Few animals have embraced the urban lifestyle like the wily raccoon. While squirrels seem content to skitter nervously from tree to tree — far above humans and their dogs — raccoons walk the boulevard like they own it.
In Toronto, where an estimated 100,000 raccoons live, brazen acts of banditry and dumpster diving have led to a particularly prickly co-existence with humans.
Part of the problem may be the ring-tailed rogue’s uncanny intelligence.
“They're really, really adaptable,” Mary Lou Leiher from Toronto Animal Services tells BlogTO. “So if there happens to be humans in their environment, they can adapt to that. They do make a connection between humans and their food source. Garbage is obviously a main food source for raccoons. It's the main thing they forage on.”
Indeed, while humans scramble to batten down their attics from critter invasions or build a better garbage bin, raccoons keep calm. And adapt on.
“Once raccoons have learned to open a latch — it sounds like something monkeys do — they seem to be able to retain that memory for years,” animal expert David Sugarman explains to BlogTO. “They're one of the few animals that can teach it to their young.”
And over time, raccoons have cemented their reputation as urban outlaws, seeming to take devilish delight in acts of mischief and, let’s face it, downright anarchy.
Few Torontonians, for instance, will forget a 2015 act of raccoon rebellion that involved one of the plucky critters scaling a 700-foot tall construction crane.
Once the animal reached the top, he made a poo. Then he ambled all the way back to the ground.
No, tell us how you really feel about us, raccoon.
Not everyone is in love
The trouble is, while raccoons are just being true to their impish and impulsive selves — and there’s a certain joie de raccoon that can’t help but be admired — some humans just don’t get them.
Reprisals against raccoons can be brutal and extreme — like in the case of a baby raccoon found in Barrie, Ontario, earlier this month suffering burns all over her body. Police suspect someone set the animal on fire.
"It is unacceptable," Constable Sarah Bamford told reporters. "If the person is caught, they can face criminal charges of animal cruelty."
The good news is that the baby raccoon is bouncing back nicely under the care of the Procyon Wildlife Centre. The bad news? As increasing numbers of humans and raccoons share downtown spaces, violent incidents are likely to flare up more frequently.
“When animals are more common people tend to value them less, but as a rational human being why would you treat a raccoon less than a kitten?” Nathalie Karvonen of the Toronto Wildlife Centre tells the Toronto Sun.
Which is why, in these tense and uncertain times, a rare and tender act by humans toward a raccoon can be an inspiration. In July 2015, a dead raccoon was spotted on a downtown Toronto sidewalk. It wouldn’t have been a scene worth remarking upon in a city where animals live and die anonymously every day — if not for what happened next.
Sure, the idea was originally to shame the city’s department of animal services for leaving the raccoon to wither for so long. But in the end, what they created was a stirring tribute that caught an entire city’s imagination — and maybe even opened a few hearts to the secret and often difficult lives of the strangers who live among us.
Some raccoons want to watch the world burn. Others just want to drop a deuce on it. But they all have a right to live right here alongside us. On their own terms.