On any given day Todd Hardwick may drive 150-200 miles, crisscrossing the county to remove a snake from a kitchen in Pinecrest, an opossum from a garage in Palmetto Bay and an alligator from a waterway in Doral.
Hardwick is the owner of Pesky Critters Wildlife Control and is on duty 24/7 rescuing people from critters — or as he says: “rescuing animals from people.”
“I’m an ambassador for these animals,” Hardwick said. “We have to remember that we have invaded the habitats of these animals and they are just trying to adapt. Every encounter is an opportunity to teach people about the animal so they have more understanding and less fear.”
Alligators and crocodiles always are unwanted guests in a neighborhood and, with more than 1.3 million alligators roaming the state of Florida, Hardwick fields hundreds of calls each year from residents and federal, state and local officials asking to remove the reptiles. Florida laws mandate that all crocodiles and all alligators that are less than four feet captured by licensed trappers like Hardwick are released into designated sites in the Everglades.
Through careful observation, Hardwick has learned how to handle alligators, crocodiles, snakes and skunks, and has developed techniques to catch them unharmed. After all, the suburban crocodile hunter has been doing this for more than 30 years.
“I’ve learned to size up the animal and the surroundings and read the animal’s posturing,” Hardwick said. “I’m not fearful, but remain respectful of the animal’s capabilities. Understanding all of this allows me to operate safely.”
Born and raised in Miami, Hardwick started trapping animals to observe and release them when he was in high school at Miami Palmetto Senior High. Word of his skills got around and he began helping neighbors remove unwanted animal guests in exchange for pizza and movie tickets. What started as part-time income quickly turned into a full-time career. Hardwick started Pesky Critters in 1985.
“At that time, the private sector had no one to call to remove these wild animals,” Hardwick said. “I started an industry that didn’t really exist.”
Since those humble beginnings, Hardwick has become a nationally known nuisance animal control expert and has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Early Show, Dateline and programs on Animal Planet and PBS.
Hardwick’s most memorable television appearance came in 1989 after he wrestled and captured the mother of all snakes — a 22-foot, 250-pound Burmese python. The snake had made its home under a house in Fort Lauderdale and was gorging itself on small animals. The capture went something like this: Hardwick goes headfirst down a hole that he and his assistants had dug directly above the snake. He snares the snake as it lunges for his face and then yells for his assistants to pull him up from the lair by his ankles. Once out of the hole, the team wrestles the snake and stuffs it into a sleeping bag.
News of this epic catch, the largest python ever captured in North America, went “viral.” Then came the call — Johnny Carson invited Hardwick and the snake — to appear on the Tonight Show.
“To sit on that set and talk to Johnny Carson was a highlight in my career. It was a wild adventure,” Hardwick recalled. “I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Hardwick does consulting for many production companies that create wildlife programs, but said it is his day job full of emergencies and adrenaline that he loves most.
“I have the best job in the whole world,” he said. “Every day I’m in a new location, under the palm trees of beautiful South Florida; I meet new people and am faced with new and challenging wildlife encounters.”
When confronted with a challenge that requires more than his two skilled hands, Hardwick may call upon one of his trusted and trained assistants — his wife of 11 years, Jill. The two animal lovers even have a wildlife sanctuary in their backyard for captured critters that had nowhere to go, including a donkey, an emu, a giant tortoise and parrots.
If an uninvited animal guest has moved into your attic or an unwanted visitor has appeared in your neighborhood, call Pesky Critters at 305-255-7295. For more information, visit online at www.peskycritters.com.