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July 19, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: Oh No, a raccoon in my backyard!

Ohlone Humane Society: Oh No, a raccoon in my backyard!

By Patty Castle, OHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Volunteer Emeritus

I have been taking care of raccoons for more than 40 years now and I am always amazed at people's response to seeing a raccoon in their yard. Reactions go from fear to fascination.

One of the first questions people ask me when they learn that I rehabilitate raccoons is "Do they make good pets?" I must say NO they don't. They are cute and cuddly looking but have sharp teeth and nails. They don't have the same play actions that puppies and kitties do. They have to learn from the beginning to be strong and aggressive or they won't survive in the wild. That means that when they play with each other they are learning the lessons that they need for life. They bite hard and often hurt each other... it is called survival of the fittest.

One important thing I want people to know is that raccoons have been here a lot longer than we have and really pose no threat to us. Unless we corner them they won't come after us. They do come out and eat in the daytime. If the weather has been bad, or food is scarce they hunt out of hunger, and sometimes this is in early morning and again early evening. This is not a sign that they are sick.

The male has a larger territory than the female and does not help raising the young. Females do all the work and when she has taught them what she needs to, she runs them off. If she allows them to stay, she might not have enough food in her territory to raise the next litter.

When people want to remove a raccoon from their yard I try and tell them that the opening of a territory may cause them to have four or five move in where they had only one before. Nature has a way of determining how many animals can be sustained in an area. People often upset this balance with bad consequences. Open trash cans, cat food or dog food and water left out at night are contributing factors to increased populations of several species.

Skunks, opossums, and raccoons all learn the places to eat, and then pass this information on to their young. Raccoons are omnivores, so they have a varied diet. If a raccoon has been tearing up your lawn, it means insects of some sort can be found under the grass. An example is grubs. Newly laid sod is a temptation because it rolls so easily. But raccoons also eat snails, frogs, mice, small birds, bird eggs, and lots of fruit and greens.

There are humane methods to keep raccoons out of your yard that really work! One is to make the area unattractive to them. Make sure that all holes in foundations, decks, and garages are blocked. Tree branches that hang over the house can be trimmed back to keep them off the roof. All trashcans should have secure lids. And all animal food should be taken in at night. If you have a garden, pick ripe produce in the afternoon. Fruit trees can be ringed with metal about 3 foot high, the animals can't climb the slick surface. Pick all dropped fruit off the ground.

If you have a persistent animal coming in, find out where they are entering and place rags soaked in ammonia in those areas. Animals scent their territory and the stronger the scent, the larger the animal. When a raccoon smells ammonia, to them it's like King Kong has been there and they don't want a confrontation. If the animal is really stubborn, it might be necessary to resort to using a battery and wire to make an electric fence. Raccoons are very smart and after being stung once by this they rarely return.

If you like seeing them in your yard, that is wonderful but please don't feed them. You might like them, but the guy across the street doesn't and the first time you are gone they will not know this fact and figure that his porch is as good as yours. As a result, I get a call about an animal that has been injured and has to be brought in, evaluated, and sometimes put to sleep.

This isn't what I want to do. So think about what you want and act accordingly. Remember that they have a right to a healthy life without interference from us. We can live side by side if we use our heads and think about what we are doing to influence wildlife around us.

If you have a wildlife concern and need some advice, call Ohlone Humane Society's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at 510-797-9449.

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