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Night Raiders
Julie Maxey-Allison | 10th Street

T-shirt art.
Photo courtesy R. Bruce Allison.
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Raccoons, nocturnal “masked” bandits, arise at night from their dwellings in nearby canyons or, possibly, from under or around your house. With the change of seasons and the end of daylight savings, they have more time to freely roam the territory scavenging for food. They are smart. They have learned that tree fruit, garbage, pet food add up to pretty easy meals. So do pet chickens and rabbits. And they know how to get them.

A raccoon can easily stand on its hind legs to examine objects with its front paws. What paws! They have the same ratio of sensory receptors as human hands. Raccoons further heighten this sense through “dousing” or wetting their paws in water to stimulate the nerve endings that give them information through touch. That black fur circling a raccoon’s eyes looking like a mask meant to conceal its true identity is there to absorb light. It reduces glare and peripheral light allowing the animal to see in the dark, good for night shift foraging. With their cunning and nimble digits, they can open even tricky lids on jars, uncork bottles and open door latches. Some can even open door knobs.This skill was noted by the Powhatan, the Virginia Indians at the time of Jamestown, and their word, “Aroughcun,” meaning “animal that scratches with its hands,” is the source of our English word raccoon.

Now, raccoons feast on our garbage but there was a time in the early years of California when they were the feast. Raccoon meat sold for $1-$3 apiece in San Francisco and a recipe for raccoon was in the 1931 first edition of The Joy of Cooking. Others were turned into coats, very fashionable in the 1920s to the end of that decade, or coonskin caps in the Davy Crockett series era aired on television in the 1050s, or pets. Rebecca, a raccoon who was to be part of President Calvin Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Dinner in the 1920s somehow charmed her way off the menu into fame as a featured pet living at the White House.
Cute as some think they are, raccoons can carry rabies and they may bite people or pets when defending themselves or their “kits.” As with other mischievous wild animals, don’t invite them in. Take care to seal up your space, including pet cages and doors, from would-be invaders. Close under-house openings, check your yard for and eliminate convenient raccoon housing. Keep an eye on your pets and bring your pet and bird food indoors at night. If raccoons do become squatters, call a professional service.


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