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Raccoons Invade West Harlem Street, Residents Say

By Gustavo Solis | October 6, 2014 7:22am
 Raccoons have invaded West 119th Street, residents say.
Raccoons in Harlem
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HARLEM — Masked bandits have descended on West 119th Street and residents complain that the city won't do a thing about it.

A pack of raccoons, or more accurately, a gaze of raccoons, have taken over a set of residential blocks between Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Lenox Avenue — roaming the streets and sidewalks day and night and congregating in residents' backyards and gardens, residents said.

Oscar Bleetstein, who has seen at least half a dozen raccoons in the last few months, said they are as big as small dogs, and are completely unafraid of humans.

"The little guy started to come over so I sort of stomped my foot a little bit but he didn't care," Bleetstein said. "I backed off from my porch and closed the glass door. I waved my arms and yelled at it but it just looked at me and wouldn't leave."

Bleetstein said he then watched along with his wife and 7-year-old son as the raccoon climbed on their patio furniture and scavenged around their backyard.

Residents say they first spotted the raccoons earlier this summer, adding that the population quickly grew, spreading out westward toward Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.

“They used my backyard as a toilet bowl,” said Orlando Rivera, who lives on 119th Street between Adam Clayton Powell and Lenox. “It smelled strong like ammonia. It was hard to breathe.”

Residents said they have called Animal Care and Control to complain about the growing raccoon menace, but agency officials said they can't act unless the raccoons attack.

"In general, AC&C will only remove raccoons if the animal appears injured or ill, has been bitten or scratched a person or animal, or otherwise poses a significant public health threat," spokeswoman Alexandra Silver said. "New Yorkers with concerns should call 311."

Residents can also call the State's Department of Environmental Conservation, Silver added.

Although raccoons are protected by law, people are allowed to "destroy raccoons that damage property. However, property owners should try eliminating food and shelter before killing the animal," according to the DEC's website.

A spokesman for the DEC's New York City office did not return a phone call asking for comment.

Their website recommends that people may contract licensed professionals to get rid of the raccoons, which is what some residents on the block have proposed.

The West 119th Street Block Association held a meeting on Sept. 4 to find solutions to the problem, Rivera said. 

Residents looked into hiring a professional service to capture the raccoons and release them into the wild. However, after finding out that some professionals charge $125 per raccoon they decided to try to find other solutions, he added.

The city's 311 complaint line has gotten two rodent calls from 119th Street since July, according to city data. The neighborhood precinct stationhouse has not gotten any complaint calls, a spokeswoman there said.

According to the city's Department of Health, there have not been any reports of rabid raccoons in Manhattan. The Health Department recommends residents keep their garbage lids covered tightly and spray cayenne pepper around the trash, among other helpful tips to keep raccoons away.

Residents say they've spotted raccoons in their garbage cans as recently as two weeks ago.

“I saw two of them at 1 a.m.,” said Pablo Martinez, who moved to the block two months ago from Spain. “I thought they were big rats. We don’t have them in Spain, maybe in the zoo. This city is crazy.”

Until they come up with a solid plan to deal with the masked creatures, residents have been dealing with the problem as best as they can.

“My wife shuts all the windows in the house," Rivera said. "She is convinced they will come into the house.”