WOODBINE — Drew Drake says his customers often tell him the same thing: “I don’t want your job. I can’t do what you do.”
His response: “It’s amazing what you can get used to.”
Drake, 38, of Wildwood Crest, owns Drake Pest Management in Woodbine, which handles all manner of infestations — from bed bugs to bats; from raccoons to rats; from ants to spiders to snakes.
Drake concedes this job is not for everybody.
Once in Florida, he was bitten by a rat and needed a tetanus shot. Another time, in Cape May County, he was sprayed by a skunk.
“A lady said, I think he’s in the yard. I walked around the corner and, ‘pshew,’” he said. “I used ‘Head and Shoulders’ everywhere to try and break down the smell a little bit.”
Drake, who grew up in Cape May, originally had no intention of getting into the pest control business. He was studying business and psychology at Florida Atlantic University.
But at that time, he found himself introduced to the industry as many people are — when they become homeowners.
“We paid a guy to do a termite inspection — $400 for three minutes,” he said. “We settled on the house and then we found carpenter ants all over the bottom of the house. We called the guy and they said they didn’t cover it. … Like everybody else, you freak out. I had the phone book out, calling around.”
Drake, who was bartending while going to college at the time, ended up using the services of a customer he knew from the bar.
“He came and sprayed my house. I said, ‘What do I owe you.’ He said, ‘You owe me a day’s work.’”
“I loved it,” he said. “It was what I wanted to do.”
Several years later, he opened his own pest management business in Boca Raton, Fla.
He sold that business several years ago, and he, his wife and young daughter moved back to Cape May County.
Back in the area, he found people kept asking him questions about what to do with their bug problems. So in 2008, he decided to get back into the business.
Pest management is unlike many other occupations.
“Every job is different. In 19 years, they’re not the same. There’s always some aspect or facet you have to analyze,” he said.
There are also the stories.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Someone calls thinking there’s a mouse in the attic, and you get up there and there’s a raccoon this big running around,” he said, stretching his arms shoulder length apart. “It gets your adrenaline going.”
Drake works with one employee, Vince Bove, 21, of Wildwood Crest.
Bove recalled one case in which a large raccoon broke through a ceiling and hid in the box spring of a mattress.
Another time they used a tiny camera to find two baby raccoons that fell through the attic and got stuck inside a wall.
“They were so young they could barely open their eyes,” he said. “They were so thirsty.”
Bed bugs have been a major focus of the business recently, and some real estate agents now ask for bed bug certifications before a home is sold, he said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there is no quick fix to bed bug problems, which have increased in recent years, but there are effective ways to control them using both chemical and non chemical methods.
Drake Pest Management, which also does termite inspections for home sales, serves Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland counties.
The pest control business has its challenges, Drake said.
There is a lot of competition — from major national companies to small outfits — and state regulations can change often on what types of chemicals can be used, he said.
And then there’s the issue of capturing the critters and what type of bait to use.
Cat food and peanut butter (creamy, not chunky) are viable options for opossums and raccoons.
Then there’s the unique bait his business uses for catching rodents — Slim Jims.
“I learned that years ago in Florida by accident. A kid that worked for me dropped a Slim Jim and the rats devoured it. Everyone else used peanut butter and cheese, but Slim Jims have the real crunchy skin and it holds in a trap. And it’ll stay preserved” Drake said. “That’s our secret weapon when all else fails. Slim Jims are in the budget. We have a big box of them.”
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