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DEALING WITH RACCOONS

The City of Sacramento Animal Care Services does NOT trap nor relocate healthy wildlife.

Raccoons rarely exhibit a fear of people or civilization, since they are born and raised in our neighborhoods. At one time, raccoons found housing in piles of stone, fallen trees, or holes in the banks of creeks. Over the years, as we have appropriated and changed these environments into our living spaces, raccoons have replaced their former nesting places with attics, crawl spaces, hot tubs, decks, tool sheds, and storm drains. Dog and cat water bowls, swimming pools, and ponds have replaced water sources such as creeks and springs.

Raccoons are nocturnal animals that roam their neighborhoods each night looking for food. They are opportunistic feeders who dine on insects, fruits, vegetables, acorns, seeds, fish and small mammals, as well as the dog and cat food and garbage that is left out overnight. Raccoons reach puberty at one (1) year of age and typically breed once a year between January and March, with a gestation period of around 63 days. Litters average from three to five young. The young raccoons are up and about in three (3) weeks and begin hunting in ten (10) weeks but usually stay with their mother throughout the first winter.

The first and best approach to dealing with wildlife in urban environments is to practice tolerance - understanding and acceptance of the natural patterns of animal life and respect and appreciation of wild animals. As useful as the repellents and scare devices described below may be, they all create inconvenience and displacement or even death for the raccoons and perhaps other species as well. This fact is paramount when considering their use.

Relocating an animal miles away from its - your - home is akin to you being transported to Chicago with no food, no money, and only the clothes on your back. They have a slim chance of survival against the other animals who already have established territories, who know where to find food, and where to hide from predators.

Moving an animal can spread disease, not just between the old community and the new but also between species. Viruses such as distemper and parvo thrive in new hosts. The practice of trapping and relocating animals risks separating mothers from their young and leaving the babies behind to die, or to be raised by financially-strapped rehabilitation centers.

Discouraging Techniques

The only long-term permanent means of coping with troublesome raccoons is to exclude them from areas where you do not want them. Raccoons are intelligent animals whose routines are dictated by their needs. If they cannot get a meal at one place, they will look elsewhere, and they will remember where they can and cannot expect to have their hunger satisfied. A common misconception is that setting a live trap, catching the raccoon, and destroying or relocating it will remove raccoons from a property. However, rather than eliminating the problem, before too long another raccoon will move into the area and the cycle begins again. Raccoons, like other urban wildlife, enjoy the easy life we often unknowingly provide for them; they don't like a hostile environment. Taking steps to deter these animals will encourage them to move on.

Scare Devices

Hand-sized motion detectors (usually combined with bright lights) and alarms, intended for indoor use, can be used in attics or crawl spaces to frighten raccoons away. With proper protection from the weather, they can also be used in some outdoor situations

Repellents

Ro-Pel contains both a bittering agent and a penetrating agent to allow it to better absorb into plant tissue or other material. It works by imparting an extremely bitter taste to anything it contacts. GET-AWAY uses extracts of oil of mustard and capsaicin as both an odor and test repellent. Regular household ammonia stations can be placed around your yard in the areas frequented by raccoons. To do this, take a shallow dish or bowl, place a rag in it, and pour ammonia over the rag until completely saturated. Place enough ammonia in the dish so the rag will continue to wick the ammonia up through the night. Avoid lawn areas, as ammonia will burn the grass.

Dealing with Raccoon Families

Many situations with raccoons in chimneys and attics involve raccoon families; a flue makes a cozy den for giving birth. When a mother raccoon with young is present, we recommend leaving them alone for the few weeks that the young are helpless. Monitor the raccoons to determine when they have moved on their own accord, and then secure the entrance to the chimney or attic to prevent re-entry. Using repellents or frightening strategies to encourage the mother to move her family always entails the risk that one or more youngsters may be abandoned in this process. Trapping and moving the family will almost always lead to separation and probable death of the young.

Important: If you have a female with babies, give her extra time to relocate her entire family before you close the entrance. Raccoons have several den sites within their territories, so she will need to check for a vacancy, then move the young one by one, taking possibly two or three days. Do not lock the mother out, since she will return to retrieve her young and may damage your house to reach them. There is also the possibility that the young may die, leaving you with a smelly mess.

Chimneys

Simply capping your chimney will prevent a raccoon from inhabiting it. Because raccoons are nocturnal, the best time to use repellents or frightening strategies to get them out of a chimney is right before the animal would normally start his nightly routine. Raccoons usually begin to make noise at dusk and just before dawn. (In contrast, squirrels will be active by day and quieter at night.)

Attics and Inside/Under the House

Check your property regularly to make sure that screens barring entrance into your home, basement, or crawl space are intact. Be sure to check that there are no holes in your eaves for access into the attic. Raccoons can easily enter a house through a dog or cat door and may be unable to find their way out. Lock dog and cat doors at night and place ammonia stations in front of the locked door.

If a raccoon should establish himself under your house, place a radio near his nesting place and keep it loud during the day. Locate all entrances and exits. Block them off except for one and use repellents or frightening strategies to encourage the raccoon to leave. To be certain the animal has departed, sprinkle flour at the exit and watch for footprints that lead away from the opening. When the raccoon leaves to begin his nightly hunting (usually two hours after sunset), block the remaining entrance.

Yards

Tracks are one of the best ways to identify a raccoon presence in your yard. In gardens, the characteristic hand and footprints will display themselves if the ground is damp. You can use flour to record prints on hard surfaces. Securely close the areas around decks, hot tubs, and sheds. Raccoons are rodent predators and will often follow mice and rats into these areas. Use a metal trashcan and secure the top with a thick rubber strap with hooks on the end, available at most hardware stores. You can also secure the can to a fence. Raccoons will dig for grubs and worms living in lawns or flowerbeds. The most easily damaged lawns are those that have been recently sodded. Because new lawns have to be well-irrigated, lots of worms and grubs collect under the sod. A gardener or nursery can advise you about treating the soil to prevent grubs from living there. Placing piles of cayenne pepper or a repellent where raccoons are digging may discourage them.

Ponds

Naturally attracted to water, visiting raccoons will catch and eat fish, frogs, or other aquatic life that a homeowner may be trying to raise. Ponds should be three (3) feet deep. Horizontally submerging wire mesh around the circumference of the pond can provide the fish with protection since the raccoons will most likely stay off the flimsy wire. Placing a single "hot" electric wire around the perimeter of the pond from four (4) to eight (8) inches off the ground will not only discourage raccoons, but neighborhood cats. It can be made removable so family members can enjoy the pond during the day.