Justin Hogan came home on Wednesday morning to find a grisly scene in his fifth-floor walk-up apartment on Third Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
Seeing that the screen had been pried out of its window frame, he worried at first that his cat had gotten out onto the adjoining roof. Then he noticed the bloody paw prints on the window sill.
Following the tracks to the bathroom, Hogan found his six-month old tabby Nigel lying dead in the tub. He says the bathtub was where Nigel typically ran to hide when he was scared.
"It was pretty gruesome, like blood-spattered-on-the-wall gruesome," said Hogan. Nigel had been ripped open and his intestines were spilling out. Although there were no other animals in the apartment when he got home, Hogan feels certain that his cat was attacked by a raccoon. Aside from the bloody tracks left across the floor and window sill, Hogan also found a hard plastic jar of kitty treats with distinctive claw marks, four on each side. The was another shredded bag of treats on the roof outside.
"Coming from Northern Westchester we're accustomed to dealing with raccoons," said the 31-year-old civil engineer.
Hogan lives in a five-story building surrounded by four-story ones, and surmises that a raccoon could have climbed a tree to get onto the roof below his window.
"I was always more concerned about some punk kids breaking in and stealing the flatscreen," Hogan said. "I never thought this was a possibility."
Raccoon home invasions are hardly unheard of in Park Slope, a neighborhood bordering the wilds of both Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. Over the last couple of years, The New York Times has reported on a spate of raccoon break-ins in the neighborhood, including one gruesome incident last summer where the intruder somehow managed to strangle herself in the family's silverware drawer. The run-ins became so commonplace that last August, City Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley introduced a bill requiring the department of health to remove a raccoon from public or private property whenever anyone requests it, instead of only when rabies is suspected.
But raccoon attacks on household pets – especially indoor pets – are seldom seen.
"This would definitely be the first case of someone saying that the raccoon actually came into their house that I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve been here for nine years," said Billy Leou, the receptionist at Park Slope Veterinary Care, who saw Nigel when Hogan brought the cat's remains to the vet on Wednesday morning.
"The only other thing I can recall is a gentleman who lived in the Flatbush-Midwood area, and he’s come in with a story that they fight with the stray cats that he feeds in his backyards, and it’s a ongoing war. But not on this side of the park."
David Quinn of Nassau County-based DQ Pest Control expressed some skepticism that a raccoon would prey on a cat inside an apartment. Quinn has been working in wildlife removal for eight years, and he frequently comes to Brooklyn to extract raccoons that have taken up residence in attics.
"People give raccoons a bad name and they have an unwarranted fear of them," he said. Yet he admitted that he has seen the darker side of raccoons' handiwork.
"I did once find a cat in somebody's driveway and the thing was gutted. But that was probably in competition for food with raccoons."
Quinn wonders if the raccoon might have been drawn to the apartment by the food inside and then tussled with Nigel when the cat tried to protect his territory.
Lori Severino, Press Officer for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, confirms that such attacks are not common, but warns that the behavior could be a very bad sign.
"It is unusual for a raccoon to kill a cat. Very unusual," she said. "It does sounds like something was wrong with this raccoon for this to happen, and most likely that would be rabies."
In February 2010, the city's department of health issued a warning that raccoon rabies had spiked that year, with 39 cases found in Manhattan since December 2009. By the end of 2010, the number had climbed past 100, and two rabid raccoons were found in Brooklyn. The health department responded to the outbreak by implementing a widespread vaccination program on raccoons living in city parks, and the numbers have dropped dramatically this year, with only a handful of cases found citywide. There were no reported cases in Brooklyn in 2011.
This may provide little consolation for the bereft Hogan, however. "It's just so tough," he said of Nigel. "He was nothing but just a happy, silly little guy."