Among the many downsides of the sprawl desecrating the once-rural Triangle countryside is the displacement of animals from their natural habitat. Such is the case in Garner, where lush forestland is quickly being destroyed to accommodate the influx of newcomers in search of cul-de-sacs of their very own.

For the last few months, our yard has become home to a couple of raccoons who used to live in nearby woods recently overrun by bulldozers. I’m no animal lover, but I’m happy to coexist with any of God’s creatures. I wish them no harm.

Soon after they arrived, the raccoons let it be known that they would be sharing space with us. Often we store dry goods on our front porch. Not anymore. We quickly discovered that raccoons will munch on anything from cough drops to Fritos. (They won’t touch raw potatoes, however.)

The raccoons leave vehicles covered with muddy paw prints. If we leave a window in the car rolled down, they will climb in under cover of darkness and consume anything edible. They also raise the ire of our neighbor’s free-range dog (a beast that has probably never felt a leash around its neck, and one that loves to use our yard as a latrine). Many nights–usually between 2 and 4 a.m.–the dog comes upon the raccoons and lets out a howl that startles us out of our slumber.

The raccoons are a bold pair, even coming in broad daylight to eat the cat’s food and snack in our garden. I had hoped to contact animal-control agents, have them trap the masked bandits and relocate them to more rural environs. I called Wake County’s animal-control folks, who told me they don’t trap wildlife. I was told to call the state division of wildlife. When I explained my predicament to the man on the other end of the phone, he told me, “You’ll just have to shoot them.”

I admit to being caught off guard by the man’s suggestion. “I don’t own a gun,” I said.

“Get a friend to shoot it,” he retorted.

When I asked about borrowing a trap, he told me sternly that it was illegal to trap wildlife for the purpose of moving it elsewhere. So it’s OK if I blow their heads off or destroy their habitat, but I’ll be a criminal if I move the raccoons to a safer setting.

Does anyone know the life expectancy of raccoons?