Rambunctious Raccoons

PUBLISHED: April 30, 2013

Our backyard is filled with the pleasing sounds of spring created by birds, frogs, crickets and teens down the street testing their new cars. But lately there are also the haunting sounds of raccoons laughing at me.

When we moved in 18 years ago, I wondered why neighbors were so protective of their trash that they secured garbage cans with bungee cords and even padlocks.

Word apparently spread through the raccoon community that my trashcans were left unlocked at the curb. After dark the biggest raccoons would push the cans over, the juniors would pull off the lids, and the little ones would gobble my wife's leftovers, while resolutely scattering everything else across the road.

Eventually, I drilled holes in the cans and installed industrial strength locks, leaving us mercifully raccoon-free until a few months ago when I discovered that our lawn had been attacked. If you haven’t seen what a team of raccoons can do to a lawn, imagine a bunch of huge sardine cans, each about three feet long, with the lids peeled back. Or, a dozen bald heads, each about three feet wide, with toupees pulled off and tossed to the side. Or, some gigantic prehistoric golfer making three-foot long divots.

These images haunted me at night, and confronted me in the morning. Eventually I had to hire a lawn guy.

"You've got raccoons," he announced, with the same smugness I recall my dentist using when he told me I had impacted wisdom teeth. He sold me high-priced replacement sod without mentioning that new turf doesn't discourage raccoons, it actually attracts them.

This led me to the hardware store, where Ernie explained my options. You can shoot 'em (out of the question); poison 'em (equally unacceptable), or trap 'em.

The trap I bought is rather plush—in fact I once sat next to a woman on a four-hour plane ride who had her cat in a far less comfortable looking container. The trick, of course, is to persuade a raccoon to go inside. "They'll eat anything," Ernie assured me. Anything, it turns out, except garbage. I baited my trap with the very same type of garbage that raccoons had knocked over trashcans to get, and they wouldn't touch it. So I began experimenting with raccoon cuisine, resulting in a tempting assortment of peanut butter sandwiches and honey-covered apples. A nightly refrain in our kitchen was, "Don't touch that! It's for the raccoons."

One morning I discovered we had one chubby raccoon in our trap. Seems that once the sun comes up, and after digesting several peanut butter sandwiches, raccoons are fairly subdued. I drove this guy, in his comfy airline-quality carrier, to a wooded area about three miles away.

The next night I caught his friend. Then his friend's friend. And this continued until a total of five raccoons of various sizes had been relocated.

For the next few weeks my lawn flourished, and the divots healed. Then, at about 3 a.m. one morning, our dog Dottie bounded off the bed and began barking furiously. The lights on the deck revealed three raccoons, leaning against a wooden chair, grinning.

Now I'm back to making peanut butter sandwiches and carpooling raccoons across town. I'm sleep-deprived, worrying about craters in the lawn.

Recently, while releasing my catch, a guy drove up and asked what I was doing. I explained that I lived a few miles away and was trying to move this critter to a safe area.

“We have raccoon problems of our own,” he said. “I wish you wouldn’t bring yours here.” He said he knew of a perfect spot—a place where he’s been releasing his raccoons for several months.

As he spoke, it became clear that the area he was describing was about a block-and-a-half from my house.

During all this, the raccoon I had released a few minutes earlier was clinging to the side of a nearby pine tree. I'm absolutely certain he was laughing.

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.

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