Toronto to step up efforts to pick up dead raccoons amid distemper outbreak

Move comes after thousands of calls to 311 and a councillor's complaint to city staff

The city says it will take "immediate action" to ensure dead raccoons on Toronto streets will be picked up in a timely manner amid an outbreak of distemper.

Thursday's announcement comes after thousands of calls by residents this fall asking the city to pick up dead animals and a complaint by a councillor about response times. Distemper is a viral disease, often fatal, that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. The virus infects raccoons, skunks and dogs.

In a news release on Thursday, the city said the raccoon distemper outbreak is concentrated in Toronto's east end.

Toronto Animal Services is backlogged with requests for pickup of dead wild animals, the city said. Its standard response time is 48 hours, but currently, it is averaging 12 to 14 days.

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, said she is relieved to hear the city is stepping up its efforts. She said more than 1,000 residents in her ward alone have called the city about the issue in the last two months.

"I think it's great," she said on Thursday.

"That's what I asked for — get out there and pick up the raccoons. People want these dead raccoons picked up off the streets. Everybody is seeing them. I know it's distemper, but nonetheless, I call it an urgent issue. I'm very happy that they're moving on it." 

According to Fletcher, who looked at 311 data, there were 54 calls to 311 for pickup of dead or injured animals in August. The number skyrocketed to 3,223 calls in September and increased to 3,769 calls in October.

Fletcher sent two letters to the city manager to ask for action on the issue.

The city said it has assigned more staff to Toronto Animal Services to deal with the backlog of dead raccoons and to decrease response times. Starting next week, the city said it will also deploy staff from Solid Waste Management Services and Transportation Services to help with pickup.

"I'm very pleased that the city has stepped up and is dealing with the number of dead raccoon carcasses that people are finding on the streets and sidewalks on the city of Toronto," Fletcher said.

Dead raccoons 'pose a low risk to humans,' city says

Mayor John Tory said in the release that there has been an "unprecedented level of cadaver pick-up requests" in the city this fall. 

"This multi-divisional effort will help address some of the issues we're seeing now with wildlife and is an important step to make sure we continue to have the clean and liveable city that residents and businesses expect," he said.

The city said distemper is typically seen among Toronto raccoons every two to three years. Outbreaks usually occur between May and November and will dissipate when the weather gets colder. 

The city said it has also talked to animal disease experts and found out that "these raccoon cadavers pose a low risk to humans and animals," but it urges residents to avoid physical contact with raccoons.

The city is also urging pet owners to vaccinate their animals against distemper and rabies, monitor them closely when outdoors and keep them under their control to ensure they don't encounter wildlife.

Residents can call 311 or submit requests to pick up larger dead animals, such as raccoons, but smaller animals, such as squirrels, mice, rats and birds, can be double bagged with the bags tied and placed in the garbage.

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