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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Real Estate

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‘Orangutan-Sized’ Raccoons Invade Chicago

April 29, 2010 - 1:07 PM | by: Peter Doocy

“He looked like an orangutan swinging-swinging around. It was scary, very scary,” said Chicago resident Wilma Ward about her recent run-in with a raccoon. Ward, who lives in Chicago several miles away from the nearest forest, found herself face to snout with a raccoon she described as being almost her height. She was forced to barricade herself in an upstairs bathroom until morning, and when she emerged she discovered the raccoon had bent steel window-bars to get into her kitchen. Others in the neighborhood have described these raccoons as being the size of German Shepherds.

While Wilma’s story is extreme, it is becoming more common, as the ring-tailed rascals are increasingly taking up residence in the concrete jungle. It isn’t hard for them to find a place to stay, either, since over 75,000 homes have been foreclosed on in the last year. Most people don’t properly board up their homes when the bank kicks them to the curb, which gives raccoons easy access to a habitat fit for a human.

Raccoon infestations aren’t a bother to former homeowners, but rather to the people still living in the neighborhood. No raccoon in Illinois has ever tested positive for rabies, according to Dr. Donna Alexander of the Cook County Animal Rabies Control, but that’s not the only concern. She fears that many urbanites, who have never seen a wild animal except for maybe a squirrel or rat, might mistake the raccoons for a furry play-thing. “The most important thing is that it is not a pet, it is a wild animal,” she explains.

Local government officials are trying to prevent further problems by educating the urban communities about the proper way to deal with raccoons. They explain that raccoons are just looking for something to eat and a place to stay, so if trash cans are properly sealed and foreclosed homes are effectively boarded up, they will search for shelter somewhere else.

Something else communities are beginning to notice is property damage. Most of it goes unnoticed for months or even years, as these homes go uninhabited for extended periods of time, but James McClelland of Mack Industries, who purchases foreclosed homes and fixes them up for future sale, says the cost can be sky high…or at least ceiling high. It is common, he explains, for raccoons to fall through roofs and ceilings, which are expensive to repair. Often, when they fall into a home from above, it is impossible for them to get out, so they try as hard as they can to scratch and bite their way out-attempts which are often in vain, and often leave serious damage. McClelland says the damage done by raccoons can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

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