Pet Peeves: Some Questions About Raccoons

Should you worry about raccoons in your yard, in your trees, in your house? What about cute raccoons as pets?

"It was like sounds from a horror movie!"

My neighbor was telling me about raccoons disturbing the quiet of our street, while I was in San Diego on vacation. 

"Screeching and thumping and snarling and hissing..."

Apparently raccoons were mating in a nearby tree, a tree outside my neighbor's window. At first she thought it was a dog and cat fighting.

"Then I saw the two cats in the tree, fighting and screaming. I'd never heard a cat like that!" 

She ran downstairs, turned on the hose and harpooned the coupled critters with a sharp current, but they fought hard to stay up the tree, entwined in spite of the hose, shrieking and clawing the air.

"Eventually they ran away, but it took a long time. The whole neighborhood woke up for that one."

So, you obviously have to be determined and patient to chase them away, when the raccoons have something they really want to do.

At the dentist this morning, the receptionist saw me working on racoon research and the conversation went like this:

RECEPTIONIST: "One day my Dad saw a raccoon in the yard."

ME: "Did he like seeing the raccoon?"


ME: "So, what did he do?"

RECEPTIONIST: "He was an architect." 

ME: "Oh. So...he built a house around the raccoon?"

RECEPTIONIST: "No, I thought you asked what he did?"

ME: "—about the raccoon—" 

RECEPTIONIST: "Oh! He tried to scare it away with a broom!" 

ME: "And?"

RECEPTIONIST: "He gave up. We all just ended up watching the raccoon for a long time." 

ME: "The broom didn't scare him?"

RECEPTIONIST: "No. I mean, he moved a little, but he snarled and scared my poor father back into the house."

ME: "How long did you watch before he left?"

RECEPTIONIST: "A long time! He really seemed to like our yard. I can't blame him. I liked it, too. It was a nice yard."

And there it is. Two tales of our stubborn nemesis, the raccoon.

I learned how determined and single-minded raccoons were when I was only seven years old. I had pet turtles, and I had left them outside. Their aquarium was large, covered, protected at night by a long, heavy sheet of aluminum weighted with a brick.

In the night there were noises all around the deck of the house, scurrying, scampering, and the tell-tale crashing of aluminum and glass shattering from a falling brick.  

"Racoons!" my father shouted. "Son, where are your turtles?" 

I was still half-dreaming. Dad ran down those bam-bam-bam wood stairs and crashed the screen door against the side of the house.

"OH NO!"

The raccoons had attacked my aquarium, torn the aluminum roof off—which sent the brick hurtling through the glass—and then pried and sucked the turtles right out of their shells. It was a vision of pure horror in my young imagination. My little turtles had seen the worst ending possible.

So, having set the tone (I hope), let me answer my first reader question on raccoons for this week:

"Can I have a raccoon for a pet, if I start raising it from childhood?" 

Raccoons are very cute. Young raccoons, in fact, are as darling as puppies or kittens or anything else that makes you say, "Awwwwwwww!" But their temperament is not suited to domestication. Don't try to make raccoons your pet, because you may succeed in caging them, in keeping them fascinated for a while with marshmallows and turkey strips, live crabs and pipe insulation. It is hard to make raccoons' contentment with captivity last. You can't depend on a raccoon to be open to your visits, to be safe around your hands or face or children. It's just not a good idea. And you can't trust them to ever be housebroken or to be part of your family. 

"Are they dangerous?"

Raccoons can carry diseases. Their feces, for instance, is famous for carrying ringworm. (They pee in attics and stink them up for ages. They can live in walls, eating anything and everything to survive. They are omniverous, which apparently includes electrical parts, boxes, and they don't unwrap Reeces Peanut Butter cups before chomping them down. They eat everything. )

They will fight if cornered, run reluctantly, outmaneuver most dogs and humans, and assess you critically. They are stronger than they look, can hang upside down, run, climb almost anything, and they will bite and scratch if grabbed by a perceived enemy.

"What should I do about finding a raccoon?"

They are extremely clever, great thinkers, very cute when they are young. But raccoons are wild animals. They are not trapped or removed for free by the City anymore. This is a fee service. If your situation is not an emergency, you can do what others have done and make the raccoons feel uncomfortable and unwanted. They eventually (sometimes immediately) leave. 

Of course, that's not true if they are living in your attic, on your roof, in your chimney (which is like a hollow tree if it's not being used during their nesting period). Call for wild animal removal if they are in your home. Nothing good will come of that, and possible risks of disease from the feces as well as hard-to-remove stench from raccoon urine make removal mandatory.


Bill Bennett July 24, 2012 at 09:48 PM
They are tuff SOBs, and mean & smart, rattlesnakes, rats, possums, skumks, spiders etc., don't scare me like Racoons, and democrats......except for my old pal Rascal!
Alex Daniels July 24, 2012 at 11:58 PM
actually go to Green Thumb and buy a humane trap...put a can of cat food in the trap in the evening and in a couple hours you'll have the racoon. Of course after you trap him, he will as pissed as a liberal on election night 2012, but just relocate him to a park or a neighbor you cant stand and all is good....
Don Helverson August 03, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Ha ha ha! I guess I'm as scary as a racoon. Love it, thanks Bill.
Don Helverson August 03, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Yes this is a great way to handle the situation. But a hair stylist in the mall on the corner of Laurel and Ventura told me a hilarious story of humanely trapping a raccoon with one of those. In the morning he and his family were full-on sprayed by what turned out to be a skunk! WHOOOOOWEEEEE!
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