Making a business out of a molehill
A swimming pool wrecker prompts woman to go on a mole crusade
Kelly Wallaert was putting in a swimming pool in the backyard of her 5-acre home in Corbett several years ago. A single mole, working its way toward the pool's foundation, was making her crazy.
After repeated failed attempts to catch the critter herself, she sought reinforcements.
'I called a guy and asked him to come trap the mole and show me how to do it,' Wallaert said. 'I figured if he could do it, so could I. After that, I caught 18 moles on the property in two months.'
Meet The Mole Lady - a 57-year-old vertically challenged blonde, with a charming sense of humor and a red king-cab pickup full of tools and implements few would tangle with. She has made a livelihood of pursuing something most of us recoil from and consider a nuisance, but each job is a relentless mission she intends to win.
And after 16 years in the business, the Fairview resident understands the animals better than Wikipedia.
Moles are territorial animals that don't play well with others, Wallaert said. They feed on worms, grass grubs and insects and can travel more than 100 miles a day. They burrow underground, periodically pushing excess soil toward the surface, leaving dirt mounds in their wake. Those mounds aren't a welcome sight for homeowners who have spent the spring and early summer striving for a lawn suitable for the cover of Sunset Magazine.
'The trick is to trap a mole at the first sign of one,' Wallaert said. 'Don't wait until there are 17 dirt mounds in the yard. And the old wives tales about putting Juicy Fruit gum or human hair in the hole won't work. The only way to get rid of a mole is a trap.'
This year's seemingly unending monsoons made for a banner mole season, Wallaert said, which usually peaks in June. Moles typically breed between January and March, giving birth in May, June and July. With a more ample food supply due to the lengthy spring rains, Wallaert has been busy.
'Moles mate once and then they're done with each other,' she said. 'They start kicking the babies out of the nest in June, so what I'm getting now are the teenagers. Babies and teenagers are actually more destructive than adults because they can't tunnel as far before they have to surface. A mole has to eat 50 percent of its body weight every day or it starves to death. The damp ground brought out a lot of worms, so this has been a record year for me.'
Wallaert uses a metal contraption called an Out O Sight Cinch Trap, an upside-down U-shaped apparatus with a spring. She locates the freshest dirt mound, digs down into the tunnel and sets the trap. A perimeter is established with more traps to catch the animal along its route. Wallaert then places a 2-gallon bucket over the hole and trap, to protect the homeowner's domestic animals and children from getting hurt.
'I use a minimum of three traps,' Wallaert said. 'I get them coming, in the middle and going. I will set as many traps as I can to get the job done as quickly as possible because I know the customer doesn't want the traps there any longer than necessary.'
Wallaert admits she's been chastised for hurting or killing innocent animals, but is quick to point out she uses traps that aren't sharp or barbed to cause suffering. She also humanely disposes of the deceased critters, by burying them in an existing mole hole in the yard or off property at the homeowner's request.
Unlike other companies who offer mole-trapping services, Wallaert doesn't use a contract. She charges a one-time set-up fee, based on the customer's location, and $35 per mole caught. She also checks her traps at least weekly and will hunt down additional pests for two months with no additional set-up charge.
'I bill differently than most other mole trappers,' Wallaert said. 'They have you sign a contract for months at a time and once that's up, you have to renew if you want them to come back and trap again. I only charge once for set up, which basically covers my gas, and I will only bill for the moles I catch, no matter how long it takes.'
Wallaert is primarily self-taught in the ways of the mole world, although she did spend time talking to 'old-timers' when she first started her business.
'A lot of what they told me sounded sort of strange, but over time, I found they knew what they were talking about,' she said. 'For example, moles don't use each other's tunnels. They dig their own and when the food is gone, they're done with it. One guy told me moles have a deep underground highway they share. He was right, because once I dug deep enough to find it.'
It's not a glamorous job, by any means. Wallaert wears thick gloves. She confesses she's been surprised by a mole wandering in the daytime and even bitten a time or two.
Plus, it's no fun emptying a trap in the hot weather.
But for the Mole Lady the thrill of the chase is only half the fun.
'I'm sure there are a lot of wives out there wondering why a woman would do this,' Wallaert said. 'But I get to be outside, in the sunshine, and I've seen some of the most beautiful landscaping and yards and I meet the most wonderful people. Who wouldn't want to do this?'
The Mole Lady
WHO: Kelly Wallaert