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I know this isn't Great Outdoors in the sense of planning a vast trek and seeing vistas, but I wanted to ask for a postmortem on an unwanted great outdoors encounter in the suburbs.

I was getting back after a photo shoot with a pirate motif, and among the items I had borrowed were some things from my brother, including a not purely ornamental sword, which he requested that I return to him that night instead of later on when I would unpack everything else.

I went out and heard a scurrying when I opened the trunk, and looked and saw two young, maybe adolescent, raccoons that had been rooting through a toppled trash can and were looking at me with what I would interpret as curiosity, but no evident fear. The distance was eight or so feet, and I tapped the ground a few times with sword to make noise that would scare them away. Again, no evident fear. Only looking at me.

I kept at least as much distance to them and made my way back into the house. They didn't approach me, and I'm rather glad there was no fight; I would not credit myself with sure victory if the fight was archaic weapon vs. rabies bite. But what really unnerved me is that nothing I did seemed to scare them. I made the usual noises of a person walking around, opening a trunk, and removing clanging metal items and tapping the ground with one of them.

I "won" this event; that is, I don't need a rabies shot. However, I'm somewhat concerned that I could be close to them and making noises (admittedly, not very loud noises like yelling), and maybe they were keeping their version of respectful distance by backing out of the trash cans and getting to a place they could escape from, and perhaps their looking at me was wondering if they would need to take flight, but I still found the experience a bit unnerving. We have squirrels, chipmunks, robins, sparrows, and other fauna, in addition to domestic cats that don't know me, and none of them will either let you get as close, or make noise, without fleeing for safety.

So what do I have to learn from this? The biggest lesson may be something I already did, keep my own respectful distance and end the encounter as quickly as possible. And I did not do something stupid like assume that a bit of pointed metal will infallibly shield me from a darting raccoon.

But I wanted to check in and ask for any guidance. Especially in a suburban environment. Are there animals that are simply not afraid of much bigger humans? Are there any rules besides the obvious about minimizing one's chances for needing a rabies shot? (Or for that matter an infection; a bite can carry danger of assorted infections.) Would I have been better as soon as I heard noises from the trash can to simply go inside and leave fetching my brother's property another day? In this specific case the raccoons backed out of the trash can into an area illuminated by a window; I wouldn't expect anywhere near the same visibility for most nighttime, meaning most raccoon, encounters.

Would it have been appropriate (in Illinois, outside of Chicago) to call for animal control ?

Again, any thoughts are welcome. I know this isn't a great trek into the wild outdoors, but the wild outdoors have a way of intruding into carefully planned suburban and urban areas.

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I wish a synopsis would have been provided. :-) Shorter and to the point questions are encouraged. –  ppl Sep 24 '13 at 3:15
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The straightforward step would be to find a way to make it impossible for raccoons to get a food reward from your garbage. Put the cans inside a fenced area, or hitch them to a tree, or get a dog, or get garbage cans with lids that won't fall off. If the raccoons are persistently and aggressively making a nuisance of themselves while you're outside your house, you could spray them in the eyes with a squirt bottle of water. –  Ben Crowell Sep 25 '13 at 3:37
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Please use the site for concise questions. It helps everyone involved. –  Unsung Sep 27 '13 at 11:49
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I've taken the liberty to bold 2 questions I believed where the main questions of your post.

Are there animals that are simply not afraid of much bigger humans?

Yes. A variety of animals have adapted to our societies/cities and have adapted, other species may have no other choice than to look for food near or in our ever expanding cities and towns. May it be rats, monkeys entering your home in asia, gulls attacking people for their sandwitch/ice cream/anything in europe (or anywhere else?) or racoons in your own subburb, I think most species can/may behave agressive if they feel cornered, are very hungry or simply if they feel like standing their ground. We're not alone on this planet, and just got to find a way to live together with everything else. I have no experience with raccoons, but I would personally not have anticipated them to "attack", key to co-existance is respect and prevention of what may lead to bad scenarios.

In most cases, animals can become agressive/bold if they learn to affiliate us with food, and we become an obstacle to that food. Preventing this relation to become established, or trying to remove it again over time is in my opinion the only solution to prevent this type of (potential) aggression /boldness from animals towards us.

Would it have been appropriate (in Illinois, outside of Chicago) to call for animal control ? I do not think calling animal control/police/your local alternative is the best solution. Only in some really rare cases certain individual animals may have truly become more of a risk than the rest of their species and should be removed. In most cases trying to catch/move animals is only a short term solution with little benefit. If conditions are there for animals to live (waste food, trash, ...) or certain behavior to develop, this will not altered by calling animal control. It are those conditions that should be given attention too.

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Thank you for a thoughtful response. –  JonathanHayward Sep 24 '13 at 21:02
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