Toronto tenants anxious about raccoon behaviour amid cold weather, distemper outbreak

Raccoons are more active as winter approaches, and that can mean more altercations with their human neighbours.

Eric Zheng cleans up garbage bag ripped by a raccoon
Eric Zheng cleans up the broken garbage bag and the mess caused by a raccoon in front of his house on Nov. 7. (Yuyang Huang/Toronto Observer) 

Eric Zheng was preparing for the next day’s garbage collection. He collected all the garbage in his house into garbage bags. However, since the garbage can was full, he had to put the bag next to the can.

In the evening, there was a strange noise outside the door. When Zheng went outside to investigate, the garbage bag was broken and its contents were strewn all over the floor.

“I heard a strange sound outside the door and rushed out. Then, all I saw was a dark shadow running away and a broken garbage bag. The garbage in the garbage bag spilled all over the [ground],” Zheng, an international student new to Toronto, said.

“It was the raccoon that forced me to clean up,” Zheng said.

Toronto residents sometimes have to face the trouble their raccoon neighbours cause.

“They also steal the McDonald’s takeout that is placed outside my door,” Ian Zhuang, a second-year international student from the University of Toronto, who lives in the Morningside neighbourhood, said.

“But they are animals. They live in this neighbourhood with us. Sometimes they have to steal to feed themselves, or they might not survive the coming winter. So I will forgive them for their theft,” Zhuang said.

Winter brings less food, more activity: animal control worker

“Raccoons are more active in the neighbourhood as winter approaches,” Angela Lawry, an animal control service worker with the city of Toronto, said. Raccoons that live in neighbourhoods have limited access to food.

Raccoons normally eat insects that are easier to catch and fructification from plants. As winter approaches, the temperature drops, and outdoor insects gradually decreases. Plants also produce fewer fruits because of low temperature and snow, some of them even do not produce fruit in winter. As a result, raccoons’ food sources decrease.

According to Lawry, as winter approaches an temperatures drop, these raccoons “find it harder to feed themselves. In this case, they mostly burglarize near the house to sustain their food intake.”

Lawry also said there has been a recent outbreak of distemper in raccoons in Toronto.

“They are likely to look for food near houses, which could be very dangerous,” Lawry said. “These raccoons carrying the virus can be aggressive. Residents should keep themselves and their pets away from them as much as possible.”

According to Lawry, the distemper in raccoons “does not affect humans, but it can affect pets like dogs. It often spreads among raccoons in the fall. Raccoons can become more aggressive and more likely to approach people due to the outbreak of distemper.”

“Most importantly, you should call for help from animal control services if you find a dead raccoon outside or a raccoon in your house,” Lawry said.

Lawry said raccoons are “scattered in Toronto, and animal control service workers often spend much time dealing with different cases.” Dealing with dead raccoons can be tiring, requiring workers to spend more time on it. “Maybe we need more manpower and support from people,” she said.

Raccoons are not strangers to people in Toronto. According to Gates’ Wildlife Control, in Toronto, there is a density of 10 to 25 raccoons per square kilometre. They can bring destruction to homes and businesses when they enter them. Sometimes, raccoons will get into a building through an existing opening, and other times, they will damage and rip open a weak spot in the home.

The recent outbreak of raccoon distemper has brought a lot of trouble to Toronto. According to the Toronto Sun, the outbreak of raccoon distemper has increased the number of raccoon carcasses, and it sometimes takes up to two weeks for removal. The City of Toronto has enlisted more workers to pick up the dead raccoons.

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Posted: Nov 15 2022 9:00 am
Filed under: News Science & Health