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Raccoons Attack in Los Angeles
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Raccoons Attack in Los Angeles

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Raccoons Attack in Los Angeles

Raccoons Attack in Los Angeles
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Residents of the beach community of Venice, Calif., say they're being overrun by fat, aggressive raccoons. One resident's Dalmatian was attacked by a bunch of the masked toughs. Residents say they have a plan for taking back their streets.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.

A group of masked marauders prowling the streets of Los Angeles, rifling through garbage and mauling neighborhood pets? They're gangs of raccoons and they're testing the patience of many southern California communities.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

(Soundbite of water running)

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: To us this is just a tile fountain in the courtyard of an urban home. It provides a pleasant filter to the city noise and the traffic just beyond. But to raccoons it's the first stop in the all-you-can-eat buffet that the nationhood provides. This particular fountain is attached to my house, which is right in the middle of the city.

But raccoons aren't only my problem. The local news this week has run several stories about a 50-pound dog that got mauled by a family of raccoons on her own front porch.

(Soundbite of news report)

Unidentified Man: Larna and her husband were asleep in their home on the Venice Canal when a family of raccoons tried to get in through this open window. Larna says she came out to find her 50-pound Dalmatian Charlie pinned on her back by a large raccoon.

Ms. LARNA HARTNACK (Venice, California Resident): She's a strong dog but she couldn't get up.

BATES: But raccoons don't usually attack dogs or humans, says John Hadidian. He's director of the Urban Wildlife Program for the Humane Society of the United States and he should know - before his current job, Hadidian worked for the U.S. Forest Service and conducted a 10 year study of raccoons in their urban habitat.

Mr. JOHN HADIDIAN (Humane Society of the United States): They're what I call the North American primate. I mean, they're very intelligent. They have a lot of manual dexterity, they're good problem solvers.

BATES: While raccoon size varies from coast to coast, in cold places like Maine and Minnesota, Hadidian says raccoons can get up to 70 pounds. One thing remains constant, raccoons are very competent foragers. They even take note of where the food is - from trees or garbage bins - for future reference.

Mr. HADIDIAN: So they figure these things out. They have a regular route that they follow at night to look for the most, you know, dependable and reliable food sources. And if your garbage is going out on Tuesday night they're probably going to learn that to take advantage of it.

Ms. MARGARET ZUMWINKEL(ph) (Resident, Los Angeles): I've got an apricot tree out there. And then over here is my lemon tree. And then I've got plum tree. And then I've got figs up there I never see because the squirrels get them all.

BATES: Margaret Zumwinkel's backyard contains everything to keep a raccoon happy. Full watering cans, luscious undergrowth, and trees full of fruit. It's a raccoon magnet, says Captain Wendell Bowers of L.A. County Animal Control's Wildlife Division.

Captain WENDELL BOWERS (L.A. County Animal Control Wildlife Division): You know, we want our yards to look really nice and that, so we end up planting fruit trees, we put in little vegetable gardens, we put in koi ponds. These are all things that attract all wildlife, including raccoons.

BATES: Bowers says humans have to recognize that raccoons are a permanent part of the landscape and modify their behavior accordingly. Don't feed them. Don't harm them. And do scare them with noise and lights if you don't want them around.

Captain BOWERS: You know, this wildlife was here before we got here. It's going to be here after we're gone. We just don't want to encourage them to lose the fear of man. I want them to run away when we walk out the door.

BATES: Larna Hartnack, owner of the injured dog, has another suggestion.

Ms. HARTNACK: I think that they should be trapped and removed to the hills. I think the least that, you know, that could be done is have them trapped and neutered so that they're not procreating in the canals.

BATES: But Wendell Bowers says that's impractical given local wildlife laws.

Captain BOWERS: Either we relocate them within a half a mile of where we catch them, which means they're coming back to your house, or to euthanize them - to put them to sleep. And nobody really wants to put healthy wildlife to sleep just because they're taking the koi out of your pond.

BATES: So, lock your trashcans, close your windows, leave the dog food and the dog inside at night. And skip the koi ponds. Or plan to hear a lot more of this.

(Soundbite of raccoons)

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of raccoons)

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And we'll be right back with more from DAY TO DAY.

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