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Patrolling the Raccoon Highway: HSUS Humane Wildlife Services Gets Down and Dirty in Community Steam Tunnels

Humanely evicting raccoons goes forward at a crawl

All Animals magazine, November/December 2012

by Ruthanne Johnson

Driving in her car late one afternoon, Cam MacQueen was horrified to see a caged raccoon jostling atop a junk heap in a pickup truck bed. She sped through traffic in pursuit, pulling alongside at a stoplight to ask the driver about the animal's fate. "He said his pest control company had a gas chamber in their office," says MacQueen. After she implored him to spare the young raccoon's life, the man promised to release the animal at a nearby lake, but she knew it was a lie. The image sat like a stone in the pit of her stomach.

Two weeks later, she spotted another vehicle advertising a kinder, more effective approach to wildlife conflicts: "Animals, Community, and Environment." After following the van to within blocks of her Maryland home, MacQueen introduced herself to wildlife control operators John Griffin and Lori Thiele, who detailed their business model of nonlethal solutions. "It was like an answer to everything," says MacQueen.

That chance 2007 meeting brought about a new partnership for MacQueen's Greenbelt Homes Inc. community, a 1,600-home cooperative built in the 1930s and 1940s whose residents take pride in its pet-friendly spaces, protected forests, and green philosophy. At MacQueen's recommendation, GHI's management company hired Griffin and Thiele—now with The HSUS's Humane Wildlife Services program—to humanely evict raccoons and other wild animals who'd been accessing crawl spaces beneath homes via a network of defunct steam tunnels. The community had been dealing with the situation by trapping and releasing animals off property—a practice that can be fatal—and some of the animals had suffered cage-related injuries.

Today, hundreds of animals have been spared those fates thanks to HWS's work on the "raccoon highway" and other cases. For MacQueen, the successes mean the caged raccoon did not die in vain. "By getting [HWS] involved in this community and helping to spread the word, that's his legacy," she says. "I just love what they do ... and wish there were a lot more of them out there."

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