Masked bandits

Raccoons return to steal our garbage, hearts

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Brooklynites are rabid with gossip about some of their newest and most mysterious neighbors — raccoons.

Sightings of the black-masked bear-cousins have been on the rise in Green-Wood Heights and Carroll Gardens in recent months, causing some to coo at the cute little varmints, and others to shiver in fear.

Monica Stabin has lived on 21st Street across from Green-Wood Cemetery for nine years, but saw her first Brooklyn raccoon just a few weeks ago.

“I was sitting in the backyard, and someone said, ‘Is that a black cat?’ ” recalled Stabin. “I looked up and there was a raccoon!”

Stabin, for one, is a fan of the bushy-tailed creatures. “I kind of like hearing them hoot and chortle.”

But her neighbor Aaron Brashear, with whom she’s been swapping raccoon tales, is more ambivalent.

“We have a mother who has a litter every spring in our neighbor’s backyard,” said Brashear. “They nest in this 50-foot-tall gingko tree. The babies are really, really cute. But when they get big, they can decimate your vegetable garden, go through the trash, turn over pots.”

Where they came from is anyone’s guess. But Brashear believes that recent development in the area is forcing raccoons out of long-established hiding places.

“Trapper John” Terpo, a Queens-based exterminator, who’s been trapping raccoons for years, agreed that development might have something to do with it, and added that the raccoon population has definitely grown.

“Over the years, I’ve seen somewhere between a moderate and big increase in raccoons in Brooklyn,” said Terpo. “But, I have never seen a rabid raccoon in Brooklyn.”

The exact number of raccoons in Brooklyn is unknown. But, there have been no recorded cases of rabies in any animals in Brooklyn this year, and there have been no rabid raccoons in the borough since at least 1992, according to the city Department of Health.

Nearly all of the city’s 203 rabid raccoon cases have been in Staten Island or the Bronx.

Dozens of blocks away from Green-Wood Heights, in Carroll Gardens, the rodents have been provoking emotional responses.

Mary Tarsio, a resident of Third Street between Smith and Hoyt streets, had a run-in with a raccoon that left her shaken.

“I bent down to put my hand under the screen door and pull in the cat food dish I leave out for the stray cat,” explained Tarsio.

“And then, right next to my face was this large raccoon. It jumped at the screen door, and I went crazy. My husband came running, and we started making all kinds of noise.” Ultimately, the raccoon ran away.

“I was afraid it was rabid.”

But Rich Leslie, one of Tarsio’s neighbors, said, “The only thing rabid is her imagination.”

“He was probably just lunging for the cat food.”

Leslie saw the raccoon for the first time last week, when the raccoon crawled over a fence and down a pipe into his backyard, and then ran away in fright.

Leslie said the raccoon looked “happy and healthy,” and he should know, having grown up down south, where he regularly went ’coon hunting with his family. His grandmother even had a pet raccoon named Petey who lived to the ripe old age of 12.

“They’re essentially oversized cats,” he said.

But before anyone starts taking matters into his own hands (or traps), the state Department of Environmental Conservation emphasized that raccoons — which are “important furbearers” — are protected by state law.

“No one may possess a raccoon without a license, and licenses are not issued for pet wildlife. Hunting or trapping raccoons requires a license,” according to the department Web site.

Lori O’Connell, an agency spokeswoman, put her own spin on what might be causing the raccoon population explosion.

“In urban areas, they’re nearly wholly dependent on non-natural food, like garbage. They go where the food is.”

O’Connell stressed that there are few dangers from raccoons aside from property damage and the occasional case of rabies.

And a rabid raccoon would be obvious.

“They’re uncoordinated in walking,” said O’Connell. “A healthy raccoon is more agile and able to run away, and they’re kind of scared.”

O’Connell recommended that neighbors cover their garbage and not leave food out if they want to cut down on the number of raccoons.

For his part, Carroll Gardens’s unofficial mayor, Buddy Scotto, sees the rising population as a good sign.

“It reflects that we’ve planted enough trees to allow these little things to exist,” said Scotto, owner of Scotto’s Funeral Home on First Place in Carroll Gardens.

“But raccoons are big enough to scare city folk.”

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Reader Feedback

Ross R from Montrose ave in Willy Bizzle says:
I just went into my backyard and saw a raccoon scaling the wall to the roof of the adjacent building. My neighbor and I have noticed a lot of our veggies have had major bites taken out of them, and now this explains everything. Yikes and awwww
Sept. 14, 2010, 11:27 pm

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