This Peter Worthington column was first published in the Toronto Sun on June 11, 2011.
TORONTO - Raccoons are in the news again, following the beating of a litter of the critters with a shovel.
While some sympathy is expressed for the guy whose frustration with the furry bandits led him to take direct action against them — and got him charged with cruelty — the incident has provoked others to register their helplessness in dealing with raccoons.
Now that the Toronto Humane Society has changed management, there is no convenient agency that is prepared to deal with them.
From the harassed homeowners’ view, or the victim’s view, this means raccoons are like panhandlers and damn hard to get rid of.
In the bad old days, a homeowner plagued with raccoons would have resorted to a shotgun.
However in today’s enlightened times, the shotgun cure for rapacious raccoons will land you into more trouble than taking a shovel to them.
During the war, when I was a kid in Barrie, I traded my sister’s bike for a pair of young raccoons someone had caught.
I had visions of bonding, and the raccoons becoming devoted to me. It was a disaster.
The raccoons wanted no part of me, clawed, and soon escaped.
My sister, younger than me, was tearfully furious that I’d traded her bike.
My mother was even angrier (my father was away at the war, fortunately for me).
I had to pay to get the bike back, and got the money from my paper route, which ended the summer as a financial deficit.
In retrospect, I’m appalled that I’d trade my sister’s bike, but it shows how badly I wanted the raccoons.
My wife and I have had considerable experience with raccoons, and have never emerged triumphant. We live across the road from a ravine, and raccoons seem to view our place as a combination pit stop and cafeteria.
I’ve got to admit that I don’t resent them as much as Yvonne does.
But then I’m not a gardener whose plants get eaten, and I’m not the one who hires workers to repair the damage cause by raccoons.
In fact, I take some guarded satisfaction in realizing that Toronto is, arguably, the raccoon capital of the world — far more raccoons in the city than in the same space in the wild.
Like squirrels, they have adapted perfectly to city living, and have learned how to spring garbage-can locks and nestle by chimneys in winter.
The fact that raccoons love Toronto, is testament to how green the city is, and how the network of ravines, parks, and trees makes life for humans and wildlife more satisfying.
Our troubles began when Yvonne caught me leaving an egg in the backyard for the raccoons (we once had five there at one time, but that was a years ago). I admired how the raccoon made an opening in the egg with its fingernail, and drank the contents, leaving the shell intact.
She accused me of encouraging them.
Once, when she was young, our Jack Russell, Murphy, grabbed the tail of a raccoon climbing up the oak tree, but fortunately let go after a few feet.
A close call for Murphy, who’d have been torn apart if the raccoon was belligerent.
A neighbour recalled a Rottweiller having to be put down after being shredded by a raccoon’s razor claws.
When a raccoon insisted on giving birth to babies on our third-floor balcony, we got a fancy water hose that was activated by movement. And a flashing strobe light that raccoons were supposed to dislike. I swear that in the first week the raccoons were taking showers in the hose, and had pulled out the electric cord that worked the flashing light.
I think it was some “expert” from the humane society who advised that if I urinated around the fringes on my balcony, it would mark the territory and discourage the raccoons.
At first, I was suspicious of that guy’s motives.
Then recalled Farley Mowat marking territory this way in his famous book Never Cry Wolf. If it worked for Farley, who am I to disagree?
I waited until dusk when neighbours might not be vigilant, and peed around the balcony. Undignified, but what the hell.
Sadly, my efforts not only failed to deter the raccoons, it may even have encouraged them. Futile.
After that I gave up.
Raccoons are smart enough to live and let live. Unless cornered, they don’t attack dogs or cats, and prefer discretion to valour.
Otherwise the city would have to take action against them.
Meanwhile they are fearless.
The THS used to have a raccoon hotel, and would send someone to advise on how to cope if they were a nuisance.
I found such advice informative, even amusing — but ineffective at discouraging raccoons from behaving like raccoons.
At the moment they are leaving us alone.
When I’m bored, I sometimes tell Yvonne that I’ll leave an egg out for them — Yvonne’s instant reaction nullifies boredom.