Tired of waking up to find her pantry trashed and some of the containers bearing gnaw marks, Nicole Koester repurposed a baby-cam from her toddler's room and managed to catch the masked bandits in the act.
A couple of raccoons had been casing her Ahwatukee Foothills home each night, waiting for the family to go to bed so they could enter the doggy door and gorge themselves on dog food, Ramen Noodles and oatmeal.
"They were getting more brazen as the nights went on," said Koester, whose home on 29th Avenue in the Summit gated community backs up to the western end of South Mountain, a large nature preserve that's one of the largest urban parks in the country.
When she noticed that they had begun climbing over a baby gate and wandering around the living room, she decided enough was enough, especially with her 2-year-old son, Connor, in the house.
"That's when I said, ‘We're done,'" Koester said. "They can carry a lot of disease and can get quite vicious if trapped."
She said she's begun locking her doggy door at night to keep out the raccoons.
Encounters between residents and wildlife are not uncommon in Ahwatukee. Koester said in the five years she's lived in her current home, she's also found several rattlesnakes and tarantulas.
Barry Eager, whose home backs up to another natural area northeast of Chandler Boulevard and Mountain Parkway, said he often sees groups of coyotes and javelinas make their way down wildlife corridors into the city. Eager and several of his neighbors have had cats fall victim to coyotes, he said.
"We lost a cat just the other day. We're fairly certain that's where it went," he said. "Everybody seems to have lost cats."
Joe Allen, owner of the Phoenix-based Allen Animal Control, said he gets about three calls a month to trap and remove wild animals from Ahwatukee homes. There are some steps residents can take to minimize the risk of attracting them, he said.
For instance, keep shrubbery around the home to a minimum to reduce the areas where animals can hide. Don't leave pet food outside, and avoid leaving small pets out alone for long periods of time, he said.
Allen said putting out food to attract small animals like rabbits and birds can have unintended consequences.
"That just draws in food items for larger predators," he said.
If you do run into a large animal like a coyote or bobcat, maintain eye contact and don't turn your back on them, Allen said.
Eager said he doesn't mind having wild animals around, as long as they maintain a healthy fear of people.
"It's just nature. That's the way it is. I'm glad to see it's not a sterile city," he said.