All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Raccoons in the City

Dear Marie,
Last night my dog started barking at something outside. Usually, if I tell him to be quiet, he’ll stop barking and come back on my bed. But this time he absolutely would not. So I got up to look out the window to see what was upsetting him so much. I could not believe what I saw! It was an entire family of raccoons using my pool to wash their hands and faces! I’ve never seen raccoons in my neighborhood before. We’ve had opossums over the years and even a skunk every now and then. But we've never had raccoons. I can’t imagine where they came from or where they live. My question to you is this. Should I be worried about them being in my yard? Do they carry any diseases that my dog can get if he goes out there now? Should I call someone to trap them? I live in Garden Grove so it’s not like I am near open space or wildlife areas. What should I do?

Garden Grove

Dear Amanda,

Like many wild animals in Orange County, the raccoons you spotted are completely urbanized. This means that they have probably never lived in what we would consider a “wildlife area.” They have adapted to living among people where food and water sources are plentiful, and there are numerous places that are safe and secure for sleeping during the day.

Often, raccoons use storm drains, especially during times of drought, to make temporary homes or sleeping quarters. It is not uncommon to spot a family of raccoons crawling out of the curbside openings that lead in and out of the municipal drain systems. This of course, is potentially very dangerous because when the rains finally do come, the raccoons have very little warning before the rushing water comes through. However, most raccoons do seem to manage and get to higher ground before it’s too late.

Some raccoons take up residence in the attics or crawl spaces of neighborhood homes. This isn’t ideal because they do tend to cause a lot of damage. So it is important to make sure that any openings leading into your crawl spaces and attic are securely sealed so that no wild animal can make your home its home!

But besides the physical property damage that raccoons are capable of causing, they really pose no measurable health risks, especially if you keep your dog in at night, which is the time that raccoons are out and about.

It is true that raccoons, like most mammals, are potential rabies carriers. However, if you observe a raccoon doing normal raccoon activities, the chances of it carrying rabies are almost non-existent. It is only if you see a raccoon during the daytime acting erratically that you should worry. But nothing you described in the raccoon activity that you saw sends out any red flags. So I wouldn’t worry about that.

Nevertheless, always make sure you pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations and continue to keep your pets indoors at night when wildlife tends to be active. Any wild animal will protect itself if confronted, and it sounds as if your dog would be likely to engage these animals if he were allowed out. I would strongly advise taking your dog outside on a leash if he needs to relieve himself at night to avoid any unpredictable confrontations. You should also go out alone first and make some commotion to scare off any visitors before you take you dog outside. Raccoons will run away if you don’t corner them. They are not interested in attacking humans.

If you don’t want the raccoons coming by your home, I would suggest covering your pool so that they don’t have access to the water, which is most likely why they visited your home on the night you described. Further, harvest any fruit on trees that you may have growing in your yard and keep your trash cans covered at all times. Of course, don’t leave pet food or water dishes outside either. By eliminating food and water sources, you are taking away the attractiveness of your yard and the raccoon family will decide there isn’t anything worth sticking around for.

Wildlife and pets don’t make a good combination. So take these few precautions and you should be fine.