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Raccoons have made themselves at home in Canadian cities.

amadeusamse/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Just about everyone who lives in a house has a story about battling raccoons, those wily creatures that have made themselves so at home in Canadian cities. My battle has followed a typical pattern.

We live in a semi-detached Victorian in downtown Toronto. It has a flat roof at the back covered with dark asphalt roofing. The raccoons love it up there. They huddle under an overhang, sleep in a notch between our roof and the one next door and generally lounge about as if they own the place.

For years, we have watched them climb up to the roof by way of a corner of the house with a convenient drainpipe. Sometimes, they will climb right in front of us as we sit on the backyard deck. If we try to scare them off, they give us the world-weary look that the city raccoon has mastered – or just casually retreat, biding their time until we go inside. One summer, a mother taught her kits to make the climb, carrying the laggards up by the scruff of the neck. Cute.

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Except that once the raccoons get up there they make a racket like the Sack of Rome – scuffling, chuckling, purring, growling – and wake my daughter in the bedroom below. I have to go out on the roof with a shovel to clean up what wildlife experts call their “community latrine.”

I’ve tried everything to keep them away. I put a barrier of wire mesh on the corner of the roof. Brilliant free soloists that they are, they easily got around it. I put another piece of spiky mesh in their sleeping notch, rolling it up to fill the space. They bedded down right on top. Nothing more comfortable.

My wife read that human urine – male human urine – is a deterrent. But I have neighbours, and my dignity, so we tried an alternative: rags soaked in ammonia. Those soon got wet in the rain and lost their scent. (Another recommended deterrent we’ve started trying – granulated coyote urine – has a similar defect: it washes away.)

The raccoons kept coming. How could this be? We humans have colonized most of the Earth, shouldering other species roughly aside. We have put astronauts on the moon and a tiny helicopter on Mars. Yet here I was being bested by these waddling beasts. It was too much to bear.

Then I had a brainwave. I bought a roll of sheet metal – shiny, slippery stuff. I cut off a metre-long piece, shaped it to fit the corner of the house and screwed it to the siding; or, to be accurate, had my daughter’s boyfriend cut off a metre-long piece, shape it to fit the corner of the house and screw it to the siding. It covered the corner and the drainpipe, enclosing them in a kind of rectangular box. Any raccoon trying to scale it would encounter the metal, fail to get any purchase and lose heart. Devilishly clever.

For a while it worked. Then, a few weeks ago, we heard an odd noise from out back: the sound of flexing sheet metal. Rushing to the window, we saw a raccoon working itself through the narrow gap between the metal and siding. Others followed.

The next day, I got a ladder and jammed another roll of that handy wire mesh into the gap. Somehow, the animals worked their way through that, too, leaving tufts of fur behind. I went up the ladder again and screwed the mesh into the siding to make the gap impassable. That seemed to do the trick. The nightly keggers on the roof ceased.

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Then this week, when we were out of the house, my daughter sent us a text full of exclamations. She was studying in the spare room. She heard a commotion outside the window. Stymied at the usual corner, the raccoon family was climbing a different one, this one with no drainpipe. They passed right by the window, staring at her with those big black eyes.

I heard the same clamour a couple of days later. I rushed into the spare room. A big, wet raccoon was making its ascent. When I met its gaze, it gazed back with a look that combined indifference and pity, then kept climbing to its penthouse on the roof.

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