons, the stench of the decomposing animal is a dead giveaway keeping in mind the large size of the animal. The odor is extremely strong and you will have to trust your nose to guide you to where it may be. The identification of a dead raccoon in your house is not as difficult as removing it is. Often accompanied by fluids and maggots, professional help can take care of all the biohazard waste and remove the carcass for you. You could easily spot the animal if you could just peer through the vent cover with a flashlight and see what is inside to confirm your fear.
Step 2: How to remove a dead raccoon?
After identification, the removal is the next crucial step. The lifeless carcass of an animal will invite other smaller animals and insects like maggots which will worsen the condition of your air holder and also make the smell unbearable. The removal needs to be thorough, clean, and disinfected readily. The removal process should be done wearing proper attire and gloves to not risk infection with the knowledge of how to dispose of the body according to local guidelines of animal nuisance control.
Final Step: Precautionary measures
The final step that follows is to prevent this from happening again. If you do not want a repetition of a dead raccoon in your air vent, blocking, cooling, and producing stench, a follow-up inspection is necessary. Not only will this reveal the gaps and nooks of where the raccoon may have entered from, but will also stop this from ever happening again. The duct leaks that are uncovered will also rob you of vent energy and allow animals to enter through. It is always a good idea to keep a close eye on small openings that may cause you a nuisance in the future. An air holder specifically will attract a lot of unwanted attention from the wildlife, so it is always best to take precautionary measures regularly and maintain them so that animals, even those as big as raccoons, can find it hard to penetrate through your home.