Ring-tailed rascals invade White House grounds

WASHINGTON — A small band of masked intruders has broken into the secure White House grounds and has evaded capture by agents of the new Obama administration, officials said today.

The National Park Service is in pursuit of one very large raccoon and several medium-sized raccoons, who have been spotted roaming the grounds around the Executive Mansion and the West Wing, a spokesman said.

“The idea of raccoons on the White House grounds give us great pause,” spokesman Bill Burton said.

So far, the raccoons have evaded capture despite the presence of several “live traps,” which are essentially cages with one-way doors to keep the animals inside.

The traps are baited with apples, cat food and peanut butter, Burton said, but so far to little avail.

None of the raccoons have been seen in the past week, but officials said they still believe the wild animals are roaming the premises. The hunt continues, Burton said.

If the animals are captured, Burton said, the National Park Service will release them, unharmed, into an unspecified wooded area.

The Humane Society describes the raccoon as one of the few species of wild animals to have adapted well to life in cities and towns.

“With their bandit’s mask and ringed tail, raccoons (Procyon lotor) are one of North America’s most charismatic and recognizable species — even if they are not frequently seen due to their nocturnal habits,” the society says on its Web site.

They normally make their dens in “tree cavities, chimneys and attics, as well as underground in old woodchuck burrows, storm sewers or crawl spaces under buildings,” the site says.

The presidential raccoons appear to have upgraded to fancier digs.

Tim McDowell, a raccoon-trapper with 15 years of experience in the Washington, D.C., area, says the National Park Service is probably using the wrong cages or the wrong bait.

“See, their cages probably don’t smell right,” McDowell explained. “They probably don’t have the smell of other raccoons on them.”

McDowell has already removed birds that were flying inside the U.S. Capitol, but he says he’s always dreamed of catching a raccoon on the White House grounds.

Normally, McDowell charges $195 for the setup fee plus $50 for each raccoon caught. But if asked, he said he would trap the raccoons for free. “I won’t charge ‘em nothing,” he said. “We do it every day.”

Burton said the presence of raccoons at the White House is not unprecedented. It happens every now and then, he said.

According to legend, President Calvin Coolidge had several “unusual pets,” including two raccoons, a bobcat and a donkey.

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