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Dangerous and Illegal: DWR warns of growing wild pet trend after Utah boy is attacked by neighbor’s raccoon

Posted at 6:15 PM, Jan 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-02 20:15:45-05

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is warning the public of the dangers of keeping wild animals as pets after a little boy was attacked by his neighbor’s pet raccoon.

It seems to be a growing trend in the beehive state, Utahns finding dangerous, wild animals and keeping them as pets in their homes.

“I think a lot of times people maybe find them as a baby and think they’re cute and they’ll take them home,” said Faith Heaton Jolley with DWR.

Recently, the crowd favorite has been raccoons. It’s easy to see why people fall in love with their little hands, teddy bear faces and their vocal nature.

“How can you say no to baby raccoons? They were maybe two or three weeks old and could barely hold their head up,” said Kaysville resident, Chris Kostya.

However, looking at them is one thing… taking them into your home and keeping them, is another.

Chris never thought he would end up raising raccoon cubs.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Chris.

“My buddy called me and apparently the nest was destroyed, and the mother took off,” he explained. “The mom didn’t come back, so they were going to drown them in a bucket and my buddy’s like, ‘No, no, no, don’t do that!’ so he scooped them up in his shirt.

He ended up taking in two of the cubs, but he didn’t know much of anything about the wild animal.

“We didn’t know of any dangers or anything like that, just like they’re cute little animals, we’re not going to let them die,” said Chris.

DWR said not only do raccoons get more aggressive as they age, they carry a lot of viral diseases, parasites, ringworm and rabies.

The cubs were only a few weeks old when Chris got them. He bottle fed them, took care of them, loved them and even got them accustomed to being around his daughter and her friends, his cat and his dog.

“Super friendly still, you can see they come right up to you,” he could be heard saying in a video he recorded of the cubs eating some cat food.

As the weeks went on, the cubs got older – but, their mannerisms started to change.

“They started getting more mischievous and more wild, the wild side of them started coming out,” Chris said. “They’d crawl into the trailer, they’d crawl into the neighbor’s house, they’d go into the walls and stuff.”

One of the raccoons even started to become aggressive.

“It made me nervous, she bit me a couple of times and I was concerned,” said Chris. “She’d nip at her too,” he said as he pointed to his daughter.

Chris didn’t think they would be violent, he also didn’t know that it is illegal to own a raccoon in the state of Utah without a permit.

“Raccoons are not native to Utah and they’re not a protected species,” Jolley said. “There often will be citations, most of which are a class b misdemeanor.”

Despite the danger and legality of it, DWR said many Utah families keep raccoons as pets.

A December 11 encounter in Uintah County sent a 5-year-old boy to the hospital for emergency surgery.

“Little boy, you know walking through a field, and his neighbors had a pet raccoon and the raccoon came up and kind of attacked him, started scratching him, biting him,” said Jolley. “The raccoon ended up actually puncturing one of his bones.”

The ‘wild’ nature of the cubs eventually led Chris to release his raccoons back into the wild, before something like that could ever take place.

Still, DWR believes the bites left behind by the other animal, is a good reminder as to why you should never own one in the first place.

The raccoon that bit the boy was euthanized, DWR said the family did not have a permit, and was keeping it illegally.

Utahns can legally own a raccoon if they have a permit from the Department of Agriculture, however, DWR said they are typically only granted if the animal is being used for educational purposes.

Raccoons aren’t the only animal that is illegal to own -- DWR said striped skunks, coyotes and red fox are also considered non-protected wildlife.