Numerous enemies assail him as he explores dark tunnels and long-vacant buildings. He experiences work as an adventure — a “puzzle.” And he hates snakes.
We are not talking about Indiana Jones, but Vanja Mehmedovic, Lawrence exterminator.
Mehmedovic, who works for Haley Pest Control, 1035 E. 23rd St., serves as the last line of defense for many against things that not only go bump in the night but also bite. Hawks and hornets, roaches and raccoons, skunks and spiders — you name it, Mehmedovic has gotten rid of it.
“I love it,” he said. “Usually when you come, people are really happy to see you because they have a problem.”
He travels the Lawrence area with a spray can, a flashlight and live traps, ridding six to eight houses and apartments per day of unwanted critters.
Different seasons bring different challenges. In the summer, it’s brown recluse spiders. Right now, it’s hackberry nipple gall makers and boxelder bugs. One day he’s spraying chemicals to deter ants; on another he’s chasing a hawk in a warehouse with a net.
“It’s like a little puzzle every day,” he said. “It might be the same problem, but I get to do a different puzzle and figure out where they are coming from.”
In solving these puzzles, Mehmedovic often ends up in the line of danger. He knows from experience that hydrogen peroxide gets rid of the smell of skunk. Or that when faced with a 6-foot-long black snake in a crawl space, he can “scoot pretty fast on my butt.”
“I’ve had brown recluse spiders fall on my head and neck, and that was nerve-racking,” he said shaking his head. “It took me 15 minutes to calm down.”
For the most part, Mehmedovic said, he usually doesn’t mind the pests — except when he’s on the menu.
“You have homes that have been empty and are infested with fleas,” he said. “When I step in, they cover my legs. That’s what I don’t like.”
Still, fleas are not as bad or as strenuous to him as a bed bug infestation, which he said is the trickiest of all pest problems. Because bed bugs are so small and love cracks, every piece of furniture in an infested room must be disassembled and treated with either heat or chemicals.
If not taken care of, the pests get out of control in a hurry. Mehmedovic experienced this firsthand in handling a particularly severe bed bug infestation.
“It was literally incredible,” he said. “I lifted up a bed and I looked at my hands, and there was blood all over my fingers from how many of them I squeezed. There was a pile of exoskeletons underneath because they shed. When we tried to clean it up, the pile moved.”
These encounters can freak out even the seasoned Mehmedovic.
He said to get through it, he thinks about how he is helping someone.
“I psych myself up and say ‘OK, I’m here now. Deal with it.’”
Mehmedovic knows how to persevere through difficult situations. He immigrated to the United States from Bosnia in 1994 during the Bosnian War. He got a job at a warehouse, became a citizen, met his wife and now has two kids.
“The American dream,” he said, smiling.
Eventually he wanted more challenge in his work and was hired by family friend Peter Haley, owner of the extermination company.
Haley took Mehmedovic along on exterminating calls one day and he immediately took to it.
Mehmedovic might like his job, but he’s sure not to take work home with him.
“I have a fear of bringing (pests) home, but I say I’m helping someone and they need that help.”
His wife also shares the sentiment.
“My wife says, ‘Tell me if it was a good day or a bad day. Don’t tell me what happened.’”