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My block, the one between 2nd and 3rd Streets and Hoyt and Bond Streets, is infested with raccoons, possibly 3 families. The problem has been developing over the last few years, coinciding with the Lightstone Group’s construction of 365 Bond, on the Gowanus Canal, a block away. Some believe the raccoons originally resided on the banks of the Gowanus and were displaced by construction of the 700 apartment complex. I do not believe Lightstone is the singular culprit, though.
First, let me illustrate the problem. Few weeks go by that I don’t hear a complaint from a neighbor. One neighbor first encountered the raccoons in her backyard during the World Cup. The family was sitting down one evening to watch the game and heard a great ruckus. Her son had left a soccer ball in the backyard, and the raccoons were batting the ball back and forth, knocking things down. They too had World Cup Fever. Another neighbor has a raccoon routinely on their back fire escape creepily looking into their bedroom window as they try to sleep. A man down the block, whose home had been somewhat open because of renovation, had 4 raccoons occupy his garden floor one night. As the ceiling beams were exposed, one climbed up into the rafters when they heard him come down the stairs. My neighbor is a particularly brave fellow and wrestled the raccoon by the tail as it fought to cling to the rafters. Unable to release the raccoon’s grip from the ceiling, the homeowner retreated upstairs. Then, the raccoon invited in his 3 other buddies! The four skulked out at dawn leaving a scene that resembled the aftermath of a fraternity kegger.
I spent the winter watching raccoons on the roof of the home behind me. The roof was covered with snow so even in the dark you could see their large winter-weight bodies, approximately 3 – 4 feet long, mystifyingly compress themselves into the bathroom vent at one end of the building and magically reappear at the other end of the building from another vent. The raccoons gained access to the roof from nearby tree branches. They spent the winter residing in the space between the roof and ceiling of this building; living off food put out for strays by tenderhearted folks. Unfortunately, they were repaid with tremendous damage! The raccoons likely bred their new babies here.
The weird privacy issues, the backyard sports, the “Man vs. Wild” altercation with our rugged neighbor, and the wild party lifestyle; those were the anecdotes we could joke about a year ago. Then, they had more babies. Now they rip up patio furniture. They leave shockingly large piles of waste in planters. This presents the biggest problem because their feces are riddled with germs, diseases, and parasites like Roundworm. It causes infections and diseases in intestines, leaving parents to be concerned about having their children play in their own backyards. One neighbor’s 3 year old daughter is undergoing precautionary Roundworm treatments after developing a suspicious rash. And people with small pets have to worry that raccoons might attack them.
Not long ago, I received a desperate text from a neighbor who realized that there was a giant male raccoon lounging under her deck chairs. Good thing she realized before she sat down! I had to rescue her by evicting the lazy, fat raccoon with a spray of my hose. It reluctantly lumbered off into another yard. As shown in the video footage, shot by my on-the-spot 10 year old neighbor and documentarian, Claude Kaplow Healy, the raccoon was out in the middle of the day! We wondered both at sighting a nocturnal animal in daylight and their total lack of fear. Despite the City’s claims that Rabies is not a problem in NYC, we had to wonder. Was this raccoon rabid?
Some old timers believe the City introduced raccoons in the first place to curb rats, while others place blame on Lightstone’s 365 Bond development for usurping the raccoons’ habitat. Lightstone is actually rumored to be working with NY State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon to contribute to the cost of raccoon removal. Thank you to Lightstone, if this is in fact true. As for the City, up until now their response has been lacking. They do not remove raccoons and I am told killing them is illegal. Individuals may hire professional trappers to relocate them at their own cost. This response is problematic because coordinating the removal of 20 or more raccoons by a single homeowner is not feasible. It impacts every homeowner on the block and we should not individually bear the cost of a public problem. As a result of in action, the population has grown and residents have quietly taken it upon themselves to trap and kill them.
I believe the City and the developers both bear responsibility for the raccoons. The City after all granted, and continues to grant, Lightstone and many other developers permission to build in locations where residential density on this scale never existed. In NYC we don’t tend to think there could possibly be negative environmental impacts on wildlife from converting industrial space to residential. We assume there is no wildlife, until they move in with us, as they have on 2nd St. This is one more issue that needs to be added to the many discussions around rezoning and developing all of our waterfront/industrial areas. Furthermore, the problem is a public health hazard beyond the control of any individual homeowner. Allowing the raccoon population to expand will be problematic both for the existing residents of 2nd St. and the future residents of the new 365 Bond. For those reasons, I believe the City as well as Lightstone should both responsibly manage the removal of these raccoons. This tiny block of humans, pets and strays, birds and squirrels, shouldn’t be expected to quietly live with what is rumored to be 20 plus raccoons and their disease ridden waste. The population will continue to grow this winter if they are not removed and relocated soon.
Video credit Claude Kaplow Healy