Raccoon Nation
Web-Exclusive Video: Urban Territories

How does the size of urban raccoon territory compare to that of its rural counterpart? This web-exclusive video interviews experts who participated in a study to learn more about raccoon city geography.

  • Claudia Camille

    Over a decade ago, we moved from the relative wilds of Santa Fe, NM (we had even lived far out in the country for years & frequently camped in the mountains & back country for weeks at a time) where we frequently saw a wide variety of animals very up close & personal, including wolves in Glorieta that ate cat food on our front porch & would stand within a few feet of me when I went out early in the morning. But…we never saw a raccoon. Too many other prey animals perhaps?
    Then we moved to the urban metropolis of Portland, OR, where a family of raccoons lived under our first floor apartment…& came right up to our big low kitchen window & our back door chirping at us for food! Day or night, there they were any time they knew we were home. And they quickly learned our work/school schedule. We moved into that apartment in March & the mum had little babies with her after about a month. On weekends, we could watch them come & go from the access entry right under our kitchen window.
    Portland is a unique city with a unique combination of urban & wild. It has the largest city park in the word, over 5000 acres (yes, that’s the right number of 0’s) of mostly wild “Forest Park” within a stone’s throw from downtown in the West Hills. Portland also has more city parks than anyplace else, I think, & there’s just a lot of Wild Northwest all around it. The climate is generally very mild with cool wet winters & mild wet summers…& then there’s August, which might or might not be hot & dry. This gives rise to the famous unique Northwest People who like our damp, grey, rainy wildness that makes its home in the cities & the hearts & souls of the strange folk who call it Home here.
    Portlanders love animals of all kinds. We love trees & hug them often. We spawn very anti-capitalist movements & consider Ecology our religion. We really are “radicals” of every stripe except Right-wing though we tolerate a few of those in our midst. They tend to be “old timers” who are as ardent about the natural state of the earth as the rest of us, though we do fight over the wild wolves. But not over the raccoons.
    There are cats all over the city & they’re almost considered “sacred”. Portland was the first city to have parks just for dogs. So…in this culture, you can imagine what raccoons have become. Not “pets”, we don’t even consider our cats & dogs “pets”! They’re family! Our raccoons are neighbors. Just like the zillions of squirrels, ravens, owls, gulls, foxes, coyotes……. Well, you get it. This makes raccons of a very friendly, or at least neighborly, nature.
    Unlike those I watched on your show, which were still like wild animals in the urban jungle, our raccoons are quite comfortable around us & our pets.
    They are to be respected, these “Little Bears” as the First American, who also live easily side by side with the rest of our various races & species here, call them. If you want to learn more about native American animals, you really need to talk more with Native American people. (duh, white dudes.) They will & do attack cats, dogs & people who aren’t wary enough or wise enough to pay them the proper respect.
    On the other hand, I woke up one mild early spring morning with a couple of the little ones on my bed within inches of our 2 cats, who seemed to consider them of no concern. Their mama was curled up on my rug beside the bed with another baby. She opened her eyes to gaze blandly at me when I sat up smiling at my bed mates. I sat still & just watched as she got up, came to the bed & put her front paws up on the edge & cooed softly to her little ones. They popped their heads up & quickly waddled over to touch noses with her, just like cats do, & slide down off the bed. They all waddled over to my Closed screen door! Mama carefully opened the door with her paws, ushered her young outside, then carefully Closed the door! She cooed a “good-by” at me & off they went.
    I could only feel blessed! But I did get a floor lock for my screen door. They were disappointed the next night. They were all outside the door piteously pleading with me to let them in. I sat at the door & explained that while I adored them & felt really appreciative that they had actually trusted me enough to come & sleep with me, that we just couldn’t continue that. As I placed a small bowl of cat food out for them (we carefully didn’t usually do this), the babies actually climbed up on my arm & looked up at me with their lovely little faces before going after the food.
    After that they would come to the door & kitchen window as always but they didn’t try to come in. We’d occasionally leave an apple or a piece of fruit or vege, trying to be as random as possible & not do it too often.
    We did inform the new owner who bought the property…a one time mayor of the city whose family had helped settle the city. He laughed & said the “Raccoons of Portland” were legendary. Their families had grown up along side the human ones in the “Stumptown”, an old Portland name. His attitude was typical Portland Progressive: they live here, we live here, let’s just resect each other & all try to get along.
    And mostly do. There are a couple of “wildlife removal” services that will come & (for an ungodly fee) very humanely catch them & relocate the raccoons to some wilder place within a few miles of town. Out of curiosity, I called to ask what usually happened. They laughed & said that either those raccoons or others usually moved back in within a month & that the result was that either the people learned to live with them or they, the people, moved.
    We now live in section of town that is not very far from those apartments & has big old houses with big old trees & yards & empty old garages (the TV series Grimm often films in this area). It’s called Ladd’s Addition, after the old Ladd Farm that used to be here & the old farmhouse is somewhere around here still. It’s well known for it’s beauty, the rose gardens, the stately old houses (ours was built in 1917) & upper-middle class Americana ambiance…& a bewildering circular maze of streets. While there are amazing varieties of birds & mammals that make their homes here with us, including a couple of resident coyotes that are frequently spotted, I’ve yet to see a raccoon. Maybe the coyotes keep them away? I don’t know, but we miss our friendly little neighbors.
    Oh, both veterinarians & local doctors do check & treat for round worm here. I imagine with all the wildlife in such close proximity & so neighborly, along with all the pets & kids & people who don’t hesitate to sit on the grass & sip a frothy Stumptown coffee (voted the best word-wide, like our many micro-brew beers), such hazards are unavoidable. Like palmetto bugs in Florida. Mosquitos in Ontario. Cactus & scorpions in Arizona. Grit, dirt, disease & obnoxious people in New York & Southern California. I’ll take the dangers of raccoon neighbors in my lovely Portland any day!
    But you really should come check out the scene here, with the raccoons, of course. Just be careful. People who like wild things tend fall hard for this place & want to stay. There’s an enchantment about it. Did you know that the tallest trees in the World live in the Pacific Northwest, US & BC? It’s an emerald wonderland. You except to see hobbits & elves…& maybe werewolves & vampires…around any corner. And we can’t guarantee you won’t. It’s all cool, dudes.
    Cheers. *’)

  • John Kwasnik

    We had similar experience in Oakland, CA.

    Roxie the Urban Raccoon picked our basement to have her three kits in the spring of 1996. Thinking Roxie was male, Alison named her Rocky, after the Beatles song. Then we discovered the kits, and changed her name to Roxie. The photo is by our neighbor Chris Bettencourt. [http://home.comcast.net/~johnkwasnik/furry/furry-2.html]

    Roxie was very mellow around humans, as long as they kept at least 3 feet away. She was also OK around the neighborhood cats; they hung out together. Roxie even allowed Flounder, Chris’s long-haired female, to sit with the kits in the basement. She was only visibly nervous around the opossums, and chased them away.

    All our neighbors really got into the sitcom, as Roxie took her kits out to learn raccoon stuff. Raccoons really like to contemplate the universe by handling it as much as possible with their forepaws. We put out a tub of water for the kits to play in, and would often see them bringing interesting tactile objects there … biggest hit was an abalone shell … we speculate that it was fascinating, being rough on the outside, but smooth on the inside. Roxie endeared herself to Alison (the gardener in the family) by her taste for snails … we would find broken snail shells in the water and around the yard.

    One night, Roxie was teaching the kits how to climb fences. They climbed into the neighboring yard … but when it was time to climb back, one of the kits was too afraid to try. Poor Roxie spent the entire next day running back and forth, as kits on both sides of the fence cried to be breast-fed. All the neighbors fretted over what to do … finally, Chris dug under the fence, allowing the timid kit to return to momma and sibs.

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