Wild kingdomRavenous raccoons and a wily coyote keep homeowners on their guard.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:55 PM
"They came like thieves in the night, hiding behind cartoonish burglar masks, their little gloved hands testing windows and screens.First, they found their way in through a pet door, eating three bowls of cat food and leaving the room in disarray.But when two raccoons began scaling a lattice and climbing through an upstairs window in search of food, Lizann Hupp and her husband Jeff Garlid figured it was time to call in the authorities.We've always had them around, said Hupp, a resident of Hyla Avenue near Manitou Beach. They'd go across the yard and it was no big deal.But they're bold, and they can be so aggressive...This was a last resort.The home overrun by raccoons is but one of several unusual incidents involving island wildlife in the past two weeks. An apparently fearless coyote has been roaming the Wardwell Road neighborhood, and is a suspect in the disappearance of two roosters and a chicken.You have everything else here - I don't know why you wouldn't have a coyote, said Al Spencer, a Seabeck-based animal control specialist who works on referrals from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hupp and Garlin turned to Spencer, who operates under the business name Outdoor Services, after a month of harassment by the masked intruders.Hupp said she believes someone else in the neighborhood had been putting treats out for the raccoons, giving them a taste for pet food and emboldening them around humans. As part of their rounds, they wound up gravitating toward Hupp's kitchen and its supply of food for the family felines.After several intrusions, the pet door was sealed up. But the summer weather made keeping windows and doors closed round the clock unpalatable, while efforts to drive the animals away met with failure.Usually, by the time we grab the squirt bottle or the hose, they're gone, Garlid said. They can scoot away pretty quickly.Or, he added, They just stand there and look at you, 'that's not the way to feed me.'Events came to a head one evening, when Garlid looked out the window and saw a raccoon stretched full-length across the glass as it clambered up onto a lattice on its way to the second-story bedroom window. Garlid shooed it with a broom, and a call to state wildlife officials brought Spencer to the home with an array of traps a few days later.The trapperWhat Hupp and Garlid discovered is, they're not alone.In the last month alone, working for clients around the Bainbridge, Spencer has trapped and relocated nearly 40 nuisance raccoons. Just across the bridge, he recently snared 12 of the animals that had been pestering a single home.I can take 'coons off here all year, Spencer said.The island's raccoon population was nearly wiped out by disease a decade ago, but have come back in a big way. The animals are omnivorous, eating insects, bird eggs, berries, garbage and, when the going gets really tough, dog feces.And while they be cute to look at, Spencer said, the fact is, they're like little bears. They will scratch, they will bite, they will attack.They also carry several diseases, including feline distemper and a parasite that can be harmful to humans.State wildlife enforcement officials still respond to calls of dangerous large animals - bears, cougars and the like - but for smaller pests, complaints are referred to Spencer and several other trappers based on the Kitsap Peninsula.I get raccoon calls every day from around the county, Spencer said. And that doesn't count the squirrels, the possums, the coyotes, the river otters under the house.For raccoons, Spencer carries humane, cage-like traps; they are baited with pet food and covered with black plastic. Once the quarry is caught, it can hide in the dark of the cage or shred the plastic for bedding.And the traps work. Within four days, Spencer caught two raccoons on Hupp's back porch. The animals were relocated to a watershed area elsewhere in Kitsap County, although Spencer says remote areas are increasingly difficult to find.The coyote A few miles away, Klaas Hesselink and his wife Alyse McConnell have been visited by an intruder of their own.The couple returned from a short vacation recently to find themselves short two roosters and a chicken from the coop they maintain in their front yard.The apparent culprit - a dauntless coyote - returned a few days later as the family was sitting in their front yard. As they watched, the coyote began hurling itself against the sides of the coop, in an attempt to drive the chickens into such a frenzy that they would flap free of the cage and into its clutches.I didn't believe it was a coyote at first, Hesselink said. I thought it was a dog that had gone wild.We started shouting and clapping our hands, and he didn't mind at all.Hesselink resorted to throwing stones to drive the coyote away. So fearless is the animal, though, that it has taken to showing up daily for the past week - in the middle of the afternoon and in full view of the the couple, their two small children and Hesselink's sister. Other neighbors have reported seeing the animal as well. The home sits next to a wooded area with footpaths and a stream running through it; a mess of feathers on one of the paths suggests an unfortunate demise for some hapless creature, perhaps one of the chickens.Indeed, until Hesselink placed netting over the top of the cage to keep the fowl inside, the coyote's strategy worked.That led to a comical scene described by the participant as a game of tag - the coyote on one side, the panicked chickens on the other, and Hesselink himself in the middle, trying to match every dodge and feint of the wily predator.I don't know what to do when you see a coyote, conceded Hesselink, a native of Holland.The first solution to such problems, Spencer says, is always to make it so the animal doesn't have a reason to go there.That includes keeping garbage can lids battened down with cords, and pet food out of reach.Trapping raccoons comes with a fee. But, Spencer said, options for dealing with a coyote are fewer, primarily because their intelligence keeps them from blundering into traps.They've got to be sick or old, Spencer said, or a young pup, one that hasn't figured out the mistakes yet.He suggests an electric fence around the coop, to give the predator a jolt when it comes calling.Or, he said, I've had some (callers) who've said, 'I'll just shoot the damn thing.'Property owners are within their rights killing nuisance animals to protect their livestock or families, he said.Hesselink said he doesn't own guns and would not be inclined to shoot the coyote. Relocation of the animal, he said, would be an acceptable solution.Since placing netting across the top of the cage, he has not lost any more fowl. But the coyote continues to return almost every day. Is the safety of his children a concern?If you ask my wife, definitely, Hesselink said. And my 3-year-old doesn't want to go outside anymore.What do you do? he asked. He has as much right to live here as we do, and it was stupid of me not to put netting up in the first place. "