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Toronto’s ‘exploding’ raccoon population sparks city council debate

City staff, who are putting together a wildlife report, say there isn’t evidence that the raccoon population is growing dramatically.

Paisley Rae

Toronto's licensing and standards committee has requested a staff report on what can be done about the city's raccoon population, which one city councillor fears is "exploding," though animal control says the number of raccoons hasn't grown.

The request elicited a lively discussion on the topic at City Hall and on social media Monday. It seems every resident in the city has had a run-in with the cosmopolitan critters, including the mayor.

Rob Ford says he is not "a big raccoon fan," and has had some run-ins with the creatures at night when he is taking out the garbage or recycling.

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"I've had some standoffs with some racoons," Mr. Ford told reporters Monday, later adding. "It's a severe problem. It's only getting worse. They are getting braver and braver by the day."

Mr. Ford said his nine- and six-year-old children will not take the garbage out because they are afraid of the animals and his wife will not go out, so his family has to make deals about who will put out the garbage at night.

"You know at night, you go out. I recycle. I open it up. Bam. This thing's jumping on you," Mr. Ford said when asked to describe one of his encounters. He says he tries to bang the bins before opening the lid.

Mr. Ford said he would support some way of controlling the animals, especially if they are aggressive, but "might have a problem" with a general euthanizing program.

At the committee meeting, Councillor David Shiner made the request for a staff report on whether anything can be done to keep the creatures in line, saying he believes the raccoon population is "exploding," as an increasing number of residents have complained to him about raccoons damaging their property.

"There is an increasing population and they are out there and they are getting more aggressive, " he said. "They are breaking into people's houses and ripping up people's lawns and getting into their garbage."

But city staff, who are already putting together a comprehensive report on the city's wildlife populations, due out in spring, 2015, say they don't have any evidence that the population is growing dramatically.

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"We don't have any information that the population is growing or exploding. Our numbers year over year for the types of complaints that we respond to haven't really increased significantly," said Elizabeth Glibbery, the city's manager of animal services.

Ms. Glibbery said animal control does not trap or remove raccoons that are causing havoc for homeowners – that's up to the homeowners to tackle, either through a private company or on their own, as long as they're following guidelines set by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Toronto Animal Services does collect dead, sick or injured animals that residents spot, but the numbers for these calls hasn't gone up. In 2012, the city responded to 4,802 calls about dead raccoons; in 2013 it was 4,398; and so far in 2014 they've responded to 1,574 calls. The numbers for sick or injured animals are fewer but also haven't shown an increase.

On social media, many Torontonians expressed frustration at raccoons who knock over their garbage bins for a snack, build nests in their attics and chew through screen doors.

Ahmad Nassri and his wife were charmed by the three fat raccoons who sunbathed on their back porch every day, until the animals decided the screen door would make a convenient bathroom.

"Not next to it or in front. I really mean on it and in the same spot every day," Mr. Nassri said. He had to attach pigeon spikes to his fence, wrap the trunks of his backyard trees and completely seal off the yard in order to keep them from returning.

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"But honestly, I'm not entirely sure if my clever tricks were the reason they stopped coming or cars finally got the best of them, as we saw many dead on our street," he said.

But not everyone has such an adversarial relationship with the masked bandits.

Paisley Rae, who is an active commentator of City Hall on Twitter, had a family of raccoons living near her home close to the Exhibition grounds last summer who would frequent her deck.

"One of the babies took the greatest delight in climbing up on my bike and ringing the bell repeatedly. They were so tame that I swear they posed for the photos."

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