I have a problem convincing anybody that I’m the boss around here. As if it wasn’t bad enough with my pubescent children challenging my hegemony daily, the neighbourhood raccoons have decided to up the ante.

Clapping, hissing, or stamping of feet was traditionally sufficient to give Rosie Raccoon and her brood the message, and send the little family scurrying. But this year it’s different. The other night, it was I who was marooned on the sidewalk while a posse of raccoons stared me down from my own porch.

After I discovered that the usual routine made next to no impression in persuading them to leave, I wondered whether I would have to do a “bluff” charge, like a bear? And if I did, would they nip at my legs? As I contemplated my next course of action, they yawned (what a bore I was), and slowly and disinterestedly made their way up the eaves trough and lumbered leisurely across my neighbour’s roof without a backward glance.

And now that the raccoons have got me pegged, the gang comes back regularly with their buddies in tow. And they’re all equally disrespectful.

When I hear them, I open the side door with a dramatic flourish and shout, “Ah ha, I’ve caught you, you little devils.” The one in the compost container just stares at me. This raccoon, who I’ll call Vinny, seems to be the confrontational type. If he could talk, he’d be saying, “Whatchu gonna do ‘bout it?” The others, all members of the same gang, stop in their tracks and watch, expressionless.

After a moment (during which I’ll admit that I’m feeling a twinge of intimidation), I snap out of it and brandish my broom, and make what I consider to be threatening noises. They look totally unimpressed, but they do reluctantly start to leave the area.

I know they’ll be back as soon as I retire to my living room again. The fault is ultimately mine, of course. I used to have a little shed to house my garbage, but it’s been demolished as part of a landscaping plan, so my temporary garbage and composting solution is like a dinner bell to the raccoons.

They’re kinda cute, it’s true. But cuteness means very little after you’ve forced your loudly complaining son (whose job it is to deal with the garbage) to clean up half-composted dinner scraps for the umpteenth time. What a headache!

The raccoons are only doing what they need to do, but all the same, they’re the guests from hell. They make a huge mess, plus they take their washroom breaks in your backyard. And this is no laughing matter since raccoon wastes can make people, particularly young children who play in the dirt or a backyard sandbox, ill.

Rule number one is make your garbage inaccessible to the raccoons. Put it in a shed and put a lock or good-quality closure on the shed door. Raccoons can be quite clever and can figure out pretty quickly how to open door closure systems.

At the very least, get a tight fitting lid or use bungee cords or latches, buckles or other attachments to secure the lid of garbage and compost containers tightly. Some people also hang the compost on a hook a couple of inches above the ground to thwart raccoons who have discovered that knocking over a compost container can pop open the clasp.

And remember to take the garbage out to the curb with bungee cords removed and buckles unfastened on the morning of pickup, not the night before.

Whatever obstacles you put in their way, raccoons can demonstrate some pretty determined behaviour. They can gnaw through plastic garbage cans to get at their dinner, and they won’t leave until you make it very clear that they will no longer be invited. You can be the boss, but let me assure you, those wily raccoons will make you work for it.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; sputz@arrestingdesign.com.