Meir Feldman is the owner of Deadbug Pest Control in Gateshead, England
What pests do you deal with most often?
Rats and mice are my bread and butter. Over the years I have seen a dramatic increase in rat activity, very likely we can put this down to less frequent bin collections and excess waste. I tell my clients that these rodents take advantage of easy entry points, so make sure all your brickwork and doors and vents are in good shape. Now we’re coming up on my busiest season — in addition to rats, mice, bedbugs, fleas, and pigeons, which are active throughout the year, pests like wasps, bees, hornets, and ants emerge in the summer. I operate around most of the northeast of England. I have domestic and commercial customers as well as landlords and letting agents, so I see a variety of pests and pest-related issues.
What’s the most common question you get?
People regularly ask me how a frum Yid can do this for a living. Non-Jewish people are simply surprised: “I thought Jews were petrified of wild animals and dogs.” The most interesting question I got was from someone on Erev Rosh Hashanah — he asked if I would pray for people to have pests. I said I would pray for parnassah, and how Hashem chooses to give it to me is up to Him!
How did you get into this field?
I grew up with a large backyard with a pond and all sorts of wildlife, and as a kid I spent a lot of time investigating insects, frogs, fish, and small mammals. My family was also very adventurous. When we went to Switzerland for holidays, we caught lizards, snakes, and other wildlife, and we studied them a bit to learn about them before setting them free. When I started to work, I tried a few jobs — managing a food store, electrician’s training — but I found those unexciting. I realized the Jewish community could do with a heimish pest controller, so I took courses and trained and learned on the job, and then four years ago, I dove right in and started my company. I love it! I never know what I’ll encounter — I can start my day dealing with wasps and find myself being called to rescue a trapped hedgehog — and I’m still learning new wonders every day.
Is there a staff, or it’s just you?
I have a secretary, as it can be difficult to answer the phone whilst wearing a full face mask or crawling in a tight space. I do most jobs on my own, but I will get additional workforce for large jobs, like bird-proofing solar panels or installing netting for bird prevention.
What equipment do you always have on you?
One of my most important tools is a torch — here we call a flashlight a torch — because I spend a lot of time inspecting dark areas such as basements, lofts, and empty buildings. Also PPE — personal protective equipment, we all know what that is now — such as gloves and a facemask are essential for my line of work, to protect from toxic chemicals or disease transmission from pests’ waste. Heavy-duty bags for disposal or transport of pests — I take deceased pests to waste management sites that deal with toxic waste. Rats and mice that were killed by poison need to be incinerated, as there is a risk of other animals eating them and getting ill from secondary poisoning.
Have you ever been injured on the job?
I was pecked by a seagull on one occasion — it flew through a small window into a room and couldn’t get out, and it got me when I was trying to release it. Another time, I was stung by a bumblebee when trying to safely remove the nest. I have had close encounters with rats, but I’ve never been bitten, baruch Hashem.
What was the toughest job you ever did?
That was the pigeons in a difficult-to-reach loft in a property that had been empty for years. I had to chase more than 50 pigeons out of the loft and remove guano-filled insulation — guano is pigeon waste, it’s a great fertilizer but filthy work — and this was on a boiling hot summer day, whilst wearing a full hazmat suit and mask.
Which pests wreak the most havoc?
Rats and other rodents cause the most physical damage, in my opinion, because they chew through wood and even light steel. They also very frequently chew through electrical cables, causing blackouts and even fires. Emotionally speaking, I think bedbugs are the most damaging — that is, distressing — because they share your house, bed, and blood, and they leave you with a nasty itch. I tell my clients that it’s not for nothing that mothers sing to their kids “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” Interestingly, bedbugs were on the rise as people traveled more frequently and picked these up on planes, hotels, and motels, but that’s slowed down a bit now.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever gotten?
I gave a hilchos tzad lesson in one of the Gateshead mosdos to nine- and ten-year-old boys — first we learned the halachos of hunting and capturing animals with the teacher, and then I showed the boys how traps work and taught them different techniques. We discussed what would be allowed on Shabbos and what would not, how in certain circumstances it is permitted to have traps set before Shabbos even if they may catch an animal on Shabbos, and so on. We also discussed different pests the boys encountered on Shabbos, which led to exciting discussions about wasps, bees, spiders, and other creatures they came across during summer holidays. The kids enjoyed testing some of the traps I brought along. I also brought a stuffed animal rat, and each boy was allowed to make it set off the trap — they covered their ears in anticipation of the loud bang, it was quite cute. They loved when I showed how to make a simple plastic bottle trap to catch flies, wasps, even fish. We had a wonderful time.
Any cases of mistaken identity?
Someone once called me about a snake’s tail sticking out of their living room wall, it turned out to be a slug — that was humorous. People often get wasps and bees confused, that’s easy to understand. Someone called me recently about prickly mice in his garden, I asked if he meant hedgehogs but he had never heard of them before. I showed him a photo — it was a hedgehog. The most memorable case of mistaken identity I had was when I got called out by a family that had been hearing scratching sounds in their ceiling. When I came out to investigate, I could hear it too, and I told them it sounds like they have a rat in the ceiling void. I placed some traps and told them I would be back to inspect after Shabbos. After Shabbos, I got a call that the noises have stopped, but the family hamster has gone missing. Unfortunately, what I thought was a rat was their escaped hamster! Lesson for pet owners: if you hear noises in your ceiling or under the floor, I strongly recommend checking on your pet first before calling pest control.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 814)
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