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Originally published Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Raccoons gone wild near North Seattle Community College

A pack of four aggressive raccoons near the North Seattle Community College campus is causing problems for pet owners and raising fears for people in and around the school.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Rick Greenquist's Labrador was attacked twice by raccoons recently while the two of them were on walks near North Seattle Community College.

When Greenquist heard that a father had to kick away a pack of raccoons in the same area to keep them from his toddler, he knew something had to be done.

Greenquist, 57, contacted city and state animal-control agencies only to learn that neither responds to such incidents. Representatives of the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Seattle Animal Shelter said they focus on education to prevent such encounters.

"It's a hole in the system," Greenquist said. "I think everyone at the (Department of Fish and Wildlife) and animal control are doing their jobs great, but we do have this problem."

Worried that other pets and college students' children could be attacked near the wooded area on College Way North, he asked college administrators to take action, and they did.

At the end of July, the college posted some 30 signs that read "BEWARE OF AGGRESSIVE RACCOON PACK" and hired a pest controller to set up five animal traps, said college spokeswoman Katherine Morse.

"We don't want to scare people, but when you think of someone possibly getting rabies, we have to do this," Morse said.

There's a catch with trapping, though: The animals must be euthanized. State law requires it unless a relocation permit is granted, but that's rarely if ever done for urban wildlife, according to Sgt. Kim Chandler of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Killing them didn't sit well with Greenquist, either.

Greenquist, who lives just north of Green Lake, doesn't marvel at raccoons' humanlike hands or banditlike masks, but he doesn't carry a grudge against them, either — despite the attacks on his easygoing Labrador, Hank.

To top off the ethical dilemma of trapping, Morse said there's no way to tell if the raccoons caught in the traps were the aggressive ones.

For that reason, she said, the administration isn't sure how long the traps should stay up or how many animals it should try to catch.

Since the traps were set up, one raccoon has been caught, said Orestes Monterecy, the college vice president of administration. He said the raccoons may have been attracted to other areas where garbage piled up during the recent trash haulers' strike.

If someone still encounters aggressive raccoons after these measures, the advice from Fish and Wildlife is to run away. Raccoons are generally lazy except when it comes to getting food and protecting their young, said Chandler.

Raccoons are mostly solitary except during peak mating season in March and April, and in summer, when mothers are out and about with their kits, according to Fish and Wildlife's website.

Greenquist said he believes two that attacked were kits that matured a lot between the first attack June 11 and the second attack July 20.

To avoid encounters, Chandler said, the department generally recommends not leaving anything that raccoons could consider food — including small children, pets or pet food — alone, especially during summer. Reducing human interaction with wildlife — not feeding them, for example — is key to making sure animals don't grow bold enough to attack.

Chandler acknowledges, though, sometimes that's not enough.

"Just like people, not every raccoon is a happy, friendly raccoon," he said. "They're all individuals, and who knows what sets them off from time to time."

Though reports of aggressive raccoons haven't been on the rise, a fear of them might be after a widely reported raccoon attack on a Lakewood, Pierce County, woman last month, Chandler said.

Fish and Wildlife said she was attacked and bitten several times after fighting them off her dog, which had been chasing them. She told the News Tribune in Tacoma that she ran 75 feet before the animals knocked her down and gave her 16 puncture wounds.

Back at North Seattle Community College, Greenquist said setting traps near the campus is a lot better than doing nothing in an area where people frequently walk with pets and children.

"When you live in a city that loves the outdoors and wildlife, you end up with these conflicts, and what should you do about it? I don't know," he said.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

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