My husband and I had always dreamed of owning a big, old house out in the country, so when a stately, four-bedroom, two-bath, circa-1819 farmhouse with two fireplaces and hardwood floors went up for sale in Kinsman, we jumped at the chance to buy it.
Although the home needed some tender loving care, it was structurally sound and had a lot of potential.
Situated on a quiet back road, with panoramic views of rambling cornfields and a big, red barn in the back yard, it, we decided was the "house of our dreams."
In February of 2002, we moved in.
Little did we know that by summer 2002, our beloved dream house would become Dracula's castle.
Our first clue that we had a "bat problem" occurred when we were still in the process of buying our house.
During a routine home inspection, an inspector informed us that he noticed some bat droppings in the attic.
The home had been vacant for a year prior to going on the market, and during that time, a turbine vent had blown off of the attic roof, leaving a small area open to the air, and, as we were to find out later, a colony of bats.
At the time of the inspection, we didn't worry too much about the bat droppings. The inspector advised us to replace the turbine roof vent, which we did.
We figured that would take care of the bat problem.
We were wrong.
The first time I noticed a bat in the house was probably during late May 2002.
I was dusting the fireplace mantle when, horrified, I discovered a sleeping bat tucked behind a picture frame.
One piercing scream later, and my husband scooped the snoozing varmint into an old towel and threw it out the door.
We assumed it had flew down the chimney and made its way into the house by squeezing through the glass fireplace doors, which didn't fit as snugly as they should and needed to be replaced.
We promptly sealed off the doors.
The following evening, I was sitting at the computer when a bat suddenly swooped past my head, brushing my cheek.
I screamed for my husband and ran from the room, only to see another bat flapping around in the dining room, and yet another bat diving in and out of the kitchen.
My husband bolted for the garage and grabbed a lawn rake and an old towel.
He then proceeded to swat the bats to the ground, scoop them up in the towel and throw them out the door.
As funny as it might sound, it was not funny at all at the time.
During the course of the next few months, we became involved in an all-out bat war.
My husband would stay up late each night, armed with the lawn rake, and every evening at dusk -- the hour when bats awaken -- I would take my daughter and seek refuge in the bedroom, behind a closed door.
One night, my husband stayed up past 2 a.m., and in the morning reported that there had been at least seven bats flying around in our house and probably as many as 15 flying around in our brand-new, attached, two-car garage.
"I am becoming one of them," he joked wryly in reference to his bloodshot eyes and nocturnal habits.
But despite his sense of humor, neither of us was really laughing.
I was beginning to wish we had never bought an old house, and we were both fast losing affection for our "house of dreams."
Most discouraging were the reports of bat removal that I read about on the Internet.
According to many online articles, bats are very insidious creatures and are very difficult to remove from a home.
Many pest companies would not even handle them.
Even more surprising was that bats were protected species in many states, which meant killing them was illegal.
We weren't sure what to do.
We were short on cash and didn't want to fork out thousands to a pest removal company, but we knew we had to do something.
Before bed each night, I braided my long hair in tight plaits for fear that a bat would somehow get tangled in my tresses.
But even with braids as tight as Laura Ingalls', I tossed and turned fitfully, my slumber haunted by visions of bats.
The last straw
By mid-June, we knew we had to call a professional.
The final straw occurred one morning when I woke up and noticed a bat hanging upside-down from the bedroom curtain rod, sleeping.
The bedroom door had been shut all night, so we assumed the bat had squeezed through a small opening at the top of the door.
It seemed like we were living out a scene from a horror movie.
We did call a professional that day, and he came to our home that evening at dusk.
After he checked the attic, he and my husband stood outside in the front yard and watched for bat activity.
My husband was floored when they counted at least 300 bats flying out of our attic from the turbine vent on the attic roof.
Yes, we had replaced the vent, but the bats were still able to enter and exit through the vent because -- as I found out -- bats can squeeze through a space no wider than a ruler!
The professional wryly advised my husband not to tell me how many bats were really living in our attic.
The professional also said that a colony of 300 bats is only "medium-sized," and large colonies include thousands!
Now I was really upset.
If bats could squeeze through a crack as wide as a ruler, and we lived in a historical home full of little cracks and crannies, how were we ever going to get rid of these vile critters?
The professional told us that his method of removal involved hanging special mesh nets over the areas in the home where the bats enter and exit.
He said that at dusk, the bats would exit through the nets but at dawn, they would not be able to get back in again.
The professional bat remover wanted about $1,000 to install the nets and said it would cost additional money if we wanted him to seal the entry and exit holes.
He also said his work was guaranteed for less than a year.
My husband and I knew that this man was respected in his field, and we trusted his judgment, but we could not afford his price, which, by the way, was not any higher than estimates given by other local companies.
We also feared that if the exit and entry areas were not completely sealed, the bats would return the following spring and we'd be right back where we started, minus $1,000.
After some discussion, we decided to take matters into our own hands.
The first order of business was to take care of that attic roof vent.
We couldn't merely seal the roof vent off and leave 300 bats frantically flying around the attic with no way to escape, so we devised a different plan.
We removed the roof vent again, and my father -- a true "Mr. Fix It" -- designed a wooden flap to fit over the vent opening.
My dad designed the flap so it could be opened and closed from the ground by pulling on a couple of long ropes.
At dusk, we opened the flap and let the bats fly out, and after about an hour or so, we shut the flap so that when the bats wanted to enter again at dawn, they wouldn't be able to get in.
When this did not totally eradicate the problem, we realized that bats were also getting into the house by coming down both chimneys and by squeezing in through cracks around the soffets. (We determined this by standing outside at dusk and watching the places the bats exited our home.)
So my husband rented an extension ladder from the hardware store and he and my dad went around the entire second story of the house sealing all cracks and crevices with a caulking gun.
My dad also installed a couple of wire mesh chimney covers for the tops of the chimneys, and screened off the opening underneath the turbine roof vent so that not even a wasp could squeeze inside.
A few weeks later, we were free of bats.
For the first time in months, my dreams were not haunted by images of Dracula, and I didn't have to braid my hair before going to bed.
So where did the bats go?
They relocated to our barn, but we didn't care.
After all, bats eat lots of mosquitoes.