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Critters help themselves to 'buffet night' in Baldwin Borough

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 8:48 p.m.
John Conley of Baldwin Borough places a partial can of cat food into cage trap to catch unwanted raccoons in the neighborhood. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Roaming raccoons wound up prisoners in a steel cage and were none too happy about it. Submitted photos
John Conley of Baldwin Borough points out where he will place a trap, a spot known for the raccoons. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
John Conley of Baldwin Borough holds celery covered in peanut butter used to trap neighborhood raccoons. Conley also uses Cherries, cat food and left over beef patties. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item

Each Tuesday has become known as “buffet night” on Elmwood Drive in Baldwin Borough.

When residents toss their trash to the curb, critters come out from hiding in search of the week's best find: cantaloupe rinds, rotted tomatoes or leftover crumbs from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

But they don't just stick to the garbage. The friendly beasts devour mom's prize garden and hang out on back porches during the evening hours.

“If you go into the woods, you expect to see them, but not at your house,” said Elmwood Drive resident Frank Thompson, 71, who has lived at his home since 1968.

South Hills residents say they are seeing more wild animals this year in their suburban communities. And the types of animals – raccoons daring enough to snatch their pizza out of the box – has left them puzzled. There always have been the deer, groundhogs and wild turkeys. Now, there are raccoons and skunks to add to the mix.

And many local municipalities are prepared to help residents handle the problem, keeping traps on hand and calls to animal control at easy access.

John Conley, 71, and his wife, Marianne, 59, moved into their Elmwood Drive home nearly 37 years ago. At that time, the biggest problem they had with wild animals was an overabundance of turkeys, they said.

During the last few years, though, that has changed.

Deer, groundhogs and other creatures were killing Marianne's garden. So, last year, they started setting up traps to catch the animals.

This year, their encounters with raccoons went to a whole new level.

Early in the spring, the Conley's son, Patrick, 25, was walking in the family's yard when a raccoon began to approach him. That was enough to prompt the couple to begin setting up traps again this year.

But their run-ins with the animals only got stranger during the summer.

The Conleys found a raccoon hanging out on their porch late one night. And there was the time that their son tripped over a raccoon that was sitting in the yard as still as a tree stump.

Another night, Patrick Conley was enjoying bacon pizza with friends in the family's backyard. He and his friends walked around the front of the house for one moment, only to return and find a raccoon sitting in the yard holding a piece of the pizza in its paws, ready to take a bite.

“They're definitely annoying,” Marianne Conley said of the wild animals she has to deal with in her yard. “The raccoons concern us, because they're so aggressive.”

“They should be afraid of us, but they're not,” John Conley said.

The Conleys and Thompson have worked together this summer in their trapping mission.

They have a strategy: they put the trap in different yards, depending on how the animals are responding. And they've found that the animals like fresh vegetables and fruit, and peanut butter and jelly.

So far this summer, using traps from the Baldwin Borough public works department, the neighbors have caught two possums, three groundhogs, nine raccoons and one rabbit and squirrel, the latter two of which they released back into the wild.

Baldwin Borough has at least 15 traps that residents are allowed to borrow at any time, at no cost to them, borough Manager John Barrett said. The borough's public works crews will drop off the traps at residents' homes and pick them up once a animal has been caught. Except in the case of skunks, where the borough calls its animal control company to haul away the animals, Barrett said.

At some points this summer, there have been at least 10 people on a waiting list to use the traps, Barrett said.

Most of the calls to the borough offices about wild animals are for raccoons, Barrett said.

“It is a little surprising, the volume that we've had,” he said.

Baldwin Township has two traps that residents can borrow for a $25 deposit, municipal officials said. When a resident returns the traps, he gets his deposit back. The township's animal control company, Ferree Kennels, will pick up animals in traps for a $15 charge, officials said.

Most of the complaints in the township this year have been for feral cats. Residents also say they have problems with groundhogs, deer and turkeys, officials said.

Residents with an animal complaint in Whitehall contact police dispatch, who are in touch with the Mt. Lebanon Animal Control, which oversees the borough's animal issues, deputy police Chief Richard Danko said.

The biggest animal complaint in Whitehall is for barking dogs, Danko said. Complaints for wild animals include raccoons, and deer getting struck by cars.

“It's a peaceful coexistence, until they run into your Chevy,” Danko said.

Residents have been alarmed by the animals they've seen in the area and contacted police.

Danko's most memorable call was when a resident of South Passage Drive called Whitehall police to report a deer running down the middle of her street.

“She stated she believed it was an escapee from South Park because it was the first time she'd seen a deer in the area,” Danko said.

The overabundance of wild animals in the area in recent years doesn't surprise Baldwin Township resident Debby Fromherz, 62, who has lived in the municipality since 1976.

She attributes the increase of wild animals in the South Hills to new developments in the area.

“You take their habitat away, where are they supposed to go?” she asked.

Fromherz enjoys watching the large number of deer and turkeys in her backyard — sometimes as many as 35 to 40 — although she said she gave up on planting a garden because they destroyed it.

Fromherz enjoys the outdoors and has a cabin in Forest County that she has been going to since 1955. Yet, she said, in recent years, she sees more wildlife in her small, suburban community than she sees at the rural cabin.

“If you want to see deer, don't go to Forest County, come to Baldwin Township, they're right here, crossing McNeilly Road,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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