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Raccoons Terrorize Harlem Block, Breaking Into Homes and Even Eating Pets

 Nia Bediako points to her neighbor's house, which was recently visited by a raccoon and frightened their children.
Nia Bediako points to her neighbor's house, which was recently visited by a raccoon and frightened their children.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — Bandits have looted food from West Harlem residents' kitchens, damaged property, dirtied floors, frightened their children — and even eaten their pets.

These were no ordinary thieves, but a gaze of raccoons that has wreaked havoc on people living in brownstones on West 121st Street, between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. boulevards, for at least the past month.

Nia Bediako first saw one of the animals July 3 while sitting in her backyard.

It raised its head to the back window of an abandoned home next door, at 160 W. 121st St., which residents believe is the source of the infestation, and strutted along the fence that borders her property. 

 Harlem resident Debora Clark Fairfax said a raccoon has ripped open her screen to her house several times. In two instances, a raccoon ransacked her kitchen.
Harlem resident Debora Clark Fairfax said a raccoon has ripped open her screen to her house several times. In two instances, a raccoon ransacked her kitchen.
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Debora Clark Fairfax

“I started howling and screaming,” said Bediako, who was sitting with her daughter and some friends. “I was scared to death.”

Many of the residents on the block who spoke to DNAinfo New York said they have had similar run-ins with the animals and have received little to no assistance from officials. 

Some said a raccoon ate a turtle and fish in a backyard pond at the home of former mayoral candidate Bill Thompson.

“It ate the turtle and left the shell,” Bediako said. Thompson could not be reached for comment.

Some residents have sighted at least three raccoons together traipsing through the backyard areas that connect many of the homes.

Debora Clark Fairfax tallied three separate occasions in the past few weeks. Once a raccoon ransacked her kitchen pantry and ate peanuts and another time one of the animals ate her cat’s food.

Both times the raccoon ripped open her window screen to get in.

“We couldn’t figure out why the cat’s water was so dirty,” she said.  

But then, she said, she noticed the floor speckled with raccoon footprints.

In the third instance, after her husband stapled the torn window screen, the raccoon re-ripped it but couldn’t enter because she said the window was closed.

“And we worry about people coming into our house,” she said.

The onus for pest control is usually on homeowners, who usually employ a professional pest removal service, officials said. The residents, however, feel the obligation should be on the city or state.

“I think it’s critical (the city help) because we pay high property taxes,” said Bediako. “I called the (Department of Environment Conservation) four times and no response.”

Rodney Rivera, a regional spokesperson for the state Department of Environment Conservation, said the agency does not usually remove raccoons, but advises homeowners and landlords on best practices such as reducing access to food.

The city Health Department said it only removes raccoons that exhibit rabid behavior.

"Property owners are responsible for removing a nuisance raccoon and should hire a nuisance trapper licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).” said a spokesperson for the city Health Department via email. 

"If the property owner chooses to remove the raccoon themselves, they must do so in accordance with the Conservation Laws overseen by DEC. If a raccoon is deemed dangerous — meaning it has attacked or may attack, 911 should be called for an immediate response.”

Residents said that's not enough since the area has senior residents and children and the animals may pose health risks — though in 2014, the most recent city data, there were no reports of rabid raccoons in Manhattan.

Carolyn Adams said she has called 311 and pest control to no avail while Rachel Stevens said she received a tip from a private poison control agency to place moth balls in her backyard.

“It worked for about a week but, for me, it’s not the best thing for me to be inhaling,” said Stevens, who is pregnant.

Bediako has resorted to placing a pan of ammonia outside her backyard window as a repellant.