In a town near San Francisco, residents are discovering why raccoons wear masks: it's to conceal their identity when they commit violent assaults.
Nine people in Alameda have been the victims of raccoon attacks since June. These incidents are escalating, with the most recent involving an entire gang.
One raccoon approached Rachel Campos as she was walking her dog, and then:
“The other four dropped out of these trees somewhere and all started to run after us,” said Campos. “And then I tripped. Once I fell down, I was worried I wouldn't be able to get them off me, and I was screaming at the top of my lungs.”
Her 20-pound terrier fended off four of the attackers, but the fifth latched onto her leg and bit her.
You may think furry, tubby raccoons are cute, but as a local "vector control" officer with twenty years experience said, "Raccoons are ornery. They bite the heads off baby chicks."
And another experienced biologist and pest control expert says that raccoons have gotten dogs into swimming pools and drowned them: "They grab them by the head and hold them under water. Not just little dogs — Labrador size."
Some blame the problem on people who leave food where raccoons can get it, but not all of these animals are eating out of carelessly uncovered trash cans. One resident says, “We've had them climbing in through our doggie door and rummaging through things in the kitchen.”
For her part, Campos is undergoing rabies shots, and will carry pepper spray on walks from now on. Although the risk of rabies in Californian raccoons is low, it's the psychological damage that will take time to heal.
“It was definitely like something out of a horror movie,” she said, and she hopes her experience will serve as a warning: "The animals are getting angry."
Reporting from the LA Times and KTVU.com; raccoon with the demon eyes by Flickr user buckeye98.