This column was previously published on July 20, 2001.
Several years ago, a woman called the Statesman newsroom to report that raccoons were savaging her cats.
I duly checked it out and concluded that she was into the catnip. Everyone knew there were no raccoons in Idaho.
I thought of that woman recently while engaged in a nervous standoff with a raccoon. Nervous, at least, from my standpoint. The raccoon, who appeared utterly serene, was on my roof.
My wife was sure it was the same raccoon that had been in our garage a few nights before. Our son thought it was part of a gang of raccoons he’d encountered a couple of blocks away.
The next morning, miles away, I passed a dead raccoon on the Connector.
A raccoon invasion?
“We’re getting calls on them constantly, “ said Ed Mitchell, public information officer with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “There’s way more of them than there used to be.”
Neil Johnson, a F&G wildlife biologist, stops short of calling it a raccoon invasion. But he did say that, for reasons not fully understood, raccoons are fanning out across the country from the Southeast to the Northwest.
“I have no idea why, or why now versus a long time ago,” he said. “But they didn’t used to be here, and now they are. If there’s a good explanation, I haven’t heard it.”
Johnson said raccoons prefer to live near rivers or irrigation ditches, where they dine on small fish and frogs. They like developed areas with structures and ornamental plantings for shelter and fruit trees and gardens for food. They especially like conveniently placed bowls of pet food.
He was describing my house. The raccoon in our garage was helping itself to a bag of food for our dog, Molly. A 6-pound fluffball who thinks she’s a pit bull, Molly lives to attack big dogs, who, when they stop laughing, pat her on the head and amble away. A raccoon, Johnson said, would be less forgiving.
“They’re strong; they can essentially turn around in their skin, and their bite can do a lot of damage. They’d be a good fight for a 25-pound dog; they can kill a small dog, and you definitely don’t want to corner them or let little kids near them. They look cute, but they’re feisty and will try to go right through you if they feel cornered.”
I asked him why a raccoon would go to the trouble of climbing onto my roof. Anything is possible at our house, but, to the best of my knowledge, dog food has never been stored there. Despite this, the roof has become a virtual hangout, popular enough with the raccoon crowd that they sometimes wake us up doing whatever it is they do up there.
“It’s like a tree,” Johnson said. “There’s security there, as opposed to being on the ground, where a dog can chase you.”
A fountain of raccoon lore, Johnson said the highest concentrations are in New York and Baltimore, where raccoons live in sewers. They thrive in urban settings.
“People would be amazed at how many there are in Boise, as well as deer, foxes, coyotes and other wildlife,” he said. “I’ve taken badgers out of condominiums in Boise.”
Then he calmly added that raccoons will tear siding off of a house to build dens inside the walls. He didn’t specifically say my house, but with my luck, a team of raccoons is already studying the blueprints.
If raccoons come to your house, Johnson recommends closing any openings that could allow them to get inside walls, attics or crawlspaces or under decks. If they do get in and make a den, use mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags to encourage them to leave. Bright lights also can help.
Secure pet doors. (F&G has actually had reports of pet owners coming home to find raccoons on their beds.) If you have a fish pond or garden, a portable electric fence can discourage snacking. And never leave pet food accessible; it’s a raccoon magnet.
The raccoon invasion, of course, is just one more indication that life in Boise is getting too complicated. It makes you appreciate the good old days, when all we had to worry about were skunks.