Wonder + Wildness

Chasing wonder on a science guided journey through the natural world in search of meaning, connections, and the courage to hope

Raccoon Problems

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?

Abraham Lincoln

Raccoons have a reputation. For those who haven’t been on the receiving end of their mischievous endeavors, they are an adorable little creature in need of a warm bed and a nuzzle. For others, they are nothing more than rabid, kleptomaniac, hell spawn. In spite of that discrepancy in perception, one thing is apparently universally agreed upon—the cringeworthy moniker of trash panda.

I for one cannot stand the name trash panda. I’m not all that sure why. Perhaps it’s the context in which I often here it. I say raccoon and someone in the room interjects with an over-eager chuckle “oh, you mean a tRaSH paNda?” as if they were the first human being ever to say it. It has the same energy as that Devil’s advocate guy, or Grumpy Cat memes.

Anyway, I digress and I realize that a portion of you reading this may now feel personally victimized.

Good.

Normalize giving a passive aggressive eye roll when someone says trash panda.

Raccoon resting in the base of a tree

The Problem

You’ve got to hand it to them. Raccoons are some of the most resourceful and opportunistic creatures out there. There’s a reason for that.

Let’s explore a question for a moment: what is the number one driver, or motivator for all life?

Energy.

Think about it. All of life, at its core, is about gaining the most amount of energy for the least amount of effort. You want to net as much as possible. The greater the net, the greater the gains.

Pretty soon, your entire species is rapidly destroying the world it depends on for its very existence in the name of things like concrete, the 9th car wash in town, and 401(k)’s, and then ignoring the problem by mentally retreating into a virtual prison of their own design, but the songs and dance moves are catchy so it’s chill.

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, raccoons are just like us—only naked. They, like us, are omnivores.

Being an omnivore is like being a triple threat in Hollywood. You can eat meat, you can eat plants, you can eat, well, anything. The world is your oyster, and sometimes that oyster is literal.

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to diet? It’s because we have to combat millions of years of evolution. We want the most energy for the least amount of effort, so we created fast food, drive-thru’s, prepackaged foods, meal kits, and processed every thing. We eat and eat and yet we’re still hungry.

At one point in our history, sweet was rare and it signified dense calories and a slow burn of energy. Now those calories are empty of anything nutritious and void of anything but inflammation and indigestion.

Our lizard brains convinced us it was genius.

It wasn’t.

All a raccoon wants is that same opportunity, for better or worse.

Perhaps lizard brain should be retired in favor of the raccoon?

Fortunately for them, their size, cleverness, and their incredible dexterity make breaking-and-entering your home/garage/shed/chimney/doggy-door no more difficult a task than you getting up and going to the fridge.

For them, garbage cans and pet food are an open buffet with a neon sign declaring “ALL YOU CAN EAT”. I get it, that’s incredibly annoying and no one likes to pick up dew-coated trash strewn across their front lawn.

Can I be honest? The problem isn’t the raccoon. After all, you left the food outside and a raccoon’s gotta eat, am I right?

True story: a raccoon once stole my milkshake

Biology is what it is. As soon as we can accept that our binge sessions on Netflix are rooted in the same primal motivations that inspire a raccoon to crawl through your doggy door and raid your cupboards, the better off we’ll all be. We need to stop seeing ourselves as separate from nature and start seeing how our every action is, in fact, rooted within it.

Of course, none of that is to dismiss the very real nuisances and irritations that can occur when motivations collide.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways we can co-exist.

The Solution

Let’s start with the easiest to manage. If you feed your dog or cat outside, just be sure to bring in any excess food. All living things are programmed to look for the most calories for the least amount of effort. Your pets food on the back porch is like placing a Big Mac and a dozen donuts while shouting through a bullhorn, “come and get me!”.

Are they getting into your trash? Invest in trash cans with locking lids. If possible, keep the bins in your garage (with the garage door closed, of course) until trash day to minimize their accessibility.

What if you’re a fan of raccoons and don’t mind having them around? The same rules follow because your neighbors might not agree. Don’t be that neighbor. You know, the one who blows their leaves onto their neighbors lawn? Besides, you can enjoy wildlife without placing them in compromising positions or encouraging them to venture closer and closer to humans and their dwellings where others might not take to kindly to them.

Avoid feeding, touching, petting, or overall interacting with raccoons. Watching them can be really entertaining, but don’t let their peculiarity and cuteness distract you from the fact that giving them to much attention isn’t good for either of you. After all, you don’t want them to become dependent on you, or people in general.

When it comes to breaking and entering, you don’t have to handle it like Yosemite Sam.

At our bases, our brains are pretty similar (ours and raccoons, I mean). The upshot of that is, we can take on their perspective—ie, think like a raccoon. Getting into your house? Step outside and think, “if I were a raccoon, what would be the easiest way for me to get in?”. That kind of perspective taking is a tremendous help, but also helps to build empathy.

Of course, us being us, we have the ability to do much more than that. We can problem solve, use our tools, use our thumbs to look up solutions.

Raccoons have a reputation, but so do we.

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