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Why They Invented the Coonskin Cap
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I admit it. We have only ourselves to blame. When they first came to call we welcomed them. Eagerly. Naively.

"Oh, aren't they cute," we said as they scratched imploringly on the glass door leading to our deck, bright-eyed supplicants we couldn't resist. We laid out plates heaped high with food. We took photos. We showed them off to house guests.

We gave them clever names. "Rocky and the Rockettes," we called their merry masked band.

Boy, were we stupid.

Yes, raccoons are cute, and damn photogenic. But raccoons are not nice. And they are not stupid.

The tasty kibble we lavished on them wasn't enough. They repaid our largess with dead-of-night forays into our garden to dig for the apparently even tastier grubs that resided just beneath the topsoil.

It was not a pretty sight. Our furry former friends laid waste to whole sections of greenery. Flowers died, roots were uprooted. Green turned to brown.

We summoned a professional gardener. What to do? What to do?

"Shoot 'em," said he, a man from the countryside where that was an approved method of pest control. Or if not that, "Poison 'em,"

But killing would hardly do. We live in San Francisco, after all -- the city of St. Francis, friend of all things feathered and furry, friend even of marauding raccoons.

Trap 'em, said we. Just lure the little critters into cages, then whisk them out of the city and let them loose, free to dig to their little hearts' content in the wilds of suburbia.

That, too, called for a professional. For no little expense he put out the cages. And sure enough, within a few days they were occupied by screeching, very unhappy specimens of procyon lotor pacificus, if you'll pardon my Latin -- ma raccoon, pa and a couple of the raccoon kids. They'd soon be gone for good.

Gone they were -- to be replaced in a few months by a crew of hard-digging look-alikes from the raccoon community, which obviously had gotten word of the superb cuisine chez Meister.

Ah, but we'd been overlooking the advice of garden columnists. They said, the lot of them, that keeping unwanted raccoons, deer or other four-footed intruders away was simple. Just spray some hot chili oil on the ground or sprinkle some hot chili pepper around.

Well, our raccoons -- perhaps being of Texas ancestry -- weren't dissuaded one little bit by the whole bottle of chili oil and several large bags of chili pepper we spread about. Hell, they ate more heartily than ever.

Ever more desperate, we turned to a device known as a Sensor Controlled Animal Trainer, or SCAT, guaranteed to cause intruding animals to do just that.

It's a sprinkler equipped with an infrared motion detector. As soon as an animal crosses its path, whoosh! A spray of water blasts the intruder.

It worked, too -- for a while. But then came the recent morning when I found the garden in its pre-SCAT state of raccoon disrepair and the SCAT device covered with muddy raccoon paw prints. Must have malfunctioned, I thought, taking up a broom to wave in front of the motion detector for a test.

Whoosh! I was hit by a burst of water that soaked me to the skin, knee to foot. The sprinkler, which had been aimed in a direction completely opposite me, had been turned around during the night.

We're still seeking professional help, though -- maybe a paving contractor, someone who might cover the raccoons' playground with asphalt. A tennis court would be nice.

Copyright Dick Meister