It was a cold April morning and the house was just stirring when I first noticed something amiss from the kitchen window.
“Who left the garage door open?!” I demanded to no one in particular.
Could it be that my sister or my brother-in-law — who live across the street — came by and borrowed the lawnmower or an extension cord and then forgot to roll back the door?
I went outside for a closer look. Hmmm. A week’s worth of diapers, egg cartons, cereal boxes were shredded and strewn across my otherwise orderly (LOL) outbuilding. Was this also the work of my sister? Maybe. But if she was really that pissed off, she would have dumped the barrel over my head or, perhaps, on top of my Jeep.
No, it’s gotta be a critter.
There’s no shortage of wildlife in this neighborhood: Possum, deer, skunks, wild turkeys, various birds of prey, and the squirrels. Those friggin’ squirrels–my mom knew a thing or two about them. But Dot squirrels, while pesky, aren’t known for their upper body strength. So, what member of the Dot animal kingdom was able to roll up my garage door?
Later that evening, the chief suspect revealed herself, calmly sauntering across my backyard on her end-of-the-day rounds: A raccoon. A very, very large raccoon. A raccoon about the same size as my three-year-old daughter and probably double her weight. Easily half-a-hundred on the scale.
My furball nemesis and I have eyed each other warily, but without serious confrontation. All my neighbors on Richmond Street know her too. She’s probably holed up in a tree or brushes in Dot Park and marauds for unsecured trash in Lower Mills. Judging from her physique, she’s a prolific forager. And honestly, as long as she’s passing through and not threatening any little kids, I’m good with it.
This past weekend, though, ‘Rocky’ crossed the line. In the aftermath of the Haitian Unity Parade, with 20 friends and family enjoying a backyard BBQ, Rocky decided to crash the party. A young cousin noticed Rocky first: “Wow, what’s that large animal doing in your garage??”
It was 6:30 p.m. Still broad daylight with the grill going and the music pumping. Why is this wild animal all up in the mix?
Everyone hurried inside. I went to the back deck to retrieve my plate and brew from the picnic table. Guess who beat me to it?
There was Rocky, mowing down a plate like a contestant in the Coney Island hot dog eat-a-thon. Even with 15 kids and their parents jumping around and snapping photos (safely behind the glass doors of course), Rocky kept at it, alternately snapping up scraps and staring us down. So, that concluded the outdoor portion of the day’s festivities.
The next day, I called the MSPCA. I asked their spokesman — Rob Halpin, a really nice guy btw— what I should make of this behavior. Rocky was really ratcheting up the turf war. Why?
Rob says that the long, horrible winter is likely to blame. Also, raccoons across the city have probably given birth in recent weeks and have more mouths to feed. So they are desperate to get whatever they can and are taking more risks to get it.
“I really think that this very sudden transition to summertime has caused even greater urgency among wildlife to find nesting places to rear their young,” said Halpin. “But I also suspect that in a few weeks these animals will move on.”
Rob sent me a fact-sheet on raccoons that starts with this recommendation: “If raccoons have taken up residence in or around your home, the first step is to encourage them to move out. This is easily accomplished by using mild harassment techniques, and following up with exclusionary methods.”
Chief among the harassment techniques: Put a flashlight on where you think the raccoons might be nesting. Trim back branches around the yard. And, of course, make sure your outdoor garbage containers are well sealed.
My favorite though is the Manuel Noriega provision: “Play a radio near the den site day and night to further annoy them.”
So, to my neighbors who’ve been wondering why I’m blasting “Free Bird” under fluorescent lights at midnight, it’s all for my friend Rocky. I’m kinda hoping she’ll take the hint and get a move-on before the calendar turns. We’d like to use that backyard on Dot Day.