Some would pick a third option: vermin.
On sister site MNN.com, Christian Cotroneo tells us how raccoons can teach us about tolerance. In his subhead he asks: "Urban anarchists or lovable rogues?" Christian describes the situation in Toronto, where he and I both live; "where an estimated 100,000 raccoons live, brazen acts of banditry and dumpster diving have led to a particularly prickly co-existence with humans."
Now, as the photo on top demonstrates, I have an up close and personal relationship with urban raccoons. There is no question that I would much rather share the city with them than the baby-sized rats poor Melissa has to deal with in New York City. But all of our raccoons are baby- and toddler-sized, and they have better hand-eye coordination than most children.The problem in Toronto comes from the fact that there are lots of trees for them to hang out in, ravines to cavort in, and most importantly, the entire city as been turned into a raccoon delicatessen since the "green bin" organic recycling program began, where every homeowner in the city puts their food waste and leftovers in a plastic container that they quickly learned how to open.
The City was forced to introduce new green bins that have what is close to a combination lock on them, as our courageous mayor vowed to his citizens:
We are ready, we are armed, and we are motivated to show that we cannot be defeated by these critters. We have left no stone unturned in our fight against the Raccoon Nation. Defeat is not an option.
Christian concludes that "they all have a right to live right here alongside us. On their own terms." He is not alone among Torontonians; Elizabeth Renzetti wrote in the Globe and Mail:
I should warn you that I’m a quisling, a traitor to the human cause, because I am firmly on the raccoons’ side. Let them have our garbage. It is, quite literally, garbage. It’s not like they’re breaking into people’s houses and walking off with tiaras and Cuisinarts. We pay people to take away our trash, and the raccoons are willing to do it for free.
There is no question that they are cute. It's no wonder we all felt sorry for poor Conrad, left dead for a whole day on Toronto's main street. (Read How a dead raccoon touched the heart of a city).
And of course everyone's heart melted when the little baby raccoon got trapped on the window ledge of Canada's largest newspaper; a month before the election it got more coverage than Donald Trump. More: Baby raccoon trapped on brutalist window ledge, Toronto goes to pieces.
We also have to admit that it's not their fault. Humans set the table for them; humans turned the city into a giant take-out container. In some ways they are a sign of failure, evidence that we are incapable of cleaning up after ourselves and unwilling to invest in keeping the city clean enough that they do not have such an urban banquet.
Then we wonder why they are living outside our bedroom window. At our house they moved onto our roof and cost hundreds to get them escorted away. They crapped all over our deck. It is literally a turf war; when I once laid sod they kept rolling it back up neatly to get at the grubs underneath.
It gets worse. Really, they are vermin, a cuter version of Melissa's rats. They have toxic poop that can pass roundworms on to humans. According to Chris Bateman in BlogTO,
Baylisascaris procyonis is particularly nasty if passed on to humans. The eggs can be inhaled, absorbed through skin on contact, or soaked up by the digestive system if eaten, leading to myriad discomforts, sometimes skin irritation, difficulty breathing, and even permanent eye and brain damage.
Christian sides with the raccoons and describes them as "lovable rogues." He offers as an alternative "urban anarchists" which doesn't do them justice or injustice or whatever; it's not strong enough. What do you think?