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PBS 'Nature' Show Reminds Me of My Own Rocky 'Raccoon' History
February 8, 2012  | By David Bianculli
 
raccoon-night-tree-top.jpg
Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on PBS, Nature presents a new installment, called Raccoon Nation, that includes night footage of the prowlers sneaking around city streets and back yards, like the masked bandits they resemble.

raccoon-night-party.jpgIt also includes fascinating tracking data that sheds new light on how clearly defined, and how tiny, these sneaky urban dwellers' territories really are.

But as I watch, I can't help but think about my personal battles with raccoons. I've been fighting them for decades, with everything from Frisbees to Tastykakes -- and have dealt with more than 30 of them coming into my house over the years, through the doggie door...

My first Close Encounters of the Raccoon Kind occurred in the early 1970s, when I was a park attendant, and then the night watchman, for Greynolds Park, a 300-acre park in North Miami, FL. As night watchman, on my 8 p.m.-6 a.m. shift, I was the only human in the park, vastly outnumbered by nocturnal critters.

raccoon-garbage-can.jpg

At the boathouse -- which, you can guess by its name, was right next to an inviting body of water -- I had problems with the raccoons, who would pry open the garbage cans and help themselves, regardless of how we would close, clamp or tie them down.

One time, frustrated by the fact that I would have to clean up their post-foraging messes come daybreak, I stood about 20 feet away from a raccoon, who was inside a steel trash can rooting around, and fired my weapon directly at the can.

I should add quickly, at this point, that I was a young pacifist at the time, and, even as a night watchman, refused to carry a firearm. Instead, I carried, in my Dade County Parks & Recreation pickup truck, a 160-gram Master Tournament Frisbee. And on this occasion, I let it fly, nailing the can with a force that made the sound, and the can, vibrate loudly in the night air.

All the raccoon did, though, was poke his head up as if mildly annoyed by the interruption. Its reaction was like a needle-nosed version of Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy: "Hey, I'm eatin' here!" After that, I gave the raccoons a wide berth.

I did, however, exact my own form of revenge. I bought a box of sugar cubes, and every time a raccoon was foraging around the boat house, I'd throw some sugar cubes in its direction.

Raccoons love sweet things, and have a fine sense of smell, so they'd go for the cubes right away. And even though scientists now say it's a myth that raccoons wash their food -- that they're merely replicating foraging behaviors -- I saw nightly evidence to the contrary.

raccoons-washing.jpg

Rather than eat their yummy sugar cubes right away, the raccoons would carry them, a few feet away, to the water's edge, and go about the process of what, to me, looked exactly like cleaning their food. At which point, of course, it would dissolve in the water, leaving them with nothing to do but lick their grubby little claws.

Fast forward a few decades, though, and the raccoons have exacted more than their measure of revenge.

I had a doggie door installed in the laundry room of my house in Cherry Hill, NJ. Worked great, with no raccoon intrusions, until the dog died. Then when the cat began using the same door -- and yes, it's the same cat, Bane, that's the persistent "mascot" of TV Worth Watching -- it became a favorite pathway for raccoons as well.

They treated it like a fast-food drive-thru -- coming in, eating the cat food (and yes, dipping it in the water bowl), and leaving. Most of the time. One time, one particularly brave raccoon ventured into my kitchen, and got into the garbage pail. And this time, I was without my Frisbee.

raccoon-caged.jpg

But a phone call to Ray, my raccoon guy, started us both on a mission to catch and release the critters -- to catch them in humane cages placed right outside the doggie (kitty?) door entrance, and release them in the Pine Barrens, too far away to return.

It worked great. Ray even taught me how to bait the cage traps myself, and the best bait to use: Tastykakes. But over the years, it worked so well that I put Ray on retainer, and worked out some package deals.

We've now trapped and released 34 raccoons over the years, including one that was the biggest he's ever trapped. It was so big, it barely fit inside the cage, and he weighed in at 54 pounds. The raccoon, not Ray. That's the size of an average fifth-grader. I figure, at that point, it was him or me.

I finally closed up the doggie/kitty/raccoon door last year, trapped the last family of raccoons, and now I've solved all but one of my personal animal problems.

For now, though, the 14-year-old cat stubbornly refuses to die...

 

4 Comments

 

Len said:

You have much too much time on your hands! Why don't you go shopping for shirts or something!!!

[Et tu, Len? - DB]

Comment posted on February 8, 2012 12:49 PM


Will Woodard said:

Not interested, Mr. Bianculli. Please stick to your insightful TV discussions....

[Well, gee. Thanks for writing. - DB]

Comment posted on February 8, 2012 7:01 PM


Mark N said:

Dear David

Let's see...I share your Bane Pain AND also have to deal with raccoon invasions. Firstly, call me crazy but I have 13 cats (had 12 but just rescued a backyard dumpie with a broken leg) and my old ones have lost control...of the house, I mean...youngsters rule...but the eldsters train them I must admit. As for my Rocky Raccoon problem...My wife Alice rescues cats on Fire Island (many cats dumped after the summer season by idiotic renters that figure their once loved ex-Kitty will do well out there...NOT!) So we have a feline feeding station and some houses for bad weather for our 5 or 6 outdoor cats. But as noted, raccoons are really good at getting into our food containers and causing damage (deer too). But wanted to say I watch them take dry cat food over to the water bowl for washing...not all but some. Oh, and we had a raccoon in Greenpoint Brooklyn, sleeping on the fire escape! They do get around.. Ain't Mother Nature grand?...I will be watching the program as they are part of our lives, and the more I know about em the better it is. As always...thanks for the advice.

PS...I want to put "The River" in the Cellar With Gellar

Comment posted on February 9, 2012 5:57 PM


Angela said:

I was once a park ranger living on an island overpopulated with raccoons. If I had a better memory I could have written a book about these clever creatures, they were always up to or into something.

During the time I worked there, 4 years, we were unable to find a solution to keep raccoons out of garbage cans. I doubt that anyone ever will.

In regards to the doggie/cat door, you confirmed my worst fears. I guess I'll have to keep getting up from the couch every 5 minutes to let my cat in or out the door. I like to think of it as my exercise routine.

This was a fun story to read. Thank you for this.

[Your comments were fun to read, too. Thanks right back! - DB]

Comment posted on February 12, 2012 6:16 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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