Raccoons like to seek out a warm quiet space for a den, such as an attic. Since they have five-fingered front paws, they can tear open siding, break louver vents, tear screen doors, rip off shingles, chew on wiring, bite water lines and tear loose drains and gutters, causing thousands of dollars of property damage.

They have been known to bring health risks when they occupy a home. One of the well-known risks is rabies, although it is on the decline. They also carry ticks and fleas, and if they invade a home, a sudden infestation of these insects is common. After raccoons are removed from a home, a complete cleanup and decontamination is necessary.

Wildlife trapper Steve Sharon from Steve's Wildlife Removal in Island Park, who has been trapping raccoons and other critters for the past 30 years, offers these preventive tips for homeowners:

1. Inspect your property

Look at tree branches or shrubs that are close to or touching your home; raccoon can easily gain access that way. Raccoons are not jumpers, but they are excellent climbers. If a raccoon is looking for a place to give birth, she can be ingenious about finding a way into a home, even if it means going inside a chimney.

2. Get animal-proof vents and exhaust pipes

Many of the covers installed on homes are not strong enough to keep animals out. Covers should be made of 14- or 16-gauge galvanized steel with a plastic coating to prevent it from rusting.

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3. Don't leave out food at night

Raccoons are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and searching for food after dark. If you barbecue, make sure all food products are removed and the grill is scrubbed clean, with no crumbs left on the ground. Keep the grill's lid closed.

4. If you feed pets outside, clean up afterward

Remove any pet food that is next to a door or an open window and keep water dishes in the home away from windows and doors. Raccoons seek out water to wash their food.

5. Lock pet doors at night

Raccoons have been known to gain entry to a house through pet doors to steal food.

6. Secure your garbage

Keep food trash double-bagged and place in locking trash cans that can't be opened by raccoons. Never leave trash in bags on the ground. That's an open invitation for the bags to be ripped open and food to be strewn about.

7. Keep pet food sealed

If you store pet food in a garage or shed, keep it in a sealed plastic container. One woman on Long Island told Steve Sharon that she saw a raccoon dragging a bag of cat food from the garage down the driveway.