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Gaynelle Evans is a freelance writer and television producer in Montgomery County.Today, she’s like other baby boomer residents who are semi-retired and who are working to reinvent themselves in ways thatfulfill dreams and pay the bills. A former reporter for Gannett News Service and USA Today and executive producer for... Read more

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Coon Wars

A man steadies the cage and gently guides it away from the chimney top. I catch my breath and pause in the driveway, stopped by the drama unfolding on my neighbor’s roof. Inside the cage is a raccoon as big as my kitchen stove.

Forgive the kitchen reference. Seeing the caged animal took me back to my childhood, when my step-grandmother, who could not cook well, prepared fried raccoon for Sunday dinner. After one forced bite of the gamy, over-fried meat, my brother and I followed our grandfather’s lead and hid the remainder under a paper napkin. Grandpa “D” didn’t care for her recipe either.

Breaking and entering homes to find refuge, raccoons can be expensive intruders. Photo by Buchanan Bill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo by Buchanan Bill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in an urban or wooded area, chances are you’ve seen a raccoon peaking at you from behind a bush, or parading through your property. In this area, they are almost as plentiful as deer. But even after the episode on my neighbor’s roof, I had no idea what I was in for. Then, one early evening while working in my basement office, I counted five ring-tailed critters strolling single file past the open window. They were not cats.

With stout bodies, short legs, pointed muzzles and small erect ears; they were unmistakably North American raccoons. Along with their distinctive tails, they sported black masks across their faces, like little bandits. The mask is just nature’s little warning. Their brains, and their feet, are the real problem.

Raccoon feet resemble little hands, with the fingers necessary to turn doorknobs, open gates, climb trellises, remove roof shingles, or untie your shoes. Brains? Well, the City Paper reported in 2007 that naturalists have seen raccoons pick, aim and throw fruit at a barking dog.

 Our relentless neighbors, the North American Raccoons. Photo taken by  flickr user garyjwood .

Our relentless neighbors, the North American Raccoons. Photo by Flickr user garyjwood.

The coon in the crate next door had been living cozily with her kit above my neighbor’s living room fireplace, separated from the interior of the house by the closed flue. She reportedly weighed in at over 30 pounds, much bigger than my 12-pound dog, Macy. Once the men removed the adult, the kit came out on its own accord.

After that, I should have been forewarned that I’d get to know raccoons a lot better in the years to come. Now, ten years later, I’ve had to bar them from my home three expensive times. It’s my very own coon war.

It turns out I’m not alone. The Montgomery County Police Animal Services Division classifies raccoons as ‘nuisance wildlife.’  On their website, the police department advises homeowners to place tight-fitting lids on trashcans, or place ammonia soaked rags into trash bins to keep them away from houses.

Here’s the Animal Services Division website: (

The raccoons in my neighborhood don’t want to get into the trash. They want to take up residence inside the house, climbing trellises and trees to tear off metal and wood slats or wire screens to gain access. Those little hands, and the brains behind them, are pure trouble.

And there’s more: Not only can raccoons cause hundreds of dollars of damage, but the pesky mammals can transfer viruses, parasites and bacteria to humans and to domestic pets.

Click the “Raccoon” heading on the police department website, and you will be directed to the Humane Society, where you can set an appointment to have the animals removed. The site also provides the option of calling the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for help, at 1(877) 463-6497.

I called last week and left a message. Unfortunately, the line was busy and the mailbox was full when I called again this week. Either coons and local pests, like foxes, groundhogs, skunks and bats, are very busy, or budget cuts have affected the number of personnel available to help.

“We are short staffed,” answers Robert Fey, a wildlife biologist who stepped from another department to return calls, “and the phone rings 24-7, off the hook.”

At the Department of Natural Resources, says Fey, callers can get a free permit to trap the animals themselves. Department staff provides lists of places to rent and buy traps, or contractors licensed by the state to safely remove the pests.

Photo by lwpkommunikacio on Flickr

Photo by lwpkommunikacio on Flickr.

Most recently, raccoons broke into my attic again. This time, they treated the Christmas ornaments stored there as hors d’oeuvres for their party. I returned from a trip to find boxes overturned, broken multicolored glass strewn across the attic floor and bloodied animal poop against the door separating the mayhem from my bedroom.

Once I got the courage to enter the crime scene (and the friend to go with me), I saw how they got in this time: A wooden slat torn from my roof vent. I was able to seal the roof before they returned. Three raccoon break-ins have taught me that wild things just love my attic.

For previous break-ins, however, I’ve opted for a licensed pest removal service. They trapped, removed and released the raccoons elsewhere, leaving me feeling only slightly guilty about making my pests someone else’s problems.

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About Evans

Gaynelle Evans is the Executive Producer at Montgomery Community Media.


8 Responses to “Coon Wars”

  1. Avatar
    On April 8, 2013 at 8:36 am responded with... #

    Oy, Jeez. Raccoons. Twice I’ve had them removed from under my deck – once by the firm Adcock which told me that they were required by Montgomery Co or MD law to euthanize captured raccoons as they could be rabid. the second firm sort of confirmed what Adcock said, but apparently sometimes the raccoons escape from their cages out in the country before they are exterminated. I’ve not tracked all this down. But they do carry enough diseases that I didn’t want them procreating and raising young beneath us.

    • Evans
      On April 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm responded with... #

      Kit. You’re absolutely right. Oy, Jeez! Please let us know what you find out about extermination. I thought that was against the law. However, the last time I checked, I lived in DC, where at that time, captured critters had to be released. Thank you for writing!

  2. Avatar
    On April 8, 2013 at 1:06 pm responded with... #

    It sounds as if they may be back shortly, this time with a hammer and chisel! Good luck keeping them out and thanks for the education.

    • Evans
      On April 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm responded with... #

      LOL Roger. I remain grateful that there is someone I can call, because I never want to see them face to face. Thanks for writing in.

  3. Avatar
    On April 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm responded with... #

    What a great story. I appreciated the humor and the seriounness of it contained so wonderfully. What a gifted writer.

    • Evans
      On April 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm responded with... #

      Thanks Clarence. Hope they stay away from your house!

  4. Avatar
    On April 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm responded with... #

    The writer is indeed gifted and talented, and I think she could lend wonderful prose and helpful advice about my four-footed, furry nemeses, SQUIRRELS! In my neighborhood, they seem to be notoriously early risers as noted by the roof-shaking thump as they land over my head while jumping from tree to tree. Some particularly industrious ones managed to chew through grating protecting the storm drains so I too called Adcock. And as they have not found their way inside my home to wreak havoc, we have learned to peacefully co-exist, even at six o’clock in the morning.

    • Evans
      On April 8, 2013 at 7:43 pm responded with... #

      Oh Brenda! I’m intimately acquainted with squirrels too. They live in families and visit from house to house in neighborhoods. Generations live in the same place. This encouraging info came to me from Adcocks, the company I called when I lived in DC. They gotta go! But then, you already know that. Thank you for writing!

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