The raccoons of Cauley Square will nibble on your shoe laces, crawl over your feet and brush up against your legs. They are wild but not rabid. They are cuddly but also conniving. Emboldened by decades of free reign, these intelligent creatures have turned treacherous. And they are legion. That's why the owner of the Goulds attraction has decided to trap the raccoons and release them in the Everglades.
Although people come to the historic railroad village to wander through its foliage and peruse its antique stores, the raccoons were among its biggest draws. Honey Chalmers, one of the Square's tenants, says the animals were there before she opened Today's Collectibles 38 years ago. She started attracting more of them with cat food, and about 40 were permanent fixtures of her business until about a month ago.
That's when a private trapper from Homestead came and started scooping them up, she says. Forty became twelve. Twelve became four. Now, she says, there's a sole raccoon left. Chalmers hears they're taking that one away this afternoon. Soon, all she'll have left is a framed photo of two raccoons that hangs near the checkout counter of her store.
"Those poor creatures don't stand a chance in the Everglades," she says. "They're just going to become python food."
But the owner of Cauley Square says they were wreaking havoc by breaking into stores, smashing merchandise and ruining roofs. According to Frances Valera, who's run the place for about a decade, they've been a costly nuisance.
"People get scared because some of them have never seen a raccoon before," says Valera's assistant, Anna Gutierrez. "Some brides don't want to do weddings here, because they're afraid."
Chalmers couldn't disagree more. Cauley Square has been quiet since its main attraction has been shipped off to the 'Glades. People loved the raccoons, she says, and the place is lonely without them. Not only are there no furry friends running amok -- there's no customers either.
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"Since they've been gone, there hasn't been any business here to speak of," she says. "But [Valera] owns the property and she has the right to get rid of them -- What are you going to do?"
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