Learning to Live with City Critters (Hr. 1)

(Photo Pin / LexnGer)

(Photo Pin / LexnGer)

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A report from one of the inner suburbs of the big city: coyotes have been seen gnawing on the carcass of a deer in a dog-walkers' park. Urban wildlife is by no means a new phenomenon. With the destruction of habitat, easy access to food and warmer climate, animals are moving farther into your town and mine. Which is why sea gulls hang around Macdonald's parking lots, and Canada geese stop traffic.

Public attitudes toward urban wildlife keep changing. On the one side, there are reasonable people who say wild animals have as much a right to the city as the human version. On the other, there are reasonable people who say urban wildlife is a contradiction in terms and the quadruped interlopers are disease-bearing pests. Then there are the animal rights groups who insist, wrongly, that city dwellers are at war with urban wildlife.

Some years ago, a meandering coyote was seen in one of the tonier districts of Toronto. The gentrified folk in the area thought it was kind of neat to have a wild animal in the neighborhood and pleaded with authorities to leave it be. Until it gargled with a resident's Chihuahua pup. Then the street folk gathered with their ropes and torches, calling for instant justice.

Some of the animals appeal to our cuteness instincts. Everybody loves raccoon kits and hates rats. At the height of the composting fetish in the seventies and eighties, Norway rats as big as Volkswagens prowled Toronto backyards, the down-side of recycling.

A very dear friend sent me an angry e-mail around Christmas, angry not at me, but at the post office. She bought a roll of stamps and found, to her dismay, Canada Post had adorned the stamps with a photo of three young raccoons. In a "what's happening to the country" tone of voice, she described the coons as "urban mutants."

Having spent hundreds of dollars over the years flushing raccoon families out of attics and from under decks, I sympathized with my friend. But shortly after the e-mail, I was making coffee in the kitchen early one morning. I heard a cry from the backyard. It sounded like a small child. A large raccoon had caught its paw in our fence. Every time it tried to pull out, it screamed. I put on a pair of thick gloves. The animal nipped at my hand but after about 10 minutes, I managed to free its paw.

Getting up close and personal to a wild animal in distress re-arranges your perspective about animals and cities. Yes, they may be pests but they are living, breathing co-habitants of our major cities. Neither they, nor we, are going to go away.

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