Two things can set a dinner table buzzing in this town. One is real estate ("Can you believe what they're asking for that place?"). The other is raccoons. Everyone in Toronto has a raccoon story.
These sly, remarkably adaptable critters have invaded the city in growing numbers, knocking over our green bins, chewing holes in our roofs, hanging out under our decks and generally making themselves at home. CBC's The Nature of Things calls Toronto the raccoon capital of the world. They like urban living so much, it says, that you can find 50 times as many of them here as you would in an area of the same size in the country.
Toronto is the perfect living environment for your discriminating coon. Our attics and backyard decks make perfect dens for mothers and their kits. Our green bins offer one-stop food shopping and their latches are childishly simple to pick. (So kind of those humans to separate the good stuff and put it all in one convenient container.) Perhaps best of all, Toronto raccoons face no natural predators.
Well, except for Nguyen Dong. Police arrested the 53-year-old man last week after a neighbour reported seeing him batter some baby raccoons with a spade. The incident has set off a roaring debate that could happen only in Toronto. The issue is so hot that there was actually a little demonstration in the Bloor and Lansdowne area on the weekend in which pro-coon and anti-coon forces made their case.
Defenders of Mr. Dong, including some of his neighbours, say that the coons are taking over and someone has to fight back. In true Canadian fashion, they are asking government to step in to deal with the creatures or compensate homeowners for the damage they cause. On the other side, animal-rights people and other coon sympathizers say that it's cruel to mete out a violent death to creatures who are only doing what comes naturally.
Which side has the right of it? Obviously it is silliness on stilts to send cop cars dashing to the home of an immigrant family to apprehend a guy for trying to rid his garden of animal pests. Homeowners trap mice and poison rats. Farmers shoot gophers. Mr. Dong hardly deserved to be hauled away in cuffs, charged with cruelty to animals and possessing a dangerous weapon ("Your honour, the Crown presents Exhibit A: a garden spade").
The provincial Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act says that a person may harass, capture or kill an animal if he "believes on reasonable grounds that wildlife is damaging or is about to damage" his property. But it also says the person "shall not cause it unnecessary suffering." So it is the manner of the killing, rather than the killing itself, that offends the law.
Do we really want the courts passing judgment on how a private householder deals with wild varmints on his own turf? A sensible judge will dismiss the charges against Mr. Dong or let him off with a warning.
Still, we can't have everyone going after coons with shovels. An all-out war on raccoons is neither practical nor necessary. Contrary to myth, Toronto raccoons don't generally transmit rabies or other diseases (though - TMI alert - you can get a parasite from contact with their feces). They don't attack children and don't eat household pets, as coyotes sometimes do. They are simply a nuisance, and nuisances call for milder measures.
The Toronto Wildlife Centre recommends putting your green bin in a shed, a garage or a sealable outdoor container. It says coons can be driven out of household cavities with light or noise, like the sound of a radio. If all that fails, the better wildlife companies will remove mother and kits together, seal up the hole they used to enter and leave them to move on (rather than relocating the mother alone, leaving the kits to die in the attic).
Coons are a pain, for sure, but Toronto is their home now, and, like it or not, they are here to stay.