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Philip Preville: Why the city should start killing raccoons (kindly, of course)

Raccoons are everywhere, and at all times of the day. They’re a menace to private property and public health. It’s time we stopped pretending the city is a wildlife preserve

Kill Them Kindly

It is an uncomfortable truth about Toronto: when it comes to raccoons, murderous thoughts abound. Most of us would never act upon them, but on a Wednesday morning in early June, Dong Nguyen, a 53-year-old west-end resident, did. Nguyen allegedly took his garden spade to a litter of baby raccoons, injuring one and killing another. The incident and its polarizing aftermath were widely reported on, and Nguyen had at least as many sympathizers as detractors. Posters appeared around Bloor and Lansdowne featuring Nguyen’s perp-walk photo and the message “Get out of our neighbourhood you disgusting animal torturer.” Other area residents held an anti-raccoon rally. Raccoons were the Talk Radio Topic of the Week.

Yet in all the coverage, one detail was overlooked: the reason Nguyen was able to corner and attack his prey was that, on that fateful June morning, the sun was already up. Nguyen was able to see their every move.

Though raccoons are nocturnal animals, it is increasingly common to see them out foraging during the day. The most likely reason is population pressure. Stan Gehrt, a professor at Ohio State University who is one of a small group of experts on urban raccoons, once conducted a study in which numerous raccoons were given a pile of garbage to munch on. According to Gehrt, some of the animals walked right into the pile and started eating, while others waited their turn on the sidelines. “They did not have equal access,” he says. “If you are a low-ranking raccoon, you have to be out foraging when others are not.”

This is not a case of raccoons adapting to nature. Nature does not produce diurnal raccoons. And there is nothing natural about the urban environment. Every inch of this city, down to the last tree standing, is the product of human design. Only city raccoons are ever consigned to such a perverse and humiliating life: working the day shift in the hot sun, at the mercy of spade-wielding predators, long after the best grubs and garbage have been picked over.

If raccoons were our pets and we forced them to live in such depraved conditions, the OSPCA would be all over us. And in a way, raccoons are our pets—a massive band of feral strays for whom we leave out scraps every night. The city is like one giant crazy raccoon lady. At what point will Toronto realize it would be best to do for raccoons what it does for feral cats and dogs, and control their population through euthanization? Nguyen’s methods were unacceptably crude, but he had the right general idea.

Earlier this year, a documentary on CBC’s The Nature of Things christened Toronto “the raccoon capital of the world” and claimed there were 50 times more raccoons in the city than in the surrounding countryside. In the 1990s, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) estimated the city’s raccoon population at roughly 10 to 20 per square kilometre. But the numbers haven’t been updated since, so no one—neither the MNR nor Toronto Animal Services nor anyone else with any modicum of responsibility for urban wildlife—can make an educated guess at the raccoon population today.

  • MC

    Could not agree more that they should be “thinned”

  • Mel

    In the past few years, racoons began to defecate on the shared fence that separates my home from my neighbour to the rear. The racoons’ feces is filled with dangerous bacteria that is particularly harmful to children. I worry about the two young children who live in the house behind mine because of this. Racoons are not just a nuisance but they can be a real danger.

  • KSmith

    Someone give Philip the key to the city

  • jtouil

    They are not local and they are not endangered. They are a threat to our health and safety – it’s a no brainer.

  • Victor Saymong

    Ever the solution of the Neanderthal mind – KILL THEM. How sad. The species that needs thinning is people. Talk about your global parasite.

  • Michael M

    I totally agree — we have got to start culling raccoons.

  • Mike Jones

    Yes they should be killed. With proper safeguards. Like perhaps a few people licensed to do it.

  • Mighty Dreadnaut

    So because we’ve failed to find ANY type of solution to this problem whatsoever due to a complete lack of ANY type of effort in finding a solution, we immediately resort to killing animals because we’re too lazy to figure out what to do with them?

    You wouldn’t tolerate someone running a puppy mill in your neighbourhood but you’ll slaughter raccoons on sight?

  • torontolocalabroad

    I was attacked in my house by a raccoon the size of a microwave oven. After it finished off the cat. I have no use for them at all. Die, you giant rodents, die.

  • Laura H.

    I agree with Mighty Dreadnaut. We have created this completely unnatural environment – for all of us. They’re just trying to survive like we are. I’m all for finding a solution – but random culling isn’t it. It’s a disgusting suggestion, in fact.

    We have raccoons around our house, just like everybody else. Our compost bin (with the added latch) works great. They never both us – or our three cats. I know there are exceptions but ‘humanely’ killing? We are a more creative – and intelligent – people than that.

  • Tjuan

    I’m out on the South coast of BC ,in the ‘burbs’ surrounded by water on three sides. Out here raccoons are king. On garbage day they are out till noon or even later if it’s hot out. Packs of raccoons have taken over backyard pools by moving into the surrounding shrubbery.At night they swim around in the pool,defecating and fighting and generally making a mess unfit for humans. My Condo complex has two big fountains that are on 24 hrs a day from April to October. During the heat of the afternoon in the Summer the raccoons have been seen bathing in the fountains. In broad daylight they traverse the backyard area ,entire families ,across a busy street to the underground spring to bath, frolic,fight and cool off. When it’s cold they climb upward. They managed to make their way through a small hole into the covered walkway on the property. They caused all kinds of damage that took considerable funds to rectify($3000.)The insult to all of this was that the damage had to wait a few months to be fixed,it was the ‘raccoon’s mating season’ and they are protected by Law . They are as big as a Cocker Spaniel out here. Kill ‘em all.

  • Barbara

    I am no coward, but the family of raccoons that frequent the decks in our small MUB in the East End are aggressive and intractible and have us all looking over our shoulders when we go outdoors.They are afraid of nothing. A broom wielded to scare them into backing off is completely ineffectual – they stand their ground and hiss-snarl, making eye contact. No one feels comfortable leaving any doors or windows open, as they’ve clambered indoors and only exited when they were ready, leaving a mess behind. They run along the eaves and have damaged them to a cost of $1200 for repairs. Their poop is left anywhere on the deck – a slimey, highly stinky reminder of who rules the roost. Cage capture? Who is going to approach the open cage to move it … and to where? Frustrated and angry! Killing them off may not be the most humane solution, but surely the City must start a capture-control-release program!!!! They are reproducing and taking over the City….

  • Foodies514

    Laura and Mighty… puppies feces stink, but they don’t carry deadly virus! According to your theory we shouldn’t even kill cockroaches. I live in a neighborhood with lots of raccoons problem. They scrapped my patio and managed to get in the house. It cost me $2000 to get ride of the one in my house!

    My street is a very family street with lots of kids. I see parents having to send their kids in the house when they see a raccoon. Their feces are very dangerous. A kid was killed by indirect contact a couple of year ago. A raccoon poop and had his paws touched the feces… he walk in the backyard… the kid touched a potentially infected toy and put his hand in his mouth. He became sick and had virus in his brain and die a couple of months later… Not sure about you, but I rather kill the raccoon then have my kids killed by them!

  • wheelzroller

    Instead of killing the Racoons,how about rounding them up and transplanting them to the Northern woods,where no one lives and the land has been barely tread upon ???

  • stella

    Either by culling them or spaying them or transplanting them they are a menace to other animals and humans as much as bears or foxes or even coyotees. Cutting down their number and do a good campaign on spaying and neuturing strays whether they are cat or dog. Hard enough to live in the city whether you have an apartment or a house with greedy landlords and absentee ones who think it is ok for any human being to put up with rats, mice, roaches or bedbugs and pidgeons eliminating or controlling the number of raccoons is the next best step and in the best interest of all.
    Anyone who feeds raccoons should have their heads examined same goes for pidgeon feeders. As for stray cat or dogs if you must feed them give them the proper food don’t leave out your food scraps for them as you aren’t doing them or your neighbors any favours by attracting raccoons.

  • Susan

    I agree with the comment that humans carry more disease and are more of a nuisance; should we cull them? Let’s start with the fat ones, since they take up so much of the tax payers dollars because of their bad health. They are the ones whose gravey train needs to be derailed. Watch Aftermath, a documentary that shows the planet would be better off without humans. Do you think our shit does not stink? Show some humility and heart, lest you be called a knuckle dragger.

  • MC

    Solution – how about a round up. Spaying and neutering. That way the not so little bstrds can live a long life, not so productive life and we can deal with the proliferation

  • wildlife guy

    The population is unnaturally high because its an unnatural environment. That said, there are factors affecting, infact limiting, the population level that can be sustained. Food, available den sites, competition for mates, and disease as a few limiting factors. When a population reaches its maximum level, the environment is said to be at carrying capacity. Signs of achieving this are such things as behaviour changes, such as described by others other (eg. day time feeding). To now impose direct population cull, without removing to positive influences on the environments carry capacity, sets the system up for an explosion! This is because the ones you don’t kill, DO BETTER. They are left with larger ranges, more food and less competition. The result is healthier animals going into the breeding cycle, larger litters with higher survival rates. The end result, is that in 3-6 years, not only have the population bounced back, but because its on a serious upswing, it will overshoot carrying capacity. Then the problems really start for us.
    The best way to deal with over-population, is resource control. Meaning eliminate densite through proper home maintenance, and control the available food waste stream. Wildlife will respond naturally, to deminished resources.

  • Liliap

    I completely understand there are many concerns surrounding the problems, or rather nuisance of raccoons. We need to find a way to remove them humanely, rather than Killing them.
    I live on property that is surrounded by raccoons. As a child my father removed them by capturing in cages and taking them to a forested area, Humanely. It can be done. Let’s be rational, no animal should killed.

  • Abbot

    Part of living in this city.

  • Lisa

    Just go in the mornings to the Eaton Centre around Trinity Church and you will see a million rats. They are everywhere. Perhaps the city can do something about those too!

  • am/pm

    We are the only species that doesn’t live in harmony with our environment. No one says anything about “thinning” our population. Humans are as much a nuisance to racoons as they are to us.

  • Zach Swan

    Scoop them up and ship them over to Toronto Islands.

  • michele

    I had no idea we were allowed to kill raccoons, provided one did it humanely. Aside from hiring someone, what are these humane methods?

  • Enough

    I have a rental property in Seaton Village. Unfortunately it is Victorian style which means angles, which means…Raccoons love. I have spent probably $5,000 over the past number of years with the two way doors and such only to find that they just tear apart the roof in areas where there is no cage.

    After catch and release, catch and release money money money. They got back in again. We hired yet another company to get them out and they charged us $350.00+ to verify the there was no source or evidence they were getting in the roof. Well for some reason they got in and I guess chewed through some wires and died and they started to decompose in the roofline / facia. We had to tear the whole side of the building roof line off, replace the wood and compensate the tenants for the smell an inconvenience. Total cost….wait for it….$39,000 and counting.

    When we asked the City to get involved when the neighbours were (and still are) feeding raccoons they did nothing saying that there is no proof that they would not be in the area if they were not feeding them…I mean come on how many times do I have to do try to get rid of these things.

    The only people who ‘don’t complain’ and are ‘raccoon friendly’ are those that don’t own property or have not been bitten or effected by these pests. This is an epidemic.

    I also live in High Park and everyone WHO OWNS PROPERTY in my neighbourhood has only one thing to say about them.

  • stop the madness

    Read the post by “wildlife guy”. This is the only accurate information in any of these posts. Control of resources is the only way to reduce raccoon population. Humans are providing food and shelter to raccoons – even if it’s accidental through garbage etc. That is why there are so many of them. Neutering and spaying sounds easy, but would actually be extremely difficult and way too expensive. It also wouldn’t work as it would be impossible to monitor for new raccoons that would appear and were not neutered. “Humane” relocation is cruel as 75% of relocated raccoons suddenly taken away from their home will starve to death. This also doesn’t work for population control as nature quickly fills a void. (see post by wildlife guy) Raccoons do carry a parasite (not a virus) that can harm people IF that person or child ingests raccoon feces. Infections are extremely rare – certainly much more rare than the myriad of other deadly infections children can get. C’mon people … let’s be smart about this – they’re only raccoons. A community response to controlling resources is a long term affordable and humane solution.

  • Eastender

    Glad to learn that trapping and euthanizing these pests is legal. Now we just need the price to come down…$300 a pop is way too expensive. I’m with the person who suggested a city-funded rebate program!

  • John

    Just when you think the planet is becoming a saner, kinder, more tolerant place, out crawl the savages who see killing as the only solution to problems caused by human stupidity. I am embarrassed to share space in the universe with Dong Nguyen, Philip Preville, and their ilk, people who want to make innocent species pay cruelly for human arrogance, ignorance, and laziness. I cringe at the thought of explaining your ideas to children, and that is often the test of moral correctness. “The raccoons were a nuisance, so we killed them.” What a fine lesson for the young.

    But pardon me. I forgot. this killing of raccoons is to be done with “kindness.” Isn’t there something just a tad contradictory about that Mr. Preville? Come on, get down there nose-to-nose with the caged creatures you have condemned and tell me there is no pain at capture, no terrors as a result of confinement, handling, and the certain knowledge of imminent death. How incredibly arrogant to condemn a creature merely for being pesky. By that standard why not also advocate “kindly” killing those bands of intoxicated youth that roam the streets on weekend nights, upsetting garbage, tossing beer bottles, and generally causing mayhem. After all, they don’t even have the excuse that they are just trying to survive!

    Guess what! Humans have big brains and opposable thumbs! They are more than a match for any other species, a fact that always makes me laugh derisively when I hear gun toting hunters speak about their “sport,” as though the contest were in any way equal. Sadly, the planet abounds with all too convincing evidence of human brain power and human intolerance of other creatures. Humans can control raccoons whenever they choose to stop whining and apply a little common sense and initiative. Quite simply, raccoons are present because we feed and house them. If we stop offering them our hospitality, they will breed less, and their numbers will gradually reflect a less plenteous environment. So here’s a plan that doesn’t involve killing:

    1. Don’t store food waste outside. If you must store it in an outside bin, then fasten the lid securely. It is definitely possible to secure a bin against raccoon invasion.

    2. Don’t place your food garbage, including unwashed containers for recycling, at the curb the night before collection. Get up and do it in the morning.

    3. Make raccoon proofing a standard part of any roof or eavestrough work . This would include installing wire mesh over vents and covering potential access sites around the roof perimeter.

    4. Close off access to the undersides of decks and porches. Secure garages and sheds.

    5. Don’t be blatantly stupid. Leaving your back door open with cat food conveniently in a bowl on the floor is asking for intruders. And the backyard composting of food is inviting more than just raccoons. Let the City have your food waste for processing.

    And Mr. Preville, please, let’s stop all the fear mongering about diseases, unless you have some facts. I have lived in Toronto all my life and have never heard raccoons blamed for illness in any other creature, great or small.

    There is no excuse for cruelty, and the fact that other jurisdictions condone it is no excuse for Toronto. Mr. Preville, your plan, quite simply, is cruel and unacceptable to right thinking people who accept human responsibility to share space with other species, even at some personal inconvenience.

  • James

    I mostly agree with John of November 12 but John has missed a few important factors (a) over population of any species is a problem (b)evidently society cannot be responsible in increasing the growth of these species.

    If we had an abundance of bears, cats, dogs, rats, mice, deer or any other species in Toronto what would be done..quite simply we would cull out the numbers. Animal services puts down hundreds of cats and dogs each year (I know I used to work for Animal Services) and though not humane this is the only time tested method to keep things in check. Raccoons, bears, deers should be treated no differently. When the deer roamed free on Bay Street a few years ago what was done? They ‘relocated’ the deer. When my dog ran away when I was 8 years old what happened to my dismay. Put down. Actions are taken.

    Regarding my second point, it is quite evident that people continue to fail to put out garbage properly, feed racoons or fail in other ways to keep the number of racoons in check. It is evident that the City of Toronto does not want to ‘hold people responsible’ who are feeding them and those are people whom appeared to have been called out. What about the people who are just messy or lazy and no one seems to notice or care to follow up on? This will certainly add to the increasing diets of these animals. If we don’t pull up our socks and it appears that we aren’t going to we will always have this problem. I think change has to come from somewhere on this issue. Toronto is known as the raccoon capital of the world. Canada has the beaver we have the raccoon.

    I think we need either Willie Coyote or the Piped Piper.

  • Anon

    I’m kind of surprised Toronto Life would publish this. Had the writer done 5 minutes of research they would have discovered that attempts to spay and cull raccoons simply don’t work (as wildlife guy points out). What is the point of an article that rails on about a solution that doesn’t work?

  • craig

    For all you High park residents and people who have raccoon issues. I am a licensed trapper. I will take your Raccoons problems away for FREE from Fall till Mid Winter.. That’s right: FREE! I will live trap and remove them from your property. Email me at:

  • Carmen

    I bought a house in downtown Toronto, not in the woods, therefore I don’t expect to be forced to be surrounded by wild life. Either relocate them to the Nothern woods, or kill them, they need to go. Great article!

  • TOguy75

    Toronto folks really won’t be happy until the city is one chunk of concrete, will they?

  • disqus_3iNoKqQDun

    Oh go fuck yourself John. Spreading disease is what you want. Raccoons carry diseases…lets send them over to your house and let them piss and shit in your garden…oh maybe you are a domesticated condo liver who views the world like a cat from the window.

  • Twitter Jo

    Shame on Toronto Life for publishing this article. We humans are the invasive species. We can’t go killing everything that cause us inconvenience.