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Maio clings to neutering idea

David Scharfenberg
Tuesday September 24, 2002

City Councilmember Linda Maio continues to explore the possibility of spaying and neutering Berkeley raccoons, considered a nuisance by many, despite a public outcry over the proposal. 

“I’m still quite concerned and I’m going to pursue this,” she said. 

Maio’s plan calls for trapping raccoons, neutering them and releasing them in the city. State regulations prohibit the city from releasing them outside of Berkeley. 

Critics say the council member should abandon the plan, deeming it unnecessary, unworkable and cruel. 

“I think it’s a loony idea,” said Nancy Ober, a member of the Berkeley Citizens Humane Commission. 

Maio, who has had her own problems with raccoons in a rental property she owns, said residents have reported an increase in raccoons knocking over trash cans and invading homes. 

But Kate O’Connor, manager of the city-run Animal Care Shelter, said there is no hard evidence of an increasing raccoon problem. 

Maio, who first floated the idea in August, said she needs to gather more information about the effectiveness of spaying and neutering before making a final decision on whether to bring a program before the City Council. 

Dr. Rene Gandolfi, a veterinarian with the Castro Valley Companion Animal Hospital, suggested that a program would probably not succeed. 

“In the immediate run, it will do no good, because you still have the same number of raccoons,” he said. 

Gandolfi said it would take eight to 10 years before the raccoons’ inability to reproduce would limit the size of the next generation and have any effect on the overall population. 

Gandolfi added that, even if the population eventually declined, raccoons from surrounding areas would simply fill the capacity, as long as there are enough food sources in the area. 

Eliminating those food sources, he said, is the best way to keep raccoons away. 

O’Connor urged residents to secure their garbage can lids and pick up dead fruit to cut off the food supply. 

Maio said educating the public on preventative measures is an important part of any strategy. At a minimum, the councilmember said, she will recommend a new public education effort at a City Council meeting in the next few weeks. 

But, she still holds out the possibility of adding a spaying and neutering program. Maio said a letter that appeared in the Daily Planet this weekend from a Berkeley resident who claimed to have received multiple rabies shots after a raccoon attack had added new urgency to the issue. 

The woman who wrote the letter could not be reached for comment. 

Gandolfi said the resident’s doctor may have administered rabies shots as a precaution, but that no raccoons on the West Coast have ever tested positive for rabies. 

O’Connor said any spaying and neutering program would tax city resources, requiring a significant increase in shelter staff. She added that the city does not have adequate facilities to house raccoons during the spaying and neutering process, which can take 24 to 48 hours. 

City Councilmember Dona Spring, known for advocating animal rights, said she would support a public education campaign but would not back a spaying and neutering effort. 

“We’ve been able to co-habitant with raccoons and skunks and possums for as long as I’ve been in Berkeley,” she said.