Bats in the belfry no joke for town

Infested church stank to high heaven
Number astounds bat-control specialist

Morgan Campbell
Staff Writer
PEFFERLAW, ONT – Benjamin “Batman” Vaughan has never performed a smellier, sloppier inspection.

Vaughan, a bat-control specialist, knew bats were in the attic of the old Cooke’s United Church in Pefferlaw, a hamlet northeast of Newmarket. Officials from the Town of Georgina had called him to get rid of them so they could turn the church, which hasn’t hosted a service in about a year, into a community centre.

He just didn’t know how bad it was.

Last Monday, Vaughan donned his “space suit” and scaled a ladder. He laid his hands on the hatch to the attic and pushed once. When it went up, the dung came down, showering Vaughan and leaving him stinking and shocked.

It turn out that until this week, Pefferlaw, a town of 3,400 had more than 2,000 bats, most of which were living, mating, and yes, defecating in the church attic. Vaughan said yesterday it will take three days to clear the bats out and clean up. The crew had to step around knee-high piles of dung and tread lightly on floorboards soaked with bat urine. The stench was so strong it could be smelled on the street.

“When you get three-foot piles of dung in the attic, you’re not dealing with a couple (of bats),” Vaughan said. “You’re dealing with a couple thousand, and they’ve been there for a while.”

Vaughan’s company, Bat Control Specialists, has cleared bats from building from Toronto to Kentucky over the past 14 years, but this one “is the most disgusting job I’ve had so far,” he said.

Outside, the grass has been cut, and flowers bloom. The church held regular Sunday services until a year ago, which Vaughan finds incredible: “I don’t know how they could stand the smell.”

The basement stayed open as a recreation centre, where local teens would play pool or watch TV despite the dead bats that periodically plopped from the attic. But complaints closed the centre two months ago.

“Another five years and I wouldn’t have even bothered fixing it,” said crew member Kenny Charboneau. “I would just take a bulldozer to it.”

Vaughan says ridding a building of bats has nothing to do with eradicating them. The attic’s entry points are fitted with vents so when the bats leave at night, they can’t get back inside.

And then? Vaughan shrugs.

“They leave, I guess.”

Most will take off in search of caves, but a few ended up in a tree outside July Kydd’s house a few kilometres away. “They were just flying everywhere, all over the place,” she said. “I guess they were just looking for a house.”

Article featured in The Toronto Star on September 18, 2004