Dean Kahn

Bellingham residents say ‘trash pandas,’ aka raccoons, pose threat to pets, people

Bob Jones feeds chickens at his home in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Bellingham, Oct. 11, 2016. Jones has lost a bunny and three chickens to raccoon attacks.
Bob Jones feeds chickens at his home in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Bellingham, Oct. 11, 2016. Jones has lost a bunny and three chickens to raccoon attacks.

The pet rabbit that belonged to Bob Jones and his family was fluffy and white, truly like an adorable stuffed animal. But two weeks ago, during the day, two raccoons got inside the rabbit’s pen next to the chicken coop in the family’s fenced back yard.

They bit off the rabbit’s face and tore out its stomach as Jones’ wife screamed and their Rhodesian ridgeback barked.

“That rabbit, it was shredded,” Jones said. “They didn’t eat anything, they just shredded it.”

It wasn’t the family’s first run-in with raccoons. They earlier lost three chickens when raccoons found a gap in the chicken coop.

They’re not pets. Don’t feed them.

Bob Jones, Bellingham resident

Jones lives in Bellingham’s Roosevelt neighborhood, west of Alabama Hill. He alerted other city residents about the rabbit attack in a Sept. 28 posting on the Next Door social network. That triggered an avalanche of complaints and comments from other residents about raccoons that have killed or mortally wounded dogs, cats, a kitten, a pet duck, and other chickens and bunnies.

“They can be vicious,” said Dave Vinke, who works for Wildlife Services, a wildlife-control business. “They’re a pretty strong little animal.”

They’re also cute, which is a big part of the problem with raccoons. With their bushy ringed tail and their banded eyes, raccoons come across as lovable in videos and kids’ entertainment.

But raccoons can be aggressive, whether in the wild or as pets. Weighing up to 60 pounds, they have powerful jaws with sharp-edged upper canine teeth. They can act friendly, especially when people provide them food, but they can quickly grow aggressive toward people and other animals, and can turn downright nasty when confronted or cornered.

Don’t feed or shelter raccoons

With winter on the way, raccoons are busy searching for food and for dens, said Alysha Elsby, a wildlife rehabilitator with the Whatcom Humane Society.

Sometimes called “trash pandas,” raccoons eat almost anything, and will gladly dine on garbage, garden remains, pond fish, compost scraps, bird seed, chicken eggs, barbecue remnants, tree fruit, and pet food and water left outside.

If you hear noises in the attic, don’t ignore it.

Dave Vinke, Wildlife Services

To deter raccoons from hanging around, those tempting morsels need to be brought inside, cleaned up, or securely covered.

“They’re not pets,” Jones said. “Don’t feed them.”

To prevent raccoons from establishing a den, people should block open access to crawl spaces, chimneys, sheds, abandoned vehicles and attics.

“If you hear noises in the attic, don’t ignore it,” Vinke said.

Once settled in, raccoons can damage a house or other structure, and their feces are risky to humans – even fatal, because of a roundworm in their intestines. So it’s best to block the pesky critters’ entry before trouble starts.

“Preventing conflict with people and pets is the goal,” said Fenner Yarborough, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife who works in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Who ya gonna call?

If a raccoon appears sick, injured or orphaned, people should contact Whatcom Humane Society’s wildlife rehabilitation center, 360-966-8845.

If raccoons appear to be settling in or near your house, try playing music or the radio, leaving lights on, or surrounding the area with ammonia and mothballs to deter them. Once the raccoons leave, block off the area.

Commercial raccoon traps are available, but people should use caution, both when setting the trap and when dealing with the trapped raccoon.

If raccoons have established a den and won’t leave, contact a state-licensed wildlife company to deal with them. A list of companies is available at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Vinke said options for wildlife handlers include chasing raccoons from their den, or setting traps. Once trapped, raccoons are released near the edge of the owner’s property, or are taken away and put to death. By law, raccoons cannot be moved to a distant location and then released, he said.

Jones hopes more people will recognize the danger posed by raccoons, not only to rabbits and other pets, but also to kids, including his grandchildren.

“That’s one of my biggest concerns,” he said. “What happens when I’ve got my kids out on the deck sleeping in the summertime?”

Keeping raccoons at bay

Food: Remove food and water sources outside. Use garbage cans that can’t be tipped and that have secure lids. Place bird feeders several feet off the ground and away from trees or structures. Fence your garden, but don’t used barbed wire. Don’t turn your compost bin into a raccoon buffet.

Pets: Keep pets inside at night, and secure pet doors.

Dens: Make sure crawl spaces and other potential den areas are empty, then block openings so they are raccoon-proof. To discourage animals, place ammonia-soaked rags, mothballs, or small pans of ammonia nearby. Trim branches away from your roof, to discourage access to chimneys and attics.