Early morning. The flap of the pet door means kitty has come in — loudly. Now she's nudging the food bowl, scraping the plastic and...

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Early morning. The flap of the pet door means kitty has come in — loudly. Now she’s nudging the food bowl, scraping the plastic and munching — very loudly. Wait a minute, that’s not my cat! It’s a raccoon … or two … or a family.

Urbanization has put us into more frequent contact with raccoons (Procyon lotor), highly adaptable mammals that average 20 pounds but can reach 60 if on an urban diet.

They can be cute and mischievous (in one household a raccoon tried to steal the family’s Tickle Me Elmo, which was found lodged in the cat door — still giggling).

But raccoons can also be very aggressive. They’re suspected of killing at least 10 cats in one neighborhood this summer. The crimes weren’t proven, but they did prompt a headline to declare, “Psycho Killer Raccoons Terrorize Olympia.”

So it’s best for humans and raccoons to keep their distance, which means removing the things that tempt them. When raccoons sense an easy meal, they will go for it, like walking by a burger stand. Here are some suggestions to prevent further incursions:

• Lock your pet door for good.

• Keep cats indoors.

• Don’t even feed your pets outside.

• Keep pet food in a locked container or inside the house.

• Never feed, approach or touch raccoons.

• Make sure garbage-can lids are secure.

If you find a raccoon in your house and you are tempted to grab the nearest broom, remember, raccoons can cause considerable home disfigurement if frightened. Put pets and children in another closed room. Don’t approach, touch or corner the animal.

Close interior doors, open exterior doors and windows, leave the room and wait. Be prepared for the raccoon to choose an exit other than the pet door.

If the raccoon refuses to leave, call the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for a list of licensed trappers. Find more information on how to live with raccoons at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/raccoons.htm.

Patricia Thompson is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She can be reached at thomppat@dfw.wa.gov.