November 16, 2005
When I confessed a few weeks ago that I had a bit of a raccoon problem in my garden and was buying coyote urine to repel them, I had no idea I had joined the ranks of some of the most exasperated and unstable people in all of Southern California.
It turns out that from Santa Barbara to San Diego, homeowners are at war with raccoons living in their attics, under their houses and in their yards.
My readers inform me that raccoons are stealing fish from their koi ponds, trying to drown their dogs and breaking into their houses in search of food. To read my mail, you'd think this was one of the great untold stories of California. People seem to be outnumbered and outwitted, trying to scare the varmints off with Christmas lights, smoke bombs, electrified fences and rubber reptiles.
"I have tried everything," said a desperate reader named Sherwood. "Loud, terribly annoying electronic buzzer [that the neighbors absolutely hated], coyote urine, humane trap and tuna fish mixed with antifreeze -- nothing, nothing has worked." Remind me never to have a sandwich with this guy. Tuna fish and antifreeze?
He wasn't the only one who'd gone around the bend.
David Browne suggested spiking Coke or Pepsi with Blue Streak fly poison.
"Give up on coyote urine," said David H. Goodwin, who moved on to cheese soaked in antifreeze and mixed with rat poison. When that didn't work, he said, "I was finally able to ... smoke them out with a smoke bomb made for gophers [Home Depot]. My only other advice is to give up and move."
Larry Maxcy of Yucca Valley was one of several people who suggested trapping raccoons with peanut butter, but his recipe was different from most.
"Mix four parts of peanut butter and one part of Portland cement, and roll into bonbons," he said.
Thanks, but I wanted to be able to say no animals were harmed in the writing of these columns.
Maxcy also suggested what he called a more SPCA-friendly offering.
"Roll up some peanut butter bonbons and insert small pieces of frozen jalapeno peppers into them." Sounded to me like Maxcy had hosted one too many Super Bowl parties.
Other readers recommended a less militant strategy, if not outright surrender.
"You really have the wrong approach to the raccoon issue," wrote Bob Schauer of Long Beach. "We've had raccoons for years [they were here first, actually], and we have come up with a simple solution. We FEED them!"
"They are partial to cat kibble," Schauer said. "And we leave out a big bowl of water [raccoons are fastidious creatures and like to wash up after meals]."
Just what I always wanted. Pet raccoons.
"We live in Ojai," said Chris Shepherd. "If you find a reasonable solution, short of coyote urine or a 12-gauge, please let me know or publish in your column. They are driving us crazy."
Mary Baruch has given up. "I have a smart raccoon," she said. "When I set a trap in the backyard, he digs up the front. I read an article in the Bakersfield paper, and it said they are smarter than you are and we will have to learn to live with them. Good luck."
Thanks a lot, Mary.
After rejecting her neighbors' suggestions of "wrist rockets, pellet guns, harpoons" and other weapons, Dee Nelson says, her embattled husband took up night patrol. But he'd eventually doze off on the couch, and of course, that's when the raccoons went to work.
In the end, Nelson thinks what drove the raccoons away was the fear of her obsessed husband, who once woke up in time to maniacally chase them into the street.
John and Marjorie Francis of San Dimas, who may be watching too much of the Food Network, suggested a potion of garlic and water pureed in the Cuisinart and drizzled around the yard.
Cindi Kane of the Coastal Animal Services Authority in San Clemente told me to try a "scarecrow motion detector" sprinkler that guns down squirrels with a jet stream.
Others, including Marjorie Noyes of Chula Vista, recommended professional trappers. But Susan Groesbeck gave me some doubts about trappers, saying she pulled up to a stoplight near UCLA and saw an unusual sight in a nearby car.
"I ... said, 'Hey, you have a raccoon on your shoulder.' " Turned out to be a trapper who informed Groesbeck he had another raccoon on his lap and five skunks in the back.
I don't know how some of my readers made such discoveries, but Bob Gale is convinced that bars of white Dial soap -- they have to be white and they have to be Dial -- will drive raccoons away if left in the yard.
In Woodland Hills, William Schneck hired a trapper who baited a cage with cantaloupe. Schneck looked outside one night to see a Houdini-like raccoon eating the cantaloupe outside the cage. The trapper retired.
When Janet Paulson's neighbor lost a battle with raccoons, she was moved to poetry.
"Raccoons are digging up all of my sod, I've cursed them to Satan, I've pleaded to God."
Actress Eva Marie Saint and husband Jeff Hayden suffered for years in Santa Barbara, gave up on trapping and decided instead to try a chemical spray to kill the grubs the raccoons were dining on.
"You have to repeat the treatment a couple of times a year, as I recall," Hayden said. "But it works!"
Here's another winner: "Nothing worked until I bought two rubber coral snakes at a toy store," said Bill Borgers Sr.
Jim Hughes suggested setting an AM-FM receiver near the offending creatures and tuning into talk radio, a sure-fire repellent.
"That, along with having motion sensor lights in the backyard, did the trick," he said.
I don't know. I think I'd rather be subjected to raccoons than to talk radio.
Ron and Erin Smelser suggested that urine isn't a bad way to go, but they recommended against relying on coyotes.
"Take a 6-pack of your favorite beer," they advised. "Drink copious amounts of said beer. This is key: DO NOT GO TO THE BATHROOM. Go out into your yard."
Do you get the picture?
I like the idea, but I'd probably end up getting arrested for indecent exposure.
In the end, I decided to go with two popular reader recommendations -- mothballs and cayenne pepper.
"Shake the cayenne over whatever area you don't want raccoons on," said Alyce Harris. John Schulian of Pasadena backed her up.
"It's a very simple process," Schulian said, "and if the animal-rights folks start bellyaching, you can tell them you're just clearing up the raccoon's sinuses."
To be honest, I don't know what kind of credentials some of these people have. But Hugh Taylor, a Caltech professor, was one of several who suggested mothballs. The guy's in the geological and planetary sciences department, so he must know something.
And so one night, more than a week ago, I went outside and sprinkled cayenne pepper on one side of my yard. I sprinkled mothballs on the other.
I don't know if I've won the war or if the raccoons are plotting a monstrous insurgency, but so far, so good.
And to think I was about to try the six-pack suggestion.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org and read previous columns at latimes.com/lopez.
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