Raccoons can be an unwelcome guest for homeowners in the area this time of year. Just ask Sonora couple Kathy and Vince Esposito.
The couple's yard at their Racetrack Road home has been repeatedly vandalized by the hungry and thirsty scavengers. Kathy suspects one brazen raccoon is responsible for overturning potted plants, moving rocks around her yard and stealing fish from her koi pond.
"I guess he's not really happy with us," she said while laughing.
Esposito said it started a couple years ago when she and her husband realized nearly all the fish from their pond were missing. The next batch of fish they bought eventually suffered the same fate.
They have since tried putting a cage over the pond, but the pesky critter still finds ways to break into it. More recently, the couple woke up to find their water lilies had been eaten.
"It's sad because I miss the fish, but it is kind of comical," Esposito said of the perennial trespasser. "We'd like to put a crittercam out there just to see what he's doing."
Esposito said her neighbors have mentioned seeing raccoons in their yards as well. However, she's never considered calling any local animal control or wildlife agencies to report the sightings.
"It's just part of living in the country," she said. "I've never really thought about doing that. There have always been raccoons in the neighborhood, and we don't leave any pet food out or anything."
Animal control departments in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties will sometimes respond to pick up dead raccoons, but refer people to the California Fish and Wildlife Department or the county trapper for any nuisance issues related to the sometimes pesky critters.
The same goes for local law enforcement agencies, who don't receive calls about raccoons very often.
Sonora police only receive about one or two calls per year, according to Police Chief Mark Stinson. Angels Camp police spokeswoman Teresa Pry says it happens less often in their neck of the woods.
The most recent call in Angels Camp was on July 27 regarding a raccoon that got stuck in a fence at a residence on Amador Avenue. Pry said police were called in case they needed to put the animal down, but the homeowner gave fire department personnel permission to cut part of the fence in order to free the animal alive.
Before July, Pry said the last reported incident involving a raccoon was in 2010.
The Calaveras County Sheriff's Office "occasionally" receives calls about raccoons, mostly due to people "not containing their trash appropriately," Sgt. Chris Hewitt said.
All calls to the Sheriff's Office are referred to Fish and Wildlife because deputies are not equipped or trained to deal with raccoons, Hewitt said.
Fish and Wildlife regional wildlife biologist Nathan Graveline, who covers all of Tuolumne County and parts of Stanislaus and Mariposa counties, said the number of raccoon calls typically rises in the summer due to a lack of water.
Graveline said that drier conditions force the animals to start scavenging in less-wild areas, like people's backyards.
"It's not that they necessarily are out more during the summer," he explained. "There's just more people running into them."
This summer, there have been more calls about raccoons than in the past because of back-to-back dry years, Graveline said.
A raccoon recently destroyed an inflatable pool Graveline had at his Tuolumne County home after the critter dug into it "like it was a natural pond."
"They're just trying to survive," he said. "They're not looking for trouble, just trying to keep themselves alive."
In order to avoid attracting raccoons, Graveline suggested homeowners remove any extra food or water sources, such as dishes or bowls for pets. He also said to store garbage in a secure place rather than leave it out in the open.
Tuolumne County Master Gardener Jim Gormely, of Columbia, offered similar advice and said gardening enthusiasts should put a fencing such as chicken wire around any precious plants.
"The idea here is not to harm or kill the animal, so the best thing is to not have anything sitting around that will attract it," Gormely said.
Dr. Leslie Holsapple, a veterinarian at Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital, said it's especially important for owners of small domesticated animals such as dogs or cats to take preventive measures that will keep raccoons from wanting to breach their yards.
Holsapple said about a half dozen cats or dogs are brought into the animal hospital each year after being assaulted by a raccoon. Another veterinarian at the clinic has treated some cats who had been attacked and died.
Holsapple reckoned there are likely many more undocumented fatalities because the pet may never be recovered.
On Wednesday, Holsapple treated and released a dog suffering from a large cut and multiple puncture wounds that were consistent with a raccoon attack. The 45 -pound border collie was attacked at Big Trees State Park while off its leash, she said.
Holsapple also warned of people handling the wild animals because raccoons are known to carry rabies and parasitic worms that can kill humans.
Kathy Esposito doesn't think her cat needs a second warning about the threat of raccoons.
"She doesn't seem to have any desire to stay outside at night," Esposito said of her cat. "I'm thinking she's seen him."