Mark Hazel of Spray Masters injects a pesticide into the walls of a Talent home to kill velvet tree ants, which are voracius wood eaters and cause structural damage. 3/10/08 Denise Baratta

In a word ... YUCK!

Susan Masten's days as a local exterminator are nearly over. And she couldn't be happier about that.

"It's sick," said Masten, the owner of Rogue Valley Pest Control. "This is definitely one of the world's nastiest, dirtiest jobs. I can't believe I do it. When I was trained, I didn't think I would make it a year.

"I'm just sick of it. I'm pretty petite and pretty girly, and it's just horrible, nasty work."

Masten, 45, comes from a family of exterminators. But after 12 years as a licensed professional, she is entering the jewelry business — though she'll retain ownership of Rogue Valley Pest Control.

She's leaving with plenty of stories — such as the time she serviced a vacation house in Wagner Creek, owned by a heart surgeon from Alaska. A group of skunks and opossums managed entry into the crawl space of the vacated home, which set off a territorial brawl.

The opossums won.

Masten worked at the house years later, cleaning "pieces and parts" of the skunks.

Masten also trapped a rat near Rogue River that she estimated weighed 12 pounds. And she once serviced a Grants Pass home infested with 20 to 30 rats, which had been living there for many years.

"When you are trying to do a cleanup, and the feces is five inches thick in the insulation, and it falls on you, and it's maggot-infested ... that's why I'm getting out of this business," Masten said.

Approximately 30 to 40 pest control businesses exist in the Rogue Valley, many dealing with a wide variety of annoyances, from spiders and termites to bees and rats.

Marc Hazel, pest control operator for Spray Masters, said exterminators first assess the scope of the pest problem and set a bid accordingly.

Bids can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

Some problems are treated through fumigation. Hazel's wildest moment came during a job at an apartment building infested with cockroaches. He pulled out a refrigerator and found "probably 300." During the fumigation process, the cockroaches traveled into the ceilings before eventually dying.

"Their natural defense is to go up and then the chemicals hit them and they start falling," Hazel said. "They start raining down on you. It almost sounded like it was sprinkling on the roof. That was the most bizarre I've ever seen. They let it go on for a very long time. It was almost like a movie.

"I was pulling mattresses apart and they were in between those. It was like something you see on 'Dirty Jobs.'"

For rodents, exterminators set traps or poison. Hazel uses a coumadin poison and Masten prefers snap traps, which kill the rats instantly.

The first task for exterminators is to identify why the pest nuisance is occurring. Rats and other pests often seek warmth in the winter months and find entry in crawl spaces.

"Basically, you want to find out where they are getting in," said Hazel, who was drawn to the profession by his brother, who was an entomologist.

Exterminators recommend cleaning food sources such as pet food or bird seed from around the premises of the home. Once the entry points are sealed, exterminators place traps or poison in crawl spaces and along sides of homes.

The problem is best treated quickly and swiftly, and not simply for health reasons.

"I've seen them turn crawl spaces upside down as far as insulation," Hazel said. "It's kind of like cattle in a field, they just chomp it down. They can be pretty destructive."

Hazel also warns against potential fire hazards because rats and mice often chew wires that contain rubber.

"Rodents' teeth are constantly growing and that's how they file their teeth down," Hazel said. "As far as a danger, that's the one that is worst."

Termites are another destructive pest. Masten said one colony of termites can eat 1,000 pounds of timber in a year — most infested homes have three or four colonies — and no over-the-counter product fully eliminates the problem.

"People don't have a clue," Masten said. "Then they are devastated when it costs 30 to 40 thousand dollars to jack up the house (and fix the problem)."

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