That's why Wendy Payton, animal control officer for the city of Portsmouth, is warning residents about an overpopulation of raccoons showing up in neighborhoods, and on city streets.
“The game warden contracts a nuisance trapper and he has come into the city, and in the first week, he has caught 11 raccoons and four opossums,” Payton said.
Payton said raccoons have been seen in places like High Street, Baird Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Highland Avenue and Sunrise Avenue.
“They're being a nuisance. They're tearing into people's window screens, and getting into their bird feeders, they're eating food that's been left out for cats and dogs,” she said.
One of the major fears that comes with the presence of raccoons is the ability of the animal to carry a variety of diseases. They can be a carrier of rabies, Payton said.
However, according to the Ohio Department of Health, there hasn't been a confirmed human case of rabies in Ohio since the early '70s.
“They can be a carrier of what is called the ‘raccoon roundworm.' It is transmitted through digestion or inhalation of eggs passed through raccoon feces,” she said.
Payton also said raccoons are hosts for the zoonotic (transmittable to humans) disease leptospirosis. But said the incidence is so low as to be of concern only to people who routinely come into contact with these animals, such as wildlife rehabilitators or animal control officers.
“With the weather being warm and animals are out looking for food and water, we are asking the public not to feed the wild animals,” Payton said. “Because they are becoming a nuisance. They won't go back into the wild if they have a food source handy.”
Raccoons are not fussy about their choice of food, she said. Although classified as a carnivore, the raccoon eats as much, or more, plant as animal matter during the year. When fruits, acorns, vegetables and seeds are ripe and available, they will feed heavily on them.
At other times and places they will feed on eggs, insects, crayfish, frogs, fish and small mammals.
They will eat dead animals they encounter; they will raid bird feeders and pet food bowls when they're kept full; and they will raid garbage cans that are not secured.
Payton said while raccoons seem harmless, if they are provoked, they will definitely bite.
“Don't feed them. Don't disturb them,” she said. “Don't walk up and try to pet them. Wild animals need to be in the wild. They need to go back into the woods and forests.”
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.