What's Up with That? Take action to discourage raccoon raves

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

We had a raccoon convention recently at about 10:30 p.m. At least four mature raccoons were fighting, mating or something in my neighbor's backyard. We also had raccoon problems a couple of years ago -- they were using a large cedar tree as a sleeping place and unfortunately the ground underneath it (in my backyard) as a latrine. We ultimately removed that tree; it was half-dead and posing a hazard if it fell.

Can you alert folks to the hazards of raccoons and how to discourage them?

— Roianne Cox, Northwest Neighborhood

This reporter has certainly been startled and snarled at by those not-so-little burglars while dragging the garbage and recycling out to the curb after dark. It was more than a little unnerving. And now, after reading up on raccoons, I'm even more unnerved.

Here are a few quick facts gleaned from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's "Living with Wildlife" website (wdfw.wa.gov/living/raccoons.html): Raccoons are nocturnal; they can grow to 40 pounds or more; they eat nearly anything; they have few predators; they're smart, dextrous and vicious if cornered; and they tend to flourish where there's plenty of edible trash and great den spaces like "rock piles and brush piles, hollow logs, and holes in trees" as well as "attics, crawl spaces, chimneys, and abandoned vehicles."

Raccoons aren't just a snarling nuisance. They can contract a fatal disease called canine distemper; they can also spread it to domestic dogs as well as weasels, skunks, foxes and coyotes. Gloves, cages and other things that touch infected raccoons can also carry and spread canine distemper.

Here's the worst part: According to Fish and Wildlife, Washington raccoons often carry roundworms; raccoon roundworm eggs can cause serious or even fatal disease in humans.

"Prevention consists of never touching or inhaling raccoon droppings, using rubber gloves and a mask when cleaning areas (including traps) that have been occupied by raccoons, and keeping young children and pets away from areas where raccoons concentrate," Fish and Wildlife says. "Unfortunately, raccoon roundworm eggs can remain alive in soil and other places for several months."

The best way to avoid raccoon parties like Roianne's is not to encourage them. Sealing garbage cans up tight and not setting them out until morning is just the beginning. The Fish and Wildlife site has extensive guidelines for keeping raccoons out of chimneys, pet doors, compost bins, vegetable gardens and fruit orchards, crawl spaces, dumpsters and bird feeders.

Normally, you need a permit to trap an animal; but state law says you can trap or kill a raccoon on your own property if it is "damaging crops or domestic animals." It is against the law to transport a trapped raccoon and release it. And anyway, raccoons are often smart enough to find their way back — or others will move in. Really, the best thing to do is discourage them.

"If a person is bitten or scratched by a raccoon, immediately scrub the wound with soap and water. Flush the wound liberally with tap water. In other parts of the United States raccoons can carry rabies. Contact your physician and the local health department immediately. If your pet is bitten, follow the same cleansing procedure and contact your veterinarian."

Got a question about your neighborhood? We'll get it answered. Send "What's Up With That?" questions to neighbors@columbian.com.