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Raccoons invade California enclave
By NOAKI SCHWARTZ,  Nov 17, 2006

LOS ANGELES - One balmy summer night, Larna Hartnack awoke to the cries of her dog Charlie and, to her horror, found the Dalmatian in a battle for her life pinned by a gang of raccoons that tore into her flesh and nearly gnawed off her tail.

Charlie survived. But recurring raccoon attacks on dogs and other creatures have unnerved people along the Venice Canals, a funky, well-to-do beach neighborhood packed with ardent dog lovers, many of whom are now afraid to walk their pets at night or leave them alone in the back yard.

Communities around the country are plagued by destructive or aggressive raccoons, and many of them routinely trap, remove and even kill the animals. But this being California, the city's animal-control agency is instead urging people to try to get along with the raccoons a notion that strikes some as political correctness gone wild.

"What we're trying to inculcate in the L.A. community is a reverence for life. If we have more reverence for life, it translates into all our programs for women and infants, the elderly and everybody in our community," said Ed Boks, the head of Los Angeles Animal Services.

"As we develop these programs that demonstrate our compassion for creatures completely at our mercy, it makes for a more compassionate society all the way around."

Wildlife experts are commending the city for resisting demands to remove the raccoons. No-kill policies are rare among animal-control agencies in the U.S., and most apply only to dogs and cats. In Los Angeles, rabies in raccoons is not as big a threat as it is in other parts of the country, and there may be more sympathy for wildlife.

"Los Angeles is typically one of the more progressive agencies," said John Hadidian, director of the Humane Society's urban wildlife program. "I consider this a welcome sign that others might follow soon."

The strategy has angered some residents.

"Oh my God. I don't think I've ever been more insulted as a woman to be compared to a voiceless raccoon," said Hartnack, owner of Charlie the Dalmatian. She said the agency "seems more concerned with making a political statement than protecting people."

"Once you've been attacked by these animals and have them hanging out on your deck, your respect for their lives is lower than your respect for your animal's life and your own security," she said.

The animal-control agency sees people as part of the problem: They are tempting raccoons by leaving dog food and trash bags unguarded.

"If you live in a high-crime area and don't put bars on your windows and you've had break-ins before, you're asking for it," said Gregory Randall, a wildlife specialist with the agency. "Our goal here is coexistence and making the alterations you need to make."

In most cases, the city traps animals only if they are injured or attack people, he said.

Wildlife experts are reluctant to move the raccoons to the wilderness because they could have trouble surviving and might introduce diseases. Also, Randall said raccoons do not attack unless cornered.

He advised residents to try to keep raccoons out of their homes by getting rid of trellises and bougainvillea, closing cat doors and locking up kibble. Strobe lights, motion-activated sprinklers and talk radio can scare off the animals.

Venice Canals, a community of 400 homes, is the kind of place where nearby shopkeepers greet customers and their dogs by name and often have a bowl of water or dog biscuits on hand. One resident turned part of his property into a dog park.

Dogs have not been the only victims of the raccoons. They have chomped on ducks, a parrot and the legs of a turtle that they dug out of hibernation. Nadine Parkos, former president of the Venice Canals homeowners association, said the koi fish in her pond were massacred.

Some residents tried to trap the raccoons but instead snared two cats and an opossum.

As for Charlie the Dalmatian, fur has grown over her scars, but she still whimpers and cowers when she sees raccoons approaching the family deck.

Hartnack and her husband have bought a BB gun and got the dog a stuffed raccoon.

"She loves attacking it," Hartnack said.

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