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A raccoon rummages through a downtown-Toronto garbage can in this 2008 file photo.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Outsiders think of Toronto as a place defined by Bay Street financiers, multi-ethnic neighbourhoods and mediocre hockey teams.

To its homeowners, however, a more fundamental feature of life in Toronto is its raccoons, who rifle through garbage bins, colonize attics or soil backyard decks.

Residents dedicate much brain power and Internet bandwidth to finding ways to rig their composting bins with straps or bungee cords and keep their laneways clean.

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That battle turned ugly early Wednesday when police were called to a little west-end residential street, Rankin Crescent, after a neighbour reported a man attacking raccoons in his backyard with a shovel-like tool.

Nguyen Dong, a 53-year-old homeowner, was charged with cruelty to animals and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

Mr. Dong's wife, Thuy, said there must have been a misunderstanding. Her husband was only wielding a broom to scare the raccoons away from his flower beds, she said.

"They often climbed on our deck at the back, a big group of them. They would climb on the deck and they're not even afraid of my children," Ms. Thuy said.

"There was a big commotion and we got out and the police told us they had arrested Mr. Dong for beating a raccoon," said Van Dai Truc, a neighbour on Mr. Dong's townhouse row.

Mr. Truc said raccoons are particularly pesky on his street, recounting that he often is confronted by four or five animals when he opens his door.

"They're very stubborn animals. You open the door and they just stay there. They won't run away. They're not afraid of humans," he said.

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"Me, I don't go out to the backyard too often. I try to avoid them . . . Sometimes there's so many of them it's scary."

Police officers intervened shortly before 6 a.m. at Mr. Dong's home.

The animals were on a fence and a man was knocking them off with a gardening tool, said Staff Sergeant Blake Shreve of Toronto Police's 11 Division. "The mother was fighting with him and trying to rescue her kids."

Police found one badly wounded kit, which was picked up by Toronto Animal Services, a municipal agency.

"There were others we couldn't locate because the mother raccoon had dragged them away. There's a possibility others were injured as well."

The wounded raccoon is expected to recover and has been transferred to a wildlife rehab centre in Beeton, north of Toronto, said Animal Services shelter supervisor Fiona Venedam.

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Arrested and taken to 11 Division, Mr. Dong was released pending a July 13 appearance at Toronto's Old City Hall court house.

According to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, southern Ontario is home to more than a million raccoons, so Mr. Dong is not the first Torontonian to run into trouble with the law on a raccoon-related matter.

Last April, North York resident Giovanni Marchese was fined $1,000 for snagging a raccoon in a trap and leaving it stranded there for two weeks.

In 2003, two Toronto men were charged with cruelty to animals and assault with a weapon after a raccoon was beaten with a broomstick and left to die in a dumpster.

Raccoons are so emblematic to Toronto that, five years ago, the style guru Tyler Brûlé picked the critter as brand mascot when he designed Porter Airlines' corporate look.

"Not everyone in Toronto is a lover of raccoons, but if Toronto has an official animal, what would it be? Raccoons are very clever and flexible, and rather quite cheeky," Mr. Brûlé told Marketing magazine.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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