Pesky raccoons in your neighborhood? City Councilmember Linda Maio may have a solution: sterilization.
Maio said she might propose a city-run trapping and neutering program in September in an effort to rid Berkeley homes of nesting raccoons and decrease the city’s raccoon population.
“They create real problems,” Maio said. “And they just seem to proliferate.”
But critics say the program may be cruel, unnecessary and unwieldy.
“In theory it’s quite a nice idea, but I don’t know how we’d do it in practice,” said Kate O’Connor, manager of the city-run Berkeley Animal Care Shelter, arguing that a successful neutering program would require a significant increase in staff.
O’Connor also raised questions about the need for the program. She said, by all indications, the Berkeley raccoon population has remained stable in recent years and the city’s problem is not any worse than those in surrounding municipalities.
“My instinct is that [Maio’s idea] needs more study,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It’s not clear that this would in any way be a cost-effective and practical solution.”
Maio is the first to acknowledge that the issue needs more examination. But she said her own experience casts light on the extent of the raccoon problem and the need to pursue solutions.
She noted that a house guest recently found two of the rascally critters in her car, eating cookies she had left in the front seat.
Maio also shared a tale of raccoons invading a rental property on Delaware Street, breaking through wood and wire mesh, nesting in the attic and rotting out a ceiling.
Maio said the city may have little alternative to a neutering program. State law prohibits the city from capturing raccoons and releasing them in the wild because the animals might disrupt their new habitat, and city residents probably aren’t prepared to take more drastic action, she said.
“We’re not going to take out our shotguns and shoot animals,” Maio said.
Jeffrey Hancuff of Berkeley’s Citizen Humane Commission, which advises the City Council, said a neutering program might prevent the city from going to a deadly extreme.
“If we don’t sterilize them, it’s going to end up with us killing them,” he said.
Maio said there is a precedent for neutering wild animals in Berkeley, noting that the city provides funding to a Berkeley group called “Fix Our Ferals” which spays and neuters stray cats.
But Laura Simon, urban wildlife director for the Fund for Animals in New Haven, Conn., said a neutering program is “the wrong approach.”
Simon said citizens should focus on securing trash can lids and closing off openings to their homes to prevent raccoon invasions.
“Get rid of the food, get rid of the denning area and you’ll get rid of the nuisance,” she said. “Removing animals by spaying and neutering is dealing with the symptom, not the source of the problem.”
Maio agreed that prevention is a key part of the solution, but said there are certain raccoon-attracting activities that Berkeley residents are never going to give up, like composting and growing fruit trees.
Still, in the end, Maio said she may settle for a good public information campaign in the place of a catch ’em and cut ’em approach.
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