Tue 16 Sep 2008
I suspect my parents’ initial inclination was to attribute the disgusting phenomenon to what they saw as the general degeneracy of the era, for it was in the early 1960s that our family began to notice more than a little filth just outside a third-floor window.
The second-floor living room of our home in the Berkeley Hills had a bay window looking out (appropriately) at San Francisco Bay, and atop the protruding window was a small, shingled roof. The view from the third floor likewise looked out at the bay but also down on the bay window’s roof, and around 1960, my parents were dismayed to notice dog-sized feces mysteriously showing up on the shingles.
I’m sorry, but there’s a line.
One night while I was away, my parents heard something banging around on a lattice that was on the same side of the house as the bay window. They investigated and with irritation discovered that a family of raccoons had taken to climbing two stories up the outside of our house to poop on the window’s small roof. Not only was this unsightly, it forced my parents to periodically string a garden hose through our house and from the third-floor window spray raccoon excrement off the roof below.
With the insouciance of youth, I was amused by the raccoons’ seemingly bizarre behavior; however, as an adult, I don’t find it quite so entertaining now that raccoons have established lofty latrines near my cabin.
As it happens, a sizable pine tree grows beside the steps leading up to my deck, and the tree has become a favorite jungle gym for this hill’s raccoons. Unfortunately, the raccoons have selected the crotches of two large limbs for latrines, and they keep coming back to leave fresh droppings on top of older droppings. Anyone going up or down my front stairs has all too good a view of these latrines, so I too must now hose the filth out of sight.
I’ve spared you the photos, but naturalists note that raccoon scat is shaped like a blunt cigar and sometimes contains bits of berries, acorns or other vegetation. However, examining it too closely may be a bad idea for several reasons.
Well, excuse me! This stall is taken.
There is, in fact, a serious side to all this because raccoon droppings often contain the parasite Baylisascaris procyonis, which can make humans and dogs extremely sick. Indeed, inhaling or ingesting eggs of the parasite can be fatal for humans although this is not common. Nonetheless, the Journal of Wildlife Diseases reports that spot checks of raccoon droppings in Indiana during 1980 found 27 percent of the scat in an urban area carried Baylisascaris procyonis eggs, as did 31 percent in a rural area.
Counter-intuitively, the danger is greatest with dried — not fresh — droppings. The veterinarian website PetEducation.com notes the parasite’s eggs must sit in the scat for three or four weeks before they become infective. It’s not a pleasant prospect and perhaps explains why some people instinctively yell “Scat!” whenever they spot a raccoon hunkering down around their homes.