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Raccoon
Credit: ZeMoufette on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Yaneth & Little RacoonChristian Javan on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericLast month, I caught a story in the Toronto Star about a couple who was fighting to keep their pet raccoon.

Pet raccoon?

Here in Toronto, we've had a raccoon problem for decades. In fact, according to an August 18th, 2014 CBC news report, Toronto city councillor David Shiner raised the issue at city hall citing the "explosion in raccoon populations."

However, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) feels, "With a little understanding, patience and a few precautions and common sense steps, we can all enjoy the wonderfully interesting wild animals who share our backyards and cities."

Photo of woman holding a raccoon was taken on June 15th, 2014 by Christian Javan on flickr (CC by 2.0) and was tagged Parque Morelos Zoo, Tijuana.

I Have Two Green Bins Tied to My Porch Railing

And a motion light definitely helps to scare off raccoons

My Green Bins Tied to Porch Rail
Credit: Rose Webster / All rights reserved

According to the City of Toronto's Wildlife in the City: Raccoons website, there are some safe ways to deter raccoons from becoming problematic on your property.

Crimin'Melissa Kochovos on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericI'll be the first to tell you prevention is key because once raccoons find a tasty meal or a warm place to live around your home, they always come back (and they bring their friends and family too).

The number one thing (and I wish my neighbours would do this) is to secure your green bin so it cannot be knocked over. We have green bins for compostable waste which have a latch, but once raccoons figure out how to knock the bin over, they can open the lid.

Another problem I often see is when barbecues and the area around them aren't adequately cleaned up. Raccoons love grease drippings. Here in Canada, people barbecue in wintertime. And guess what? Raccoons don't hibernate. (They will avoid harsh winter conditions, though). So try to avoid leaving anything greasy outside. Grease on snow or ice will also attract raccoons.

Grillin' in the Winter 02
Credit: Brian Ambrozy on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Prevent Raccoons From Living on Your Property

There are more problems to deal with once a raccoon finds somewhere to live in or around your house. Key points to keep in mind:

Raccoon feces may contain a roundworm (Baylisascaris procyanis) which is only killed by fire. It's imperative to wear disposable gloves and an N95-rated respirator to carefully remove raccoon feces and avoid getting any on your clothes and footwear. All surfaces (including patios and decks) should be doused with boiling water. I'd add a little bleach to it too, if the surface can withstand it. The Humane Society has additional tips in their guide Safe Cleanup of Raccoon Latrines.

The City of Toronto recommends that raccoon feces be burned, buried or sent to a landfill.

Baby raccoonBetter Than Bacon (slurm on flickr) /Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAnother problem can arise if you try to evacuate a raccoon from your premises. If there are any babies left behind, they will most likely die.

I've heard of people trying to "smoke" raccoons out of their chimney - this is dangerous. Nor should poisons, firearms, or body gripping traps be used - these are illegal and could result in criminal charges.

In the following video, Jim Harmon, owner of California Pest Management, shows us all the nooks and crannies that raccoons can get into around homes. He also sheds some light on preventative measures.

Even though he shows an appropriate type of raccoon trap, I strongly advise enlisting some type of wildlife removal service that uses humane ways to remove them.

Raccoons or their babies have been known to be found in tight spots between walls, in attics, roof vents, or in crawl spaces that are hidden. Even under a porch can be a daunting area to tackle - remember, you don't want to come in contact with raccoon feces.

The flickr description accompanying the above photo of the baby raccoon by slurm read: "Raccoon family had to be evicted from my parents' chimney. Poor little thing was reunited with its mother soon after the photo was taken."

Home & Lawn Pest Control: How to Keep Raccoons Away

by Expert Jim Harmon, owner of California Pest Management located in Southern California

Rabies in Raccoons

Racoonwedgemondo on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIn Ontario, raccoons are not a major rabies carrier, but catching this viral disease from any wild mammal is always a possibility. Transmission of the disease is primarily through the bite from a rabid animal which contains saliva with the virus.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that: "distinct strains of rabies virus have been found in raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Numerous species of insectivorous bats are also reservoirs for strains of the rabies virus."

And even though it is rarely documented, the CDC says rabies can be acquired through "contamination of mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth), aerosol transmission (a sneeze or cough), and corneal and organ transplantations."

If You Are Bitten by Any Animal

Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, contact a doctor, and report the bite to your local public health department, state health department as well as local law enforcement.

Racoon @ Stanley ParkGoToVan on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAlthough it's not always possible, it's helpful if someone can keep track of the animal's whereabouts so that it can be captured and tested or monitored for rabies. Of course, you don't want someone else to get bitten trying to track the animal down, either.

Note: If the animal cannot be found, speak with your doctor. She may need to start preventative treatment for rabies which will include the rabies vaccine. Rabies shots are usually given in the upper arm (deltoid muscle). Rabies immunoglobulin, however, is recommended to be given at the site of the bite (if possible). In most cases, four doses of the vaccine is administered over a 14 day period.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Ontario has put together a comprehensive 24-page guide titled Rabies: Questions and Answers for more information.

Author's note: When I was a kid, I was bitten by a dog and my friends told me I'd have to have 21 needles in my stomach (more correctly, my abdominal cavity). Since at least the 1980s, this is no longer the case. Fortunately, the dog owner was found and the dog did not have rabies. 

This Little Guy Was Peaking Out of Someone's Attic

"Worried he was stuck there, but then he disappeared back inside."

Why hello there, raccoon!
Credit: Benny Mazur (benimoto on flick) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

One More Word of Caution

Raccoons have been known to attack children too.

In a report by Adam Sullivan from WCAX-TV, kids in Kirby, Vermont had to fight off a raccoon attack.

Three kids between 5 and 10 years of age were playing in the woods behind a house when a hissing raccoon appeared out of nowhere. It jumped at the face of one girl - who suffered six bites - including one on her thigh. Fortunately, her friend (who is legally blind) helped to fight off the raccoon and her 5-year-old brother shouted, "Get away from my sister, raccoon!"

The raccoon was never found and the girl received immediate medical treatment. The article stated she "needed a few more shots in the next couple of weeks, but doctors say she was expected to be okay."

And just this past summer (July 2014), a Michigan girl who was mauled by a raccoon as an infant, is receiving surgery to rebuild the right side of her face. 

Bottom Line

Racoon @ Stanley ParkGoToVan on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericI don't want to sound anti-raccoon. In fact, I think they are really cute. But they definitely belong in the wild where they find natural food sources like invertebrates, insects, and plant foods.

Every wildlife expert I've talked to seems to agree that raccoons can be aggressive - even towards their owners.

They will always have wild instincts. I understand that cupboards and doors need to be locked to keep food safe. They can open practically any jar, I'm told.

A raccoon's diet is highly specialized and they need plenty of space to explore. Also, few domestic animal vets are willing to accept a pet raccoon as a patient.

If you find an orphaned baby raccoon, contact your local wildlife animal control department. An experienced wildlife handler will know how to properly handle and care for it. 

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