Chubby squirrels and wandering raccoons: Balmy winter triggers spike in animal calls to city
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Monday, February 8, 2016 6:36PM EST
Do the branches of your trees seem unusually stressed by the tread of increasingly pudgy squirrels of late?
If so, you’re not alone. It’s not the branches though.
The change in fact lies in the squirrels, who have become, well… fat.
The increased heft in the rodents has been noticed anecdotally by backyard watchers and park-goers alike, but Toronto Animal Services confirms the phenomenon is real.
“We’re seeing obviously a departure from what we would see as normal behavior during the winter months,” Nicola Ware of Toronto Animal Services told CP24.
And it’s not just squirrels.
“While raccoons and skunks aren’t hibernators per se – they usually are more dormant, they’re less active during the frigid temperatures,” Ware said. “With this dramatic change in the temperature here in Toronto they’re obviously out, they’re active, they’re foraging.”
Toronto and many other places in Ontario have seen record-breaking warm weather this winter, with a high of nearly 16 C recorded in the city last week.
The spring-like weather has confused flowers into springing up and squirrels into foraging ever-longer.
They’re also venturing out into some strange spots.
Just last week a small raccoon was spotted wandering on a subway train and on the platform at Spadina Station, sniffing at the feet of passengers and peeking into purses before disappearing into a subway tunnel.
As it turns out, the unusual appearance is just one instance in a trend that has seen a dramatic increase in calls about animals in distress this season.
According to Ware, Toronto Animal Services received about 140 calls about sick or distressed raccoons in January 2015. However this past January the city department received a whopping 1,540 calls – roughly 10 times as many as a year ago.
“We are seeing an enormous spike in the number of calls,” Ware said.
She said homeowners should beware that small creatures may seek shelter in broken sheds and other unsecured spaces.
She said the increased presence of raccoons over the winter months could also be problematic for dogs who haven’t been vaccinated against distemper, a disease prevalent in raccoons. Raccoons infected with the disease may appear lethargic, approach humans or curl up to sleep in open areas, but can become aggressive if cornered.
People who notice raccoons with signs of the disease are advised to contact animal services.
“It’s been challenging with the increase, but we will respond to every call we receive,” Ware says.
More information can also be found on the city’s website.