'Billy the Exterminator': It all began with ants


Lunch with exterminator Billy Bretherton and his mother, Donnie, can be entertaining, but perhaps not for the appetites of anyone in earshot.

For example, Donnie Bretherton relates the incident that set her son on his eventual career path.

"When Billy was a kid," she says, "one of the things that stuck out more than anything is he got stung really bad by fire ants. I heard him screaming. I ran out into the backyard, and he had these cowboy boots on. I ripped the cowboy boots off, and the fire ants had gotten in the cowboy boots and stung him so bad that he lost every one of his toenails.

"What was amazing about it, he never forgot that. That was always in the back of his mind, to take care of the insects after that happened."

As to whether his motivation became revenge against pests, Billy Bretherton says, "Not really against anything but fire ants and wasps."

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, the fourth season of "Billy the Exterminator" launches with 26 episodes on A&E Network, continuing to focus on the day-to-day operation of Vexcon, Bretherton's family-run extermination business outside Shreveport, La.

Also on the payroll are Bretherton's brother, Ricky; his mother, Donnie; and his father, called Big Bill. The working uniform of the company -- mostly black with silver studs and a skull-and-crossbones motif -- reflects Bretherton's personal style.

In the new season, Vexcon is moving beyond the borders of Louisiana to tackle pest problems in other states.

Bretherton and Vexcon head to the Florida Everglades to deal with pythons, to Texas to wrestle gators, to Arizona to chase a herd of sharp-toothed javelinas and to South Carolina to fend off geese with an umbrella.According to Bretherton, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

"I don't think production quite realizes," he says, "that we've got another four or five years once we hit the road, because there's so much out there."

By the way, javelinas, also called peccaries, are native to the Americas. While peccaries are aggressive and can be destructive, they're not the same as the feral domestic pigs -- also called boars and hogs -- now running amok in many parts of the U.S.

"It's our No. 1 threat to everything," Bretherton says. "They come in packs, they're dangerous and violent, and they strip the land of all its nutrients. Anything that is there for other animals to eat, they just devour it all."

While Vexcon has no problem with eradicating pests when necessary, Bretherton insists on using organic and nonchemical substances whenever possible.

A large part of his business also involves dealing with troublesome wildlife, which he delivers to rehabilitators or releases safely if he can.

But his kindhearted attitude doesn't extend to all creatures, as one of his more softhearted employees discovered when he asked Bretherton what to do about a rat caught accidentally in a squirrel trap.

"I said, 'Kill it,' " says Bretherton, "because it's a plague. I think there are things that are undesirable, like cockroaches and rats. I can't find a use for them on any level. All they do is disease and harm. Just put it down."And he said, 'I'm not going to do it.' "

According to Bretherton, the employee drove north to find a place to release the rat. Meanwhile, Billy and Donnie Bretherton were heading off to a movie set that had problems with wasps.

"We drive 25 miles from the office," Billy Bretherton says, "I'm going down the road about 60 miles an hour, and this rat comes running across the street. I hit him with my front tire."

Thinking he'd just hit a random creature that sprinted across the road, Bretherton then picked up his phone and reiterated his order for the trapped rat to be killed. Then his mother noticed that the employee in question was there at the side of the road.

"It was so funny," Donnie Bretherton says. "Of all the places, we never expected him to be there. We're just driving around in the middle of nowhere."

Bretherton also claims he can walk into a place and know if it's infested.

"I can smell whatever's here," he says. "I can find evidence of whatever's here, like a tracker. What I am is an animal tracker. Even the film crew, when we're going around, they look at me first, 'What's going on?' 'Well, we've got rats and roaches.' "

Luckily for this upscale seaside restaurant in Los Angeles, Bretherton says, "Nothing. No, we're good. No problems here."

Although he has a successful family business and a reality TV show going into its fourth season, Bretherton hasn't yet reached the bar of what he considers famous.

"I won't feel famous," he says, "until I'm spoofed by 'South Park.' Until it happens, I'm not famous."

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