Monday, May 18, 2009 3:05 PM


We'll take a little walk on the wild side today and talk about those cute, intelligent little scavengers that most of us have had dealings with at one time or another: Racoons!

As J. and I were settling in to watch "Jepoardy" a few evenings ago in an effort to keep our middle-aged brains from turning to mush, J. suddenly said, "Hey, look out front." I did and, racing for the camera, I thought, Hmmm, this would make an interesting blog post.

Racoons and their wily little ways are a fact of life, whether you live in an urban or rural setting. As humans push further and further into what were once undeveloped areas, wild animals find their way into our backyards looking for food. This can sometimes become a problem for us, but critters are just doing what comes naturally, since they don't know anything about property boundary lines (and wouldn't care, I suspect, if they did). Racoons, with their sharp teeth and prehensile little hands, can do quite a bit of property damage if they become accustomed to finding a food source at your house.

This little guy spent about 20 minutes rooting around in our composter for goodies, and I expect he found some vegetable scraps to snack on. We are very careful about what we put into these units, however, so that we don't actively attract animals to them. We haven't had problems with racoons for the 15 years we've lived here, and the composters are quite a way from our house (hence the long-range photos) so we're not worried. When we lived in a city suburb many years ago, though, we did have issues with these guys.

One night as we were falling asleep at our former house, we heard a thump! that we recognized as one of our trash barrels being assaulted. We grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window to see a very large racoon feasting on some chicken bones that he had fished out of our (closed) trash barrel. We went outside and chased him off, but not before he raced back to grab his snack! We had wrapped the bones and stuffed them inside a milk container that we had taped shut. Smugly, we put them in the outside trash, certain that no marauders would be able to wrest them from their confines. So, here's a tip to prevent trash upheaval via racoon: Wrap meat scraps and bones well, put in a plastic bag and freeze until trash day. We did that from that moment on and had no further problems. If you use a woodstove in winter, poultry bones will burn pretty well in a roaring fire, a hint bestowed upon me by one of my neighbors.

Tip #2: Never leave dry food outside for your pets to snack on; racoons love it! I once worked with a man whose wife put bowls out on their deck for their cat. It didn't take long for the racoons to find these treats. They both thought it cute when a family of racoons started hanging out on their deck until Rocky and the Rockettes literally started knocking on their slider when the bowls were empty! Besides the problems of having these animals so close to your house is the issue of letting your pet share his kibble with wild animals--not a good idea on so very many levels!

Remember, it is always better to prevent racoons (or any wild animal) from hanging around your yard in the first place than to try to chase them off once they've become a problem. Racoons can carry rabies and, even if perfectly healthy, can turn on you if they feel threatened. Ensuring that they keep their distance makes seeing them (once in a while!) a treat instead of a hassle.

Slice of Life: Our neighbor brought home several day-old chicks last Thursday to beef up her menagerie. As of today, only one was left--he's doing OK, though, hanging out in his warm box in her bathroom! I visited him earlier, and, remembering the old days when we would order scores of chicks at the lab, did the wiggly-finger bit. Chicks love fingers: if you waggle them over a box full of peeping chicks, they'll quiet down and watch. So, when I moved his mash around with my fingertip, he came over and ate. When I stirred the water in his dish, he drank. He really stayed close to my hand--maybe he thought it was his mom? Anyway, it was very cute.

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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