They topple green bins like it's nothing, lift up freshly laid sod and lie quietly in wait of barbecue droppings under backyard picnic tables.
In a dog-eat-dog world, Toronto's most adorable menace might think they're just doing what it takes to survive — even, it turns out, stare down Rob Ford.
"I've had some stand-offs with some raccoons," the mayor told reporters at city hall on Monday.
"Seriously, they just look at you, and they're not scared anymore. It used to be you could yell or scream at them, [now] they just look at you. I mean, right up to my front door."
His nine-year old daughter "starts freaking." His wife won't go outside to take out the trash. "It's like we have to make deals, who is going to go out and put out the garbage at night, because they'll just sit there."
The mayor is hardly the first political animal to sound off against raccoons, who are a perennial nuisance for homeowners when the weather gets warm. Councillor David Shiner's claim that their population is "exploding" prompted the licensing and standards committee on Monday to ask staff to report back on what can be done to control the growth.
Staff had already been instructed to looking at what other cities do to keep their wildlife numbers in check. The study will look at everything from public eduction to culls, but Carleton Grant, director of policy and strategic support in the municipal licensing department, stressed that "we're not considering [a cull] at this time."
The truth is, the city doesn't know how many raccoons are roaming the streets, or if their population is "exploding," as it doesn't track them. Neither does the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources, which can only provide outdated raccoon densities. On average, several studies in the mid 1980s to late 1990s showed there were 10 to 20 raccoons per square kilometre in Toronto, going up to 100 per square kilometre in forested areas.
City statistics on the number of dead or injured raccoons suggest that however annoying they may be, urban life isn't easy for the critters. The raccoon body count hit 4,802 in 2012, dropping to 4,398 in 2013. So far this year, 1,574 raccoon cadavers have been picked up in Toronto. The city euthanizes hundreds of raccoons ever year (more than 1,700 in 2012), which is usually the fate of the injured that are picked up. Some are sent to sanctuaries outside of the city.
"We have a serious raccoon problem," the mayor said, although he didn't offer up any immediate solutions. "If they're attacking kids, then yes we have to have a way of controlling them. Just going out and generally euthanizing them, no, I might have a problem with that, obviously."
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker says it's people, not raccoons that need to change. After all, they were here first.
"If you fix your roof and if you close off humanely that hole under your shed with a one-way door, the raccoons will leave," he said.
But Councillor Shiner says he raised the issue because he is getting more complaints from residents in his Willowdale ward about raccoon break-ins and other such mischief.
"Raccoons may have rights because they were here first, but property owners have rights, too," said Mr. Shiner, adding he is not supporting a cull at this time. "I don't know what the right answer is. I'm not an expert in this field and I admit that."
Brad Gates, owner of Gates' Wildlife Control, says animal populations are controlled by two factors: the amount of shelter available to them to raise their young and the amount of food. Remove the supply of either, and the numbers will naturally dwindle.
Mr. Gates says the city could help by providing a green bin that is not "one-stop shopping" for raccoons — the city says it's in the process of getting new bins designed — and property owners need to screen off entry points to their homes, such as chimneys.
He stressed that trapping raccoons is not a viable solution, and in any case, the province says they must be released within "close proximity" of their habitat, which for adults is considered one kilometre.
"For every one raccoon you remove at least one, maybe two will move into the area," he said.
In general, raccoons will scurry away if the person claps loudly or makes him or herself appear large and in charge, said Mr. Gates. "From what I know, raccoons understand humans have the upper hand."