Growing up in suburban Orange County, I never saw raccoons. Possums were not infrequent. Coyotes were not unheard of. But raccoons? Never.
Now I live in Downtown Long Beach, and they are the only wildlife I see. My first encounter was at the Queen Mary, where in the distance I spied what I believed to be four feral cats emerging single file from a defunct phone booth. They loped out in a line, one pausing to get a good look at me, and went about their raccoony business.
According to Ted Stevens, director of the Long Beach Office of Animal Care Services, rather than dealing with raccoons as a problem to eradicate, "I think it's more us learning to coexist."
"We don't really track the raccoons like we track the coyotes," Stevens says, "[but] as far as I know, they're everywhere—not just in our city, but in surrounding cities as well."
The video included with this article was shot on Ocean Blvd. this week. I was crossing the street when I noticed this trio checking out a sewer entrance. It was only my ignorance regarding the predictability of their behavior—combined with the fact that I was wearing shorts—that impelled me to move away as they ambled toward me, because their demeanor made me feel like they were cats.
Stevens was surprised to hear that they approached me so openly and speculates that perhaps they have been fed by people. And though he says he has not heard of a raccoon attacking a person, it's still best to be wary.
"Being wildlife, they're unpredictable," he says. "[…] It certainly wouldn't be safe to try to catch one by hand or try to pet one or feed one."
Stevens says typically raccoons will avoid people, but that not properly securing trash or leaving pet food outdoors are the kinds of opportunity of which raccoons will take advantage. He notes that Animal Care Service's Website has a list of tips to make homes less vulnerable to raccoons.
Maybe it would be unwise for me to hold my ground the next time a raccoon approaches me. But I like the idea of coexisting with nature as peacefully as possible. And in Long Beach, raccoons are local fauna.
—Racoon photo by Flickr user Property#1