An interview with Raccoon Alliance Advocate MaryEllen Schoeman

Part of my book outreach efforts on social media, for Raccoon Rescue specifically, includes finding animal rehabilitation and advocacy groups to help spread the word. Sometimes they help with reviews, as Roo’s Corner and the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals did. Other times, Raccoon Rescue becomes part of an organization’s fundraising and/or educational outreach.

I connected with one such rehabber / advocate on a Facebook group designed for fundraising to help other rehabbers around the United States. I was thrilled to find out that MaryEllen Schoeman, who runs the California-based Raccoon Alliance, includes Raccoon Rescue as part of an educational package she raffles off at each event she attends.

I’m even more honored that MaryEllen, as busy as she already is between rehabbing, advocacy, and working towards her Master’s degree in Conservation Biology, agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Read on to learn more about what she does, her belief that all animals (not just rare ones) matter, and how Raccoon Rescue fits in!

CM: Your website talks about the need to advocate for animals outside of the endangered species list, but lots of animals are persecuted. What’s behind your raccoon-specific focus?

MS: I am a long-time wildlife rehabber but raccoons were always my favorite and eventually I started rehabbing just them. Due to that, I was asked to help campaign for a bill here in California that would have put some regulations on the “nuisance” wildlife trapping industry.

While doing research, I discovered some horrifying things. Raccoons are the most persecuted non-rodent wildlife there is. States that allow for “sport” hunting and trapping usually do not even have a set hunting season or limit on how many raccoons can be killed. And in the “nuisance” trapping industry, no state has any regulation on when or how many raccoons can be killed.

In researching how many raccoons are killed every year, I discovered that there is no way to tell, since nuisance trappers are not required to report their numbers. In many states, sport hunters and trappers don’t have to report either. But getting numbers from the states that require reporting, I discovered that there are a million raccoons killed each year for “sport”, and that doesn’t even count the ones killed under nuisance laws, or the ones killed by state or federal agencies.

Think about that. Over a million killed every year. And for what. For fun. Or because a mother raccoon made the mistake of denning in an attic. That’s unacceptable to me. So, I created the Raccoon Alliance, with the aim of stopping this killing. I decided to take on the nuisance trapping industry first, so that’s what I’m focused on now.

CM: Tell me a little more about Raccoon Alliance and some of your success stories?

MS: The Alliance is just getting going in terms of outreach. We did our first outreach event last spring. We focus on showing people non-lethal ways to deal with raccoons in attics, crawl spaces, etc., and on figuring out how to deter raccoons from yards and buildings in order to reduce raccoon/human conflict.

In California it’s illegal to relocate trapped wildlife, but nuisance trappers are allowed to advertise themselves as “humane” despite the fact that they kill everything that they trap, so I’ve been trying to educate people that their “humane” solution kills animals and creates orphans.

I got a call one day from a guy who had a raccoon denning under his porch. I went out and found a mother with newborns. He agreed to follow my advice and leave her alone until the babies were old enough for the mother to move to a new den. When I asked him where he had heard about us, he said he had gotten the info from the local print shop that did my brochures and business cards.

I went to the shop and found that they were distributing my brochures and business cards at the counter. They told me that they had a problem with raccoons in their loading dock area and followed the advice in my brochure, and were so impressed that they printed up a bunch to give to people.

What made me so happy was that these guys are not “animal people”, they are just people who tried the methods I suggested and it worked so well that they wanted others to know. If we are ever going to put a stop to nuisance trapping, that’s who we need to reach — people who don’t necessarily care about animals but just want a good solution to coping with conflict with raccoons.

CM: You include games like “Be a Raccoon” at your booth during events like EcoFest. Can you tell me more about what’s involved with the game, and what you feel is so important about reaching children with games and books?

MS: The other audience that I try to reach is children. When talking to kids I just talk about how wonderful and cool raccoons are. The “Be a Raccoon” game is a covered box full of water with different objects in it. Kids reach their hands in and try to identify objects by touch.

I also have a photo station where people can take photos of themselves with raccoon masks or puppets, holding signs that say “Raccoons are awesome” or “I love raccoons” which kids really love.

It’s so important to reach children because they are the next generation of decision-makers. I think that children are generally naturally drawn to animals, but that part of them is often lost as they grow up. But if we use every opportunity that we have to reinforce that natural love, it will be better able to withstand the pressures of adulthood. I think of it as helping kids to build a “fortress of kindness” that will stay strong even when others around them may think that caring for animals is stupid or childish.

CM: How do Raccoon Rescue and the other books in your raffle package fit into your overall education and advocacy efforts?

MS: I love Raccoon Rescue because it hits on several topics that are really important to the mission of the Raccoon Alliance: that raccoons are individual beings, with their own personalities, thoughts, and fears; that if they get into trash or are “pests”, it is because humans have [not] taken proper care; and that no matter how cute raccoons are, they should not be taken from the wild.

That last one is so important, because well-meaning people frequently do the wrong thing. And it reinforces my message to adults, which is “don’t create orphans by trapping mother raccoons”. While Raccoon Rescue is not about trapping, it makes the point that baby raccoons and mothers belong together.

The other books that I raffle off are The Kissing Hand (it’s a classic, after all), and an encyclopedia of north American mammals for older children.

CM: What’s in Raccoon Alliance’s future?

MS: My plan is, starting locally, to get people to start only using wildlife control services that use eviction-exclusion instead of trapping. So first, I am educating people that if a nuisance trapper removes an animal from their property, it is being killed. 95% of the people that I talk to don’t know that.

Once I get some momentum, I want to try again with that bill I worked on, which did not get passed, that would require nuisance trappers to tell clients, verbally and in writing, that they were going to kill trapped animals. This, I think, will force trappers into offering non-lethal alternatives. I want to get that bill going in the next five years.

After that, I’m going to turn my attention to “sport” trappers. It’s not as powerful a lobby here as it is in some states, so CA is a good place to start legislating against the sport trapping industry. That is a very long term thing though, I will probably be dead or at least retired by then but I’m structuring the Alliance to go on as an organization long after I am gone.

Thanks, MaryEllen! I’m so pleased to have met you and look forward to seeing what you and the Raccoon Alliance do in the future! Check out the Raccoon Alliance website here, and be sure to like their page on Facebook!

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