raccoon canine distemper

Toronto has a serious raccoon corpse problem right now and the city can't handle it

Raccoons are intelligent, adorable, and often unexpectedly charming when encountered in the urban wilds of Toronto, doing their nighttime garbage ballet or peeking down from a tree... but they're anything other than cute when rotting at the side of a road.

If you live in the city, you likely know this from experience after stumbling upon the carcass of a dead animal that has yet to be picked up despite countless requests and complaints to 311.

It happens, and it's been happening for a long time: Too much deceased wildlife, and too little staff to dispose of the cadavers with dignity.

But with a full-on canine distemper outbreak now confirmed among Toronto's raccoon population, the bodies are piling up fast — way faster than city staffers can pick them up, leaving them to fester on front lawns, sidewalks, at parks, in streets and other public spaces for weeks at a time.

Toronto Animal Services (TAS) told CP24 this week that it has seen a "significant increase for service requests" involving raccoons over the past six months, with 411 service requests for "cadaver pickup" between October 31 and Nov. 6 alone.

That's more than 400 requests in just one week for the city's dedicated animal services branch to come and pick up the body of a dead critter found somewhere in a public space across Toronto. Another 502 calls were logged for sick or injured animals during the same period of time.

Because TAS staffers tend to prioritize the needs of injured and sick animals over deceased ones (which makes sense,) the response time for corpse disposal has increased by a ridiculous amount.

"At present, TAS is averaging a 12- to 14-day response time for cadaver pick-up service requests versus the standard 48 hours," said a spokesperson for animal services to CP24. 

"Our small and dedicated team works very hard to prioritize requests and respond in a timely manner. We thank residents for their patience and understanding during this very busy time."

One need look no further than Twitter to see evidence of this trend in spades.

Heck, if you live near a park or ravine, you can probably find dead raccoons in various stages of decomposition around the neighbourhood.

Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose ward has seen a high volume of raccoon corpse removal requests recently, has been urging the city for weeks to do something about the problem.

In a Nov. 3 letter to Toronto's municipal standards and animal services departments titled "Bring out 'yer dead: Expediting Wildlife Cadaver Clean-up in Toronto," Fletcher noted that calls for injured and deceased animals had "skyrocketed" in her ward over the past two months.

"I understand from Animal Services that this may be being driven by a distemper outbreak amongst the city's Raccoon population," she wrote. "The sudden increase has placed a strain on Animal Services officers and increased the response times beyond the approved service standard."

Fletcher's call for extra resources had since gone unanswered, prompting the councillor to publish a second letter on Nov. 8. reiterating her concerns.

"I am writing to follow up on my letter of November 3rd to request that the city put the pick-up of dead raccoons onto an emergency footing using whatever city resources required to assist Animal Services," reads the letter, addressed to interim city manager Tracey Cook.

"As indicated in my previous there were over 900 service requests in Ward 14 alone in September and October, the majority being raccoons either suffering from or dead from distemper... Additionally, for the first week of November, there have been 704 service requests, which would be on pace for another month of 3000 plus service requests."

"Today I spoke with a senior who had called 311 and then Animal Services," Fletcher writes. "She informed me she was told the carcass would be picked up within 48 hours. Then told 72 hours. Then 10 days and even up to 3 weeks. The carcass is now rotting inside a garbage bin and reeking."

As a sort of bandaid solution, some people in Toronto have resorted to putting the raccoon carcasses in bags or covering them with boxes.

A lot of the photos circulating on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not fit to be republished here, but their captions warrant repeating, as they reflect the attitudes of many in the city.

"If this was a dog, would you care? It's been 8 days and the raccoon's body is still lying on Port Union northbound lane, just South of Lawrence Avenue," wrote one Twitter user to 311 Toronto when sharing a photo of one mushed up raccoon.

"I'm deeply saddened by your non responsive, non action behaviour."

"Dear 311 Toronto, this poor raccoon has been out on the grass deceased for almost 2 weeks," wrote another resident of the city.

"I called it in the Tuesday before last week. Soon I will erect a sign. But he won't get the chalk outline and cones like the one that went viral a few years ago."

The city continues to advise people reporting dead raccoons to be patient.

"[TAS] will attend as soon as possible. They are currently backlogged with cadaver pickups as they deal with other wildlife emergencies but will attend as soon as possible," wrote 311 Toronto in response to one complaint.

People who find deceased raccoons on their own private property are being asked to "please bag the raccoon and place it at the curb for pick up."

The City of Toronto is also asking humans who notice raccoons with symptoms of canine distemper (or displaying any sort of abnormal behaviour) to call 311 and report it.

"Raccoons with distemper may approach people, or curl up to sleep in open areas in close proximity to people. They generally act disoriented or lethargic, but can become aggressive if cornered," reads the city's website.

"Canine distemper does not pose a threat to human health. Dogs that have not been vaccinated for distemper can become infected if they come in contact with a raccoon with distemper... Residents are not to approach or feed the raccoons."

Lead photo by

Jeff Bowen

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