Before the first of this year, many unwanted backyard critters could expect an early retirement in the bucolic Coast Range or the Columbia River Gorge.
Now—right as urban raccoons are getting busiest, between May and the end of July—Portlanders who want the raccoons out are learning that new Oregon policy requires euthanasia, not relocation, for the garbage-eating varmints.
Bob Sallinger of Portland's Audubon Society says he's had enough of the "feel-good bullshit" surrounding efforts to relocate unwanted city critters, especially raccoons.
"If you don't want these animals where they exist, you don't want these animals, period," says Sallinger, the society's urban conservation director.
He doesn't believe in killing animals to save other animals, but says relocating urban raccoons outside Portland disrupts natural ecosystems by moving them to occupied habitats and introducing new diseases.
Apparently, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agrees. With Sallinger's help, it changed its regulations concerning unwanted urban raccoons.
"Relocating does not work," says Michelle Dennehy, the wildlife communications coordinator at Fish and Wildlife. Dennehy adds that raccoons have a powerful "homing instinct" that can lead them back home from more than 30 miles away.
And then there's the problem of disease.
It is unknown how many of Portland's 200,000 estimated raccoons have distemper, a fatal neurological disease resembling rabies that also affects dogs. But the more prevalent problem is roundworm, which is carried by an estimated 58 percent of raccoons and can afflict humans by ingestion—usually accidental—of raccoon crap.
"It's important to understand what these animals can carry in terms of disease," adds Dr. Emilio DeBess, an Oregon state veterinarian. "Roundworm is probably one of the most significant issues concerning public health."
In Oregon, there has been one reported case of roundworm, in a child infected by a raccoon. Nationwide, there have been only 13 reported raccoon-to-human cases of roundworm. However, according to an article on the national Centers for Disease Control's website, "the risk for human exposure and infection may be greater than is currently recognized." If contracted, roundworm can lead to blindness, brain damage and even death.
Not everybody welcomes the policy change to euthanasia.
Larry McClintock, who until recently ran the "live-trapping and relocating wildlife, period" service of Critter Gitter, was the first person to get a wildlife control operator's license in Oregon in 1980. McClintock, 62, scored another first in early May by being the first wildlife control operator to retire because of the new policies.
"I don't believe in slaughtering healthy animals," he says.
Since the change in regulations, another vermin control company, Critter Control, has euthanized all apprehended raccoons by administering carbon dioxide, which is considered humane. Critter Control then sends the dead animals to Metro, which takes them, triple-wrapped in plastic bags, to one of its two dumpsites.
During raccoon busy season, Critter Control gets between 150 and 200 raccoon calls a month. But after office manager Coleen McIntyre informs callers the animals will be put down, some no longer want her services.
"They just don't want [the raccoons] euthanized," she says.