By Ron Leir
On an early August night, a few weeks ago, Kearny’s Julie Kelley recalls her husband Ed calling her to the window of the couple’s Morgan Place home and inviting her to look next door where the beacon from his flash light was focused.
It was there, caught in the glow from the beam, that she saw them – two raccoons straddling the space between the attic and roof of 47 Morgan Place.
After the couple snapped a photo, Kelley downloaded the image from her camera and sent it to Mayor Alberto Santos, who, in turn, forwarded it to the town’s Health Department.
“It worries me,” Julie Kelley told The Observer. “I have to live here. I don’t want raccoons in my house.”
Bill Pettigrew, a municipal public health inspector, said: “It was brought to our attention by a neighbor that a family of raccoons – a mother and two offspring – were living inside the home at 47 Morgan Place.”
That location has been well-known to the department since fall 2010 when the house was vacated and the Kelleys began to be plagued by various property issues: water spewing from a broken pipe in the basement, rats occupying a dilapidated garage, an unsafe exposed outdoor pool, backyard overgrowth, and now, animal squatters.
To deal with the prior problems, the town capped the leak, tore down the garage, filled in the pool and cut the grass, placing tax liens on the property owner’s tax bill for the cost of the work.
As for the raccoons, Pettigrew figured the animals were getting in and out of the building through gaps in the roof eaves, in the front and rear of the house. So he enlisted the aid of the town’s public works crew to cover up the gaps with plywood and, with an assist from Bergen County animal control officer Bob Harris (contracted by Kearny on an as-need basis), rigged an outside trap with cat food and water along the eaves designed to allow an animal in but once inside, it could not return; it could go only one way – out.
“I also saw an opening at the base of the first floor where the siding meets the porch and we boarded that up, too,” Pettigrew said. “We also set up three traps on the grounds in the backyard.” It was in one of those traps that, soon after, “one of the offspring was caught,” he said. And, a few days after that, a skunk was found in a trap.
The Kelleys were concerned that possibly the mother raccoon and her other offspring remained inside the house, but Pettigrew told The Observer he felt that wasn’t the case.
“I put out more food inside the trap, plus food and water outside the ledge, about a foot away from the trap, as a lure, and, next day, I saw fresh claw marks on the siding and I saw that the food was gone and the water dish was tipped over on its side, so my guess is they got outside and we won’t see them inside anymore,” Pettigrew said.
“There are raccoons all over town,” he said. “It’s just nature. They even travel through the sewer system.”
And – like other animals in the wild – they may carry rabies or other diseases so it’s best to avoid contact with them, Pettigrew cautioned.