The attack, which would not end until Joyce Gee was bloodied and knocked to the ground, began on a sunny, hot evening in East Vancouver, with a few distracted yaps from her tiny Chihuahua, Cali.
A raccoon shot out of the bushes. The animal had razor-sharp teeth, but Gee wasn’t thinking about that yet. At first, it was confusion, panic. The raccoon charged, hissing, snarling, fierce. It snatched Cali and bit. The pup yowled. Gee’s other dogs, Mac and Rika, yanked at their leashes. Gee tried to restrain them.
Instinctively, Gee kicked at the raccoon. Now it was a brawl. The raccoon came at Gee, clamped her ankle. Teeth ripped through skin, muscle. Leg, elbow, hand, finger.
Blood splashed the sidewalk.
She lost her grip on the dogs, and tilted backward. Her body struck the concrete.
“It was like a nightmare,” said Gee. “It kept coming, it wouldn’t stop.”
Rika bolted. A kind stranger plucked the miniature poodle out of traffic on Victoria Drive.
Gee hobbled home, bleeding profusely. “It looked like my finger was bitten clear through.”
For Venables Street residents, it has been a season of terror. Just months ago, two raccoons tried to drag away a Mexican hairless. The dog had its tail amputated.
Gee received four stitches in her hand, and Cali is recovering from puncture wounds.
“Right now, the situation with the raccoons is out of control,” said Gee’s next door neighbour, Zsuzsi Gartner.
Gartner’s own dog can’t go out in the yard. “It’s frightening.”
Calls to the city have been unproductive. “They have no raccoon policy,” said Gartner.
The City of Vancouver confirmed it has no policies specifically regarding raccoons, but anyone feeding wildlife, including birds of any kind (except hummingbirds), coyotes and raccoons, in Vancouver is subject to a $500 fine.
B.C. ministry of the environment conservation officers confirmed to Postmedia they had a report of the Victoria Drive incident, but did not respond “due to higher-priority public safety calls.”
Raccoons are a Schedule-B “pest species,” under the B.C. Wildlife Act. They can be legally hunted in areas where firearm discharge is permitted, but in other areas, including Metro Vancouver, they may not be killed or captured without a permit.
Andrea Wallace, manager for wild animal welfare for the BCSPCA said that like all wild animals, raccoons can be dangerous. She recommends “modifying human behaviour so we can co-exist.”
Raccoons generally do not approach humans, but are emboldened when they become habituated. “When people think they are cute and actively feed them, they are encouraging raccoons to come around. We don’t want that, we want them to be afraid of us,” said Wallace.
Even bird feeders can attract raccoons. Wallace recommends making yards, sheds and car ports uncomfortable for raccoons: tidy up clutter, shine bright lights, keep a talk radio station on.
Hannah Griebling, a UBC researcher said raccoons are highly intelligent. “Their brains have a high concentration of glial cells in a ratio equivalent to primates, so they are tenacious, and willing to interact with new problems.”
“It’s almost like an arms race between us and the raccoons. We are creating more intelligent creatures as we create more complex systems of barring them,” said Griebling.
Randy Celinski, owner of AAA Wildlife Control, said Vancouver’s raccoons are “taking advantage of free food and housing.” His approach is to “evict them” from structures. Trapping and relocating is no longer accepted because of the danger of spreading disease, said Celinski. “It doesn’t fix the problem.”
Celinski said February through August is “kit season”, and mother raccoons can be aggressive if they think their babies are in danger. “Give them their distance when you are walking dogs, be aware if they are denning on your property, and don’t leave food out.”
The good news is that Celinski has never heard of anyone being killed by a raccoon. Unfortunately, although Celinski can evict raccoons from attics, a raccoon hiding in a shrub is beyond his control.
The thought that there might be more raccoons lurking in bushes, ready to attack at any moment, has Venables Street neighbours on edge.
“I appreciate how mums protect their kits, but when they are savagely attacking people, more has to be done,” said Gartner.
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