Church-going raccoons raising hell with building

Photo Courtesy of Brookdale Reformed Church
The Brookdale Reformed Church, at 16 Bellevue Ave., has been battling an ongoing raccoon problem.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — According to Michele Bruhn, a member of the Brookdale Reformed Church, raccoons love warm attics, garbage cans and being close to people. Unfortunately, all are available at the church whose domain she overlooks as property chairwoman.

“It’s an ongoing problem,” she said recently of her nocturnal invaders, most likely from contiguous Brookdale Park. “It would be nice if we lived in harmony, but I would estimate raccoons have caused $80,000 worth of damage here. The lesson I’ve learned: If you see them on your property looking for a way to get in, don’t think they’re cute; act immediately.”

Ironically, part of the animal attraction is the solar panels the church installed in 2016. In an October, 2022, community discussion, Pastor Susan Dorward said the church had saved $43,000 in electricity costs by installing them. But Bruhn said raccoons plus solar panels are a tricky part of an environmental equation.

“They love to go under the panels,” she said. “They have hands that are very dexterous and they can pull, rip and tear. They’ll rip the shingles right off and try getting into the attic. They did that with the church and that was a new roof.”

She said the first time the panels became a haven was four years ago. The raccoons had to be removed, the roof repaired, the panels reinstalled, and a vendor-approved mesh used to prevent reentry by the raccoons.

“They ripped the mesh right off,” Bruhn said. “It’s only strong enough for birds and squirrels.”
Bruhn has been property chairwoman for about a year and raccoons have been evicted several times already from the three buildings on the church-owned land. In addition to the church, there is an educational center, which also has solar panels, and a mission house, which has none. Nonetheless, the mission house was also invaded, but is presently clean of raccoons. Last year, the educational center had them coming through the roof which caused a leak. Bruhn had contacted Bloomfield Animal Control, but said removing raccoons is not their job.

“How do you know if you have raccoons?” she said. “Look at the corners of your homes and downspouts. A squirrel jumps, but a raccoon has to climb.”

On a tour of the grounds, she pointed out muddy paw prints ascending a mission house downspout. Finding shingles in a gutter, she said, is evidence, too. Hers was an ongoing battle. She gestured to the opening of a hedgehog’s burrow, among faintly inscribed headstones, in the church graveyard. She said raccoons prefer proximity to humans because predatory foxes and coyotes are shy and avoid people. Raccoons also got into the church steeple.

“They’re very clever,” Bruhn said. “They made a hole on the side of the steeple you cannot see. To get up there for repairs, you needed a boom.”

In a telephone interview, Dorward said she hoped raccoons are not an ongoing problem. Despite the frustrations, she found some solace in the fact that the church uses a vendor that humanely traps the animal and relocates them. She was hopeful because a raccoon will follow its instincts back to where it was born. Removed from the area, a generational link would be broken.
Insurance paid a portion the first time the raccoons dug through.

“They say it’s a force of nature or something,” Dorward said.
The church received no financial help from its regional governing body. As for the company that recommended the critter guards, she said they are just ignoring the church.

Dorward said she knew the steeple had to be repaired, but not how badly it had been damaged. When the shingles were removed, raccoon tunnels were found penetrating the supports and the floor was covered with several inches of excrement.

“We love our animals, but this has been a huge problem for us,” she said. “We’re a small church with only 38 people. But the company fixing the steeple has been very gracious and has given us an interest-free loan for one year. The congregation is donating as much as it can. The rest is fundraising. It’s disheartening that so much money is going to keep the structures sound.”

She said, in a way, the pandemic was a saving grace because it closed the church. But the costs have been extraordinary.

“Yet through all of this, we’ve been able to do our mission work and added others,” she said. “We’re not to be deterred from our call to the community and relying on God to see us through this.”
One day, Dorward said she opened the mail and there was a $250 check from a person who never set foot inside her church, but wanted to help.

“There are really good people out there,” she said.