Residents of Olympia, Washington, are deeply frightened. A fierce group of raccoons has killed 10 of their cats, tried to drag away a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots.
Some have taken to carrying pepper spray to ward off the masked marauders and the woman who was bitten now carries an iron pipe when she goes outside at night.
"It's a new breed," said Tamara Keeton, who with Kari Hall started a raccoon watch after an emotional neighborhood meeting drew 40 people. "They're urban raccoons, and they're not afraid."
Tony Benjamins, whose family lost two cats, said he got a big dog - a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix - to keep the raccoons away.
One goal of the patrol is to get residents to stop feeding raccoons and to keep pets and pet food indoors, AP reports.
Lisann Rolle said she began carrying an iron pipe when she goes outside at night after being bitten by raccoons when she tried to pull three of them off her cat Lucy. She obtained rabies shots afterward as a precaution.
"I was watching her like a hawk, but she snuck out," Rolle said. "Then I heard this hideous sound - a coyote-type high pitch ... It was vicious. They were focused on ripping her apart."
The attacks have been especially shocking because raccoons came within five feet (1 1/2 meters) of cats without any problem in previous years, Benjamins said.
"We used to love the raccoons. They'd have their babies this time of year, and they were so cute. Even though we lived in the city, it was neat to have wildlife around," he said, "but this year, things changed. They went nuts."
In one case five raccoons tried to carry off a small dog, which managed to survive.
The attacks, all within a three-block area near the Garfield Nature Trail in Olympia, are highly unusual, said Sean O. Carrell, a problem wildlife coordinator with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, adding that trappers may be summoned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove problem animals.
"I've never heard a report of 10 cats being killed. It's something were going to have to monitor," Carrell said.
Meanwhile, residents have hired Tom Brown, a nuisance wildlife control operator from Rochester, Washington, to set traps, but in six weeks he has caught only one raccoon. He and Carrell said raccoons teach their young - and each other - to avoid traps.
Brown said he had seen packs of raccoons this big but none so into killing.
"They are in command up there," he said.