Lead Stories
Tyrone Phillips holding a skunk.
Photos by Graham Gettel
Tyrone Phillips holding a skunk.

The humane exterminator

Labor Day | Tyrone Phillips loves people and animals as he works to keep them apart

This week through Labor Day we are publishing six brief pieces on people working hard and enjoying their labor. Some are Christians and some not, because through God’s common grace people of many faiths can enjoy meeting challenges. Three of the stories come from Rob Holmes, who lives with his family in Chad. Three others come from World Journalism Institute students who wrote and rewrote them during this year’s Asheville course. —Marvin Olasky

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—This is a town full of earth lovers and animal rights activists, but when wildlife becomes destructive, Tyrone Phillips is the man people trust to stop the problem in its tracks. 

“You’ll never find anyone to do wildlife control who’s as humane as me,” Phillips said. “When I do kill animals, it’s just part of my job, not something I enjoy doing.”

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Phillips is a western North Carolina native with a mountain-man beard, a Southern drawl, and years of hunting and Boy Scouts experience. He lives on 30 acres in Lake Lure and has worked as a licensed nuisance control agent in the state for 10 years. His family built most of the mountain town of Batcave.

He drives a pickup truck filled with miscellaneous materials and tools that make him look like a heating and air conditioning repairman. “Actually, home repairs is a lot of what I do,” Phillips said. 

He builds contraptions like “squirrel excluders” and “bat tubes” to let animals out of houses alive and keep them out. He deals with bats in a stable by sealing off their roof hideaway with screens, leaving only a slippery PVC pipe chute for escape without reentry: “I always ask myself on any job, is there a way to do this without harming the animal, and I explain my methods to customers.” 

Phillips, one of only 300 certified, active agents for wildlife nuisance control in North Carolina, gets between two and four calls a day. He doesn’t charge customers unless he has to travel to the location and set traps. He tells first-time customers how to coexist with certain animals by altering their lifestyles in small ways, like keeping their garbage in the garage or not using bird feeders: “Just like that, bears or raccoons can disappear from your property.”  

tyrone_small.jpgWhen he does need to kill animals, Phillips avoids methods reportedly used by other exterminators, such as shooting trapped animals on sight. With animals that cannot be relocated, like groundhogs, he euthanizes them in gas chambers or instantly breaks their necks in special traps. These are fast and non-painful deaths for them, Phillips said: “I never lie to customers about my job.” 

Some customers are still concerned about cruelty in his methods, but he emphasizes on every call, “I love wildlife. … I’ve sat in the woods for years and observed hundreds of animals and how they act, so I’ve learned ways to keep them out humanely.” 

He also loves the Asheville community, and understands both the citizens’ commitment to animal rights and the need for intervention when groundhogs are causing a foundation to crumble: “I’ve invested in this area. … When I’m asked to do something for these people, I intend to give back to them as best I can.”

Sarah Taddeo
Sarah Taddeo

Sarah is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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