Raccoons- Nature's bandits

Think back to the days when Saturday mornings were spent sitting on the livingroom floor with a big bowl of sugar cereal, watching your favorite cartoons. Now think about the bad guys, the bandits, and the criminals in those cartoons; they were the ones with the black mask pulled down over their eyes, right? Raccoons tend to have a negative reputation, perhaps in part to this "bandit" association, but also because they can carry and transmit multiple dangerous diseases while causing serious destruction of property to boot. Adult raccoons weigh anywhere from 12 to over 36 pounds, and can be from 2 to 3 feet in length; males tend to grow larger than females, and colder climates produce heavier animals. In addition to their signature black eye mask, raccoons can be identified by their long black and grey ringed tail, which accounts for about a third of the animal's length.

Raccoons naturally prefer to live in wooded areas in close proximity to a water source. You may have seen a raccoon standing on a riverbank "washing" his food; scientists are not sure exactly why raccoons do this, but it may be related to the increased sensitivity in the animal's tough hands while they are underwater. Raccoons can thrive in nearly any environment, and are found everywhere from the countryside to densely populated urban neighborhoods. This is because raccoons are omnivorous scavengers and will eat almost anything that is accessible to them: berries, plants, fruit, crawfish, bird eggs, carion, frogs, pet food, and trash are all on the menu. They will happily den in an attic, a chimney, under a porch, or in any spot that is dark, relatively warm, and sheltered from the elements. Combine their indifference with their opposable thumbs and long-term problem-solving memory, and you get an animal that can find food and shelter in countless situations. A raccoon can remove the lid from a trash can, pick corn from your garden, and unzip a backpack full of goodies. They can turn a door knob, rip through chicken wire, and pry away shingles to gain entry to your attic. Prevention is important in order to keep raccoons out of your house and garbage.

If it is second nature for a raccoon to access and cause devastation to property, how can you keep them away? It is important to make your property unappealing to a raccoon, so it will have no interest in sticking around. Keep trash cans closed with a bungee cord or a large heavy object on the lid. There are also special raccoon-proofing trash can contraptions for particularly persistent pests. Compost piles can easily become a nightly buffet for a raccoon, so you might opt for a contained version, such as a large plastic barrel with ventilation holes and a locked door. Secure chimneys with a professionally installed chimney cap. Never feed your pets outside the house; a pet bowl will become a communal dining area which can potentially spread a variety of diseases to Fido and, in turn, you. If you find that this noctornal pest has already decided to call your attic home, you can make the space less comfortable for him or her by hanging ammonia-soaked cotton in the area, leaving the lights on, and playing a loud radio until the animals vacate. Another option, of course, is to call Dewey Pest and Wildlife, and we can take care of your raccoon problem for you.

Often times, people associate the word “raccoon” with “rabies”, and vice versa because raccoons are the animal most commonly infected with the virus. Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system and the brain; if left untreated, it is always fatal. The virus enters the body of a mammal through broken skin, usually caused by a bite or scratch from an infected animal. The virus cannot enter through undamaged skin, and the virus itself will die if it is exposed to open air for too long. For instance, if an infected animal leaves a puddle of saliva on your back porch, the virus is no longer transmittable once the puddle dries up. If a raccoon is infected with rabies, it may act lethargic or erratic and uncoordinated. There may be discharge coming from the raccoon’s eyes or mouth, and it is less likely to run away if you attempt to startle it. A rabid raccoon can be particularly aggressive and attack without being provoked, though that may also indicate a mother is protecting her kits. A raccoon that is awake during the day does not necessarily mean that it has rabies. Although raccoons do tend to be nocturnal or crepuscular, they become active during the day when in search of food or a new shelter, or even if it realizes that your dog tends to be inside during certain times of the day. Regardless of the situation, if you are ever attacked by a raccoon, seek immediate medical help.

Although raccoons have occasionally been retained as pets (President Coolidge owned one named Rebecca), humans are strongly discouraged from interacting with these pests in any way. A raccoon is not a domesticated animal, so even if you keep one in your home, you are simply housing a wild animal. If you take all the necessary precautions and leave them alone, raccoons are relatively harmless creatures, and not the "bad guy" they can be made out to be.



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