Boris & Bruce: Rethinking Raccoons

Boris, 4×4” Oil on panel

Raccoons. Or racoons. However you spell it (one ‘c’ is British, two is American), you’ve probably gone to war with one. They’re clever animals, able to get into the most ‘secure’ garbage bins (just ask Torontonians!).

Growing up on a farm, where raccoons were associated with disease they might give to farm animals and considered pests that defecated in corn bins and hay mows, I learned to see them as annoyances at best and perhaps even dangerous. My father trapped them and either sent them to an acquaintance’s swamp, where they could fatten before being shot, or had them shot.

When I went to the city for university, I didn’t understand city folks’ fascination with raccoons. My most memorable city raccoon run in was when I was walking back to dorm in the dark, alone, and heard loud rustling the other side of the trees I was walking through. I had a moment of panic before I saw a big, fat, raccoon waddle by with the remains of somebody’s lunch from the trash can. (You can see why they get called trash pandas!)

Now, however, I see raccoons and other ‘pest’ wildlife differently. I see how we have encroached on their natural spaces; we are the pests in their neighborhoods. I think about the ways animals, from rats and raccoons to foxes and deer, have adapted to city living. Sometimes we don’t like it, sometimes we don’t see them, but they are there with us.

I see raccoons as one of the many fascinating species we share our world with, who have learned to hold their place in the ecosystem as we have altered it. It doesn’t mean that they’re not pests and frustrating at times, but that there is reason and inherent value in their existence. Our co-existence is far more complicated than just “adorable friend” or “dangerous pest,” “food provider” or “menace.”

Raccoons just want to do what raccoons do.

Bruce. 6×6” oil on panel