Bats in the Belfry ... Attic, Studio and Toilet

Despite what looks like killer fangs in this photo, bats have small teeth and their bites may not be easily seen. (BatGuys)

Despite what looks like killer fangs in this photo, bats have small teeth and their bites may not be easily seen. (BatGuys)

By KATHIE FLORSHEIM/ecoRI News contributor

It was Halloween night when I saw a huge shadow on the wall in the living room. The wing span was the size of an eagle’s. I left the house, fast. That was my first experience finding a bat in my Rhode Island home. That was 39 years ago.

Over the years, a number of these critters have preferred my house to the great outdoors, much to my chagrin. Some of the experiences were funny, others ... not so much. I have heard numerous tales of using golf clubs, tennis rackets and brooms to manage their departure. Although your first instinct would be to chase a bat out of the house, that’s not a good idea, because you will not know the state of the animal’s health. It may be rabid.

Bats are tested for rabies when they are found in your home, even if you don’t think you have had any contact with them. There is a well-known case of a bat being found in the room with an infant, in which the child was examined for evidence of a bite. There was no visible bite mark, yet the child died of rabies. It’s possible to be bitten while sleeping, without knowing it.

As challenging or distasteful as it may be, the best strategy is to catch the bat and bring it to the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) for testing. Dead bats found in your house also need to be tested.

My saying this is not theoretical. I have had two bats in my house in the past few weeks, one I found in my studio toilet, drowned, and the other, two days later, on the steps to my studio, also dead. In both cases I took the carcass to DOH for testing, and fortunately, in these two instances, they were negative for rabies. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out how I removed the bat from the toilet, when I would have been all too happy to flush.

Had I done that, flushed, I would have had to be inoculated, because the state of the bat’s health wouldn’t have been known. In that case, as in other such cases — for example, if a dead bat hasn’t enough brain material remaining to test for rabies — that means inoculation. That was the case when in 2007, after finding a dead bat clinging to the screen of my living-room window, I got a full set of rabies shots. Not much fun, but better than rabies.

Then there was the case three years later when my neighbor trapped a bat in my studio that turned out to be rabid. That time, I got the booster shots, as I did when, two years later, I found another dead bat that hadn’t enough brain matter to assess.

This week, I’m talking to a wildlife exclusion company to try again to bat-proof my house.