As I described in WDJ’s July issue, on the night of June 1st, my dog Ella, an 11-pound Norwich Terrier, was attacked by a raccoon in my backyard. Fortunately, I was able to fight off the raccoon myself, and Ella escaped with only puncture wounds, which healed quickly after being treated at the emergency vet. Emotionally, however, she was a wreck, terrified to go into the backyard, and showing signs of anxiety in the evenings when she saw or heard anything outside.
I started her on anti-anxiety medications to help her cope with the aftermath of the attack, and to prevent her anxiety from escalating.
I wasn’t exactly calm myself. The seeming randomness of the attack, and nightly sightings of the attacker in my backyard afterward, made me as jumpy as Ella. I changed the location of Ella’s last potty trip before bed to the front yard, and each evening, when it was time, I’d creep out the door, broom in one hand and airhorn in the other, peering around corners and under bushes, before signaling to Ella that it was safe for her to come out to pee. By the time we got back in the house, my heart would be pounding.
On one such night, I spent a few minutes talking to my next-door neighbor while we were outside. When I went back into the house, I saw a package of cookies torn open on the floor. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the raccoon had come in through the front door, which was left open while we were outside, and might even now be in my house! I quickly locked Ella in the bathroom (the only room in the house that I could be certain did not harbor a raccoon), then grabbed my broom and airhorn, before it dawned on me that the culprit had to be my neighbor’s dog, who has a known sweet tooth and is quite comfortable going into my house. I had a good laugh at myself over that one, but it shows how on edge I was.
On three separate evenings, as I peered out my kitchen window looking for the raccoon, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw movement along the deck, only to realize it was Ella’s reflection, as she followed me into the kitchen. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after the first time, but my stress hormones were overriding logic.
In the meantime, I was doing everything I could to encourage the raccoon to leave. On the advice of the experts I consulted, I played the radio loudly all day. I kept the raccoon’s “latrine” cleaned up and poured more bleach and Pinesol any time she used it. The vector control agent I had contacted originally came back out to spray the area around my deck with a product called Eviction Fluid, which is male (boar) raccoon urine, to drive the female away.
Several days began to go by without my seeing the raccoon, but each time I thought she was gone, I’d see her again. During one of these interludes, I contacted a wildlife control company to come out and see about sealing off access to the space beneath the deck. The night before the appointment, however, I saw the raccoon in my yard again, and the next morning, I heard thumping coming from under the deck.
The people from the company I called looked under the deck (which is just a few inches off the ground) and were able to verify, for the first time, that the raccoon was living under there, and that she had at least two babies with her. That was actually reassuring to me; at least now I knew for sure what had caused the attack. What had seemed like a gratuitous, unprovoked act of aggression on her part now made sense, once I realized that we had been standing between her and her babies when Ella started barking. It also made me less anxious about another attack happening in a different location, such as in the front yard. The experts I talked to said that the type of aggression we experienced was rare, except in the case of a mother defending her young.
WAITING HER OUT
After two weeks, I was discouraged and depressed about the situation, especially after reading that it can take nine weeks before baby raccoons are ready to start following their mother out of the den. That could be almost the whole summer! I didn’t think that either Ella or I could live with the anxiety for that long.
The vector control agent I originally contacted had told me that my only option would be to kill the raccoon if she was trapped, which I was unwilling to do, but the wildlife company offered an alternative: They would set a trap for the mother raccoon. I would watch the trap and notify them as soon as she was caught. They would immediately come out and dig under my deck to get the babies, seal off the deck, and release the mother raccoon and her babies together at the creek near my house (which is within the 100-yard limit for relocating them, so it’s legal, and also safe for the raccoon, since she would be in a familiar environment). She would then move her babies to another den, which (I was told) mother raccoons always prepare in advance.
The wildlife people left a trap in my yard baited with a can of sardines. As it turns out, we never caught anything – I thought at least we’d get one of the neighborhood cats, who treat my yard as their own, but nothing happened. I also did not see or hear the raccoon from that day forward.
A week later, the company came back and verified that the raccoon and her babies were gone. Having people peering at her in her den, followed by my cutting back the shrubbery around the deck in preparation for them sealing it off, coupled with all the things I had been doing to encourage her to move, must have finally convinced her that my yard wasn’t such a nice place after all.
The wildlife company quickly sealed the gap between the deck and the ground, using heavy-duty wire mesh bolted to the deck and embedded in a concrete-filled trench, to make sure that no creature would be able to move back in. It was expensive, but at this point, I did not want to take any chances. The peace of mind knowing that nothing can get under my deck again was worth it.
END OF STORY
Ella recovered surprisingly quickly once the deck was sealed off. Now I realize that – of course! – she must have known the raccoon was living under the deck long before I did. Once her nose and ears told her it was gone, she began venturing into the backyard again, very cautiously at first, but gaining confidence every day. Three weeks after the deck was sealed, she was behaving almost normally, and I was able to wean her off the anxiety medications. Ella no longer goes out alone, however; I always go outside with her now.
What a relief it is, knowing that I no longer have a raccoon living in my backyard! I can barbecue again, without feeling like I have to carry a weapon with me each time I go out to check the grill. Both Ella and I are more watchful (and a little jumpier) than we were before this happened, but six weeks after the attack, life is pretty much back to normal.
Mary Straus is the owner of DogAware.com. She and her Norwich Terrier, Ella, live in the San Francisco Bay Area.