Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bomb Dog Units, Airport Police and LAPD Skirmish at LAX, While Overbilling by LAPD Brings Feds into the Fray

Catherine White worked as a K-9 handler for the U.S. Customs Service for four years.  At night she took classes in law enforcement. After 9/11, she got a job with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) where she was assigned to a bomb dog named Charlie and became part of the LAX security system. She was occasionally paired with other handlers like Carl Smith, a bomb dog handler with the Los Angeles Police Department. Carl, though part of the LAPD’s office at LAX, occasionally participated in special duty protection details outside of LAX for visiting dignitaries or to sweep large scale community events with his bomb dog. Carl mentioned his salary to Catherine once, which was substantially higher than hers.

Catherine complained to her LAWAPD commander, Matthew Black, about the salary differential, given that she was doing substantially the same work as her counterparts in the LAPD bomb dog unit at LAX.  She also told her union representative.  Both her supervisor and her union rep were familiar with this issue. Captain Black had recently discovered that the LAPD bomb dog unit was engaging in patrols along the perimeter fence of the airport after the LAPD received intelligence that a terrorist group might attempt to enter the airport grounds through the fence.  Neither the LAWAPD nor anyone in the LAWA executive group was informed of the LAPD operation in advance.  At a meeting held with regard to LAWA’s complaint to the mayor of Los Angeles and the LAPD Chief, the head of the LAPD bomb dog unit conspicuously refused to shake hands with Matthew Black. Others who were present said it was Black who had refused to shake hands. 

Over the next few years, additional incidents involving LAPD deployments at LAX occurred several times a year and at least once led to a shoving match. Catherine began trying to avoid working with Carl and with other LAPD handlers and requested a change of assignment.   

This is an attempt to imagine an individual handler's perspective, though some of the details are taken from an employment dispute at LAX discussed in a prior blog.  Friction at an individual level soon moved up through administrative ranks and became well known across the airport and LA government generally. In addition to supervisors in various chains of command at LAWA and in Los Angeles city government, unions got involved, and officials and unions got various politicians to make legislative proposals and initiate studies and investigations.  Despite a series of proposed solutions, including three consecutive agreements regarding responsibilities and operations signed by both LAWA and LAPD officials, and attempts to bring the units together for softball and other social interactions where tension was supposed to be defused, the skirmishing continued and may have gotten worse. 

In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration looked at the problem and largely exonerated the LAPD of an overbilling claim, but now the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation has reached a nearly opposite conclusion and determined that the FAA’s supervision of LAPD reimbursable expenditures has been inadequate.  

Inspector General and Federal Aviation Administration Disagree on LAPD Overbilling Claims

The audit report of the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General released in April 2014 states that the Los Angeles Police Department, from July 2007 to June 2012, may have overbilled the Federal Aviation Administration as much as $8 million for services that were not related to LAPD’s responsibilities at LAX.  Almost $2 million of that overbilling came from the airport canine unit of the LAPD.   

In December 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration began an investigation regarding similar suspicions about the LAPD but concluded in July 2012 that, aside from a billing error relating to the use of the LAPD’s bomb squad to respond to a call away from LAX, there had been no serious infraction of federal protocols on what the FAA could be billed for. 

The overbilling that was uncovered by the DOT Inspector General seems to have stopped more or less when the FAA concluded its investigation in mid-2012, suggesting that the FAA's investigation may have led LAPD officials to be more careful about their recordkeeping at that point. Why the FAA’s investigation did not uncover the overbilling later found by the Inspector General, or at least the substantial lack of documentation of LAPD expenses billed for, is unclear.  The authors of this blog have requested a copy of the report of the FAA investigation, which was not publicly available on any website of the agencies involved, and only alluded to in news reports, but we have yet to receive a copy and are not particularly hopeful of obtaining it.  A report commissioned by the President of the Los Angeles County Homeland Security Advisory Council from the UCLA Department of Public Policy noted that a number of documents relating to security at LAX could not be obtained after being declared too sensitive for public release, which may be what we are encountering here.  If we ultimately get the document, we will revise this blog as needed and acknowledge any errors we have made that result from not initially having it. 

The title of the Inspector General’s audit report indicates that the FAA shares blame for the revenue diversion:  FAA Oversight Is Inadequate to Ensure Proper Use of Los Angeles International Airport Revenue for Police Services and Maximization of Resources (AV-2014-035, April 8, 2014).  Thus, there are two problems: the diversion of funds by the LAPD, and the FAA’s failure to assure that reimbursements sought for LAPD work were justified under federal regulations.  Whether FAA investigators followed Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, as did the Inspector General, cannot be determined without a copy of the FAA’s findings.  Some level of sloppiness would be a charitable explanation.  A less charitable explanation would be that the FAA did not want to advertise its own incompetence in the management of taxpayer dollars and mistakenly assumed that the evidence raising such an issue would not be of sufficient interest to anyone else to investigate. 

LAX may not be the only airport billing the FAA for off-airport activities of state or local police authorities.  An April 9 letter to Congress accompanying the audit report expresses the Inspector General’s concern with “revenue diversion at the nation’s airports,” suggesting that other facilities may be under suspicion. This could, of course, indicate a wider pattern and practice inside the FAA as well.  

FAA Reimbursement of Local Authorities

Under the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 (49 U.S.C. 47107(b)) and the FAA’s Airport Revenue Use Policy, Airport Revenue may be used for “capital or operating costs of the airport, the local airport system, or other local facilities owned or operated by the airport owner or operator and directly and substantially related to the air transportation of passengers or property. Such costs may include reimbursements to a state or local agency for the costs of services actually received and documented….” Airport revenue is defined quite broadly to include revenue coming from the operation of the airport, from granting rights to conduct activities on the airport property, from the sale of airport real property, etc.  The idea of restricting the use of airport revenue at federally-assisted airports is to make them as self-sufficient as possible, thereby limiting the federal financing required.  Federal rules state that “[r]evenue diversion is the use of airport revenue for purposes other than the capital or operating costs of the airport, the local airport system, or other local facilities owned or operated by the airport owner or operator and directly and substantially related to the air transportation of passengers or property.” 

Los Angeles International Airport Showing Police Facilities
Reimbursable operating costs of a local agency do not include off-airport work of a local police department that divides its responsibilities between the airport and the surrounding community.  Here’s where the dogs come in.  The Inspector General’s report states that in “2012, LAWA identified that the City incorrectly charged LAWA approximately $1.7 million, including statutory interest, for off-airport responses by the City’s Bomb K-9 unit.”  The IG’s April 9 letter to Congressmen elaborates that the LAPD Bomb Squad K-9 teams were “deployed off-airport for events such as dignitary protection details, major public events susceptible to terrorism, and reports of a potential explosive device.” 

The map shows the location of the LAPD K-9 unit which, being on the edge of the airport grounds, allows for easy off-airport deployment.  The letter to Congress also puts the exact amount of the Bomb Squad K-9 Unit’s charges for non-airport assignments at $1,734,060, including statutory interest. 

Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association vs. LAPD  

Both the 2012 FAA investigation and the 2014 audit by the DOT Inspector General were in part initiated by complaints of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association (LAAPOA), a union that represents the airport police force, the Los Angeles World Airport Police Department (LAWAPD).  LAWAPD, which had 450 officers in 2011, is entirely separate from, and often at odds with, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). LAAPOA has been concerned that its members are paid less than LAPD officers doing equivalent jobs, that LAPD officers regard the LAWAPD as not being a real police department with real police but rather a collection of glorified security guards, that LAPD units undertake operations without consulting or coordinating with LAWAPD units, and that the security of the airport is compromised by the lack of effective coordination between the units. 

LAPD officials agree with the risks coming from the lack of coordination, but say that the LAWAPD shares the blame.   In a 2006 posting on the LAPD website, then Los Angeles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton acknowledged the responsibilities of the LAPD and LAWAPD at LAX were often overlapping and misunderstood, but insisted that any discussion of a turf war between the agencies was purely a creation of the press. In any case, the matter was going to be solved by a new Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between LAPD and LAWAPD.  The 2006 MOA was a revision of a 1988 MOA that had proved inadequate in clarifying responsibilities.  Subsequent events have demonstrated that the 2006 MOA was also unable to resolve the friction, so on March 24, 2013, a new MOA was signed, as will be described below. 

Los Angeles Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel

Concerns about security at LAX reached such a level that LA Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa convened a “Blue Ribbon Panel” chaired by a federal judge, Lourdes G. Baird, and a retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, Judith C. Chirlin.  The Panel submitted its report on LAX security in June 2011, finding that LAX “remains a (redacted) target for terrorists.”  The report contains 119 redactions, so it cannot be certain that all conclusions relevant for this blog are publicly available, though some of the redactions are of single words or phrases and seem to reflect a rather bureaucratic belief that anything that smells bad should be excised.  The Panel states the scope of the disaster that could arise were LAX compromised: 

“LAX is a (redacted) target for terrorists and encompasses over 3,425 acres with multiple access points and a vast perimeter. It has over 48,000 personnel who work at the airport, and over 59 million passengers traveled through LAX last year. In addition, there are numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with both overlapping jurisdictions and distinct responsibilities for security at the airport.”

What is the missing adjective before “target”? Prime? Ideal?  Appropriate would be too mild to be worth taking out.  Inevitable would be too literary for a group of judges and officials.  In any case, anyone who is a fan of NCIS-Los Angeles regularly sees the City saved from disasters far more extensive than could be imagined by the redactors of this document. 

Of particular concern to the Panel was the “historical tension between the LAWAPD and LAPD” which “impedes their willingness to share information and coordinate their counterterrorism efforts.  The lack of close planning and coordination between LAWAPD and LAPD increases the risk that critical information may not be disseminated to each other in a timely fashion.”  Yet the Panel disagreed with a June 8, 2010 letter it quoted from the LAAPOA and the Service Employees International Union to the Chief of LAWAPD stating that LAX “is more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than at any time since 9/ll.” The Panel was critical of the LAAPOA for not keeping its security concerns internal but instead issuing “press releases publicly setting forth their concerns about airport security.”  Some of those press releases were, according to the Panel, inaccurate:

“Following the March 2, 2011 shooting of U.S. military personnel in Germany, the airport police union issued a press release erroneously claiming that the LAWAPD had ‘stepped up security’ and thereby gave the misleading impression that there was a credible threat to Los Angeles. More recently, the airport police union issued a press release erroneously indicating that LAWAPD was on ‘heightened alert’ following the death of Osama bin Laden.”

The Panel accused the union leadership of exacerbating tensions between LAWAPD and LAPD officers in a manner it deemed unnecessary and unprofessional and said the union was “advocating the complete elimination of the LAPD’s presence at the airport, even though this is very unlikely to occur.”   

There was specific mention of the canine units of the separate police forces:  “LAWAPD and LAPD also have officers assigned to the joint explosive detection canine unit, which has more canine teams than any other airport in the nation.”  “Joint” may be overstating the relationship, as the Panel recognized that the units were still separate, that “both LAWAPD and LAPD have canine units that patrol the airport,” and that these separate units “coordinate their daily canine deployments.”  A footnote elaborated:

“When two officers and their canines are deployed together, one of the teams may be from LAPD and the other team may be from LAWAPD. The departments are in the process of updating their standard operating procedures to address the minimum deployment levels for the airport based upon viewing the LAPD and LAWAPD as one unit. In reviewing the canine teams, we did note that the canine facility at the airport is inadequate to accommodate the current number of canines deployed at the airport.”

Although the report was issued prior to the beginning of the FAA’s investigation into the claims of the LAAPOA that LAPD was improperly receiving reimbursement from the FAA for off-airport work, the Panel seems to have known of the issue as it alludes to concern “about diverting police resources away from LAX….” There is no elaboration, however, so it is not certain if this concern might relate to bomb dog units or other units in the LAPD. 

Referring to the 2006 MOA between the LAWAPD and the LAPD, about which Chief Bratton had expressed such optimism five years earlier, the Panel states: 

“Another problem is that the MOA between the departments is often interpreted differently by both departments, is not always followed in practice, and does not necessarily reflect the current allocation and utilization of police resources at LAX. Each department interprets the MOA to its own perceived advantage, and in a manner that is frequently inconsistent to how the other department interprets the MOA. The result is that both departments are engaged in what could be considered ‘mission creep,’ in that they have expanded their duties or seek to expand their duties into the area that is the responsibility of the other department.”

The Panel’s recommended solutions are based around improved coordination between the various law enforcement groups operating at the airport, with more exact boundaries between their authority and responsibilities. 

UCLA Study
A 2012 study by the UCLA Department of Public Policy, The Optimal Law Enforcement Structure for Los Angeles International Airport, found that the dual law enforcement structure at LAX was characterized by “cross-agency tension” and the UCLA analysts sought to determine what the optimal structure would be. This study was completed before the FAA began investigating the LAAPOA complaint regarding overbilling by the LAPD, but the authors note that revenue from the airport “cannot be siphoned off to plug gaps in the city’s budget.”  Also, they refer to “a perception that the City orders LAPD officers to LAX without LAWA’s approval and then expects the agency to reimburse it.” 

The possible solutions considered by the analysts to resolve the tension between the different departments were (1) eliminating either the LAPD substation, including the LAPD bomb-sniffing dogs and giving all responsibilities to the Los Angeles World Airport Police Department (LAWAPD), (2) letting LAPD take over all law enforcement responsibilities at the airport, (3) retaining the current system, or (4) keeping both departments but giving LAWAPD greater control.  The report indicates that an attempted merger of the two departments in 2005 “keeps the LAWAPD and its union, the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association (LAAPOA) on guard,” and rejects the first two approaches as politically impossible.  Since the current system, by their assessment, is not working, they settle on the fourth possibility, i.e., giving LAWAPD greater control. 

Specifically as to dogs, the study notes that in addition to LAPD and LAWAPD canine units, TSA and Customs and Border Patrol “also have canines on the premises for duties relevant to their expertise.”  Acknowledging that most of the friction with regard to canine units is, however, between LAPD and LAWAPD units, the study concludes:

“Canine services at the airport are jointly provided by LAPD and LAWAPD who share a common kennel. The LAWAPD should assume control and authority over all canine services except for the bomb detection canines reserved for LAPD’s bomb squad unit. These bomb detection canines and dog handlers should all be from LAPD, while all other TSA certified and dual purpose dogs should belong to LAWAPD.”

2013 Memorandum Agreement

The previously mentioned 2013 MOA between Los Angeles World Airports and the LAPD states that LAPD is to provide LAWA annually with a proposed deployment and operations plan, giving LAWA “sufficient time to incorporate the costs associated with law enforcement into its fiscal budget.”  Yet the MOA also accepts that operation needs “are dynamic and are subject to modification as threats, crime problems, and other circumstances change.” If this is expected to remove the sort of blindsiding that the UCLA study refers to as arising from the LAPD making sudden and unannounced deployments to LAX, it is hard to see that such an open-ended protocol will really make a difference. 

The MOA states that LAPD personnel detailed to LAX must keep full and accurate records of any off-airport work, and notify LAWAPD in advance unless LAPD personnel are responding to “help calls, major traffic collisions, or compelling/time sensitive public safety emergencies.”  Specifically as to dogs, the MOA provides:

“The parties acknowledge that TSA policy currently allows law enforcement agencies to use TSA-funded explosive detection canines outside the transportation environment for a maximum of 20% of the time. The parties recognize, however, that FAA regulations do not allow LAWA to reimburse LAPD for the deployment of TSA-funded canines for non-airport related activities and that any off-airport use of canines must be tracked and the costs withheld from the LAPD invoices to LAWA….”

The 20% maximum for off-airport time is a requirement for receiving TSA funds. (See testimony of TSA officials on June 24, 2014.) Whether this MOA will lead to a better relationship between the two police forces, or between their separate canine units, is probably too early to tell, but the authors of this blog prefer, for the time being, to remain skeptical. 

Inspector General’s Report and the Future

Curiously, the recent Inspector General’s report has some praise for the recordkeeping of the Bomb Squad K-9 unit in that at least that unit maintained records of non-airport work, whereas other departments did not:

“[A] LAWA official stated in August 2013 that reporting off-airport time by full time LAPD personnel at LAX, other than the Bomb Squad K-9 unit, will not be necessary because LAWA believes the other full time LAPD personnel rarely engage in non-airport related activities. We requested documentation to support this statement as well as the rationale for the change in the agreed upon actions for record keeping. However, we have not received this documentation to date. By only requiring the Bomb Squad K-9 unit to track off-airport time instead of any LAPD personnel assigned to LAX on a full-time or full-time equivalent basis, LAWA could be paying for police services not related to the airport, which would be a diversion of airport revenue.”

Among departments not keeping records about off-airport work was the Narcotics Division-K-9, so presumably the LAPD would argue that unlike the bomb dog unit, the drug dog unit does not do any (or at least not very much) work outside of the airport boundaries. 

The Inspector General was not the only one worrying about the amount of revenue that was being diverted from LAWA, a financially independent department of the City of Los Angeles.  Three Congressmen sent letters to the IG in 2011 and 2012 with similar concerns.  The LAAPOA has also been instrumental in getting legislation passed to recognize LAWAPD officers as full-fledged police, resulting in a law that came into effect on January 1, 2014.  The legislation was supported by the mayor and police chief (now respectively Eric Garcetti and Charlie Beck).  Whether nominal equality will lead to respect from the LAPD officers at LAX remains to be seen. 


The disputes between the LAPD and LAWAPD have involved individual officers, supervisors, the chiefs of both departments, the mayor, various panels and experts, legislators including Congressmen, the Federal Aviation Administration, and now the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation.  The 2012 findings of the FAA and the 2014 findings of the DOT Inspector General prove that politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.  It is too simplistic to say either that the FAA investigators became tools of the LAPD or that the DOT Inspector General had wool pulled over his eyes by the LAAPOA, but the diverse results of the investigations are themselves a reason for concern and further analysis.  The FAA’s 2012 report should be made public so that it can be fairly compared to the 2014 report of the DOT IG, not only as to its conclusions but also as to the methodology of the investigators, and whether Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards were employed by FAA investigators, as was asserted by the DOT IG.   

If the friction continues, this must be a great concern since both overlaps and gaps between warring or even infrequently skirmishing agencies can lead to failures in security, which when it comes to airports and the threat of terrorism can result in disasters on the greatest scale.  If that potential is found to continue, then the bullet must be bitten and the agencies must be forcibly collapsed so that there is one chain of command and one individual at the top, whose skills will have to include the ability to combine two work forces into a single and effective unit.   

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Obama Administration Allows Fur Industry to Continue Calling a Wild Dog a Raccoon

2023 Update 
The marketplace origin theory for COVID 19 received some support in a reanalysis of data from samples taken at the Wuhan market in January and February 2020. This analysis particularly implicated raccoon dogs as a possible source for the virus.  Crrits-Christoph et al. (2023) (a preprint); Cohen (2023) (Science summary); Mallapaty (2023) (a particularly detailed summary with interviews).
2020 Update
Christian Drosten, one of Germany's leading virologists, according to a report in Science, suspects that raccoon dogs in Chinese commercial facilities, might have been intermediate hosts in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans. 
Original 2014 post: 

Scientific papers rarely read like short stories, but a field note by Nino Kirbiš in Natura Sloveniae in 2012 perhaps qualifies:

Raccoon Dog (Wikimedia)
“In the early hours of [June 6] 2012, I was driving from Podova to Brunšvik. When I was approximately 3 km SE of Rače … a raccoon dog crossed the road in front of the car. The animal was about the size of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes), but had a shorter tail. The colour of the fur was mostly grey and brown. The most reliable sign that I was indeed dealing with a raccoon dog was the dark face mask on its head. It was different than the face mask of a badger (Meles meles), since the badger has black stripes placed vertically over the eyes, while the raccoon dog has a dark mask around the eyes. Also, the animal had a dark coloured head and not white, like a badger. The landscape where I spotted the raccoon dog was highly agricultural and thus different from its preferred habitat, which is wet and open: damp meadows and forests, with sparse canopy but abundant undergrowth, marshlands, river valleys and gardens …. The few kilometres distant wetland forest around Rače Fishponds may provide quite suitable habitat for the species. Whether the observed putative raccoon dog was a vagrant, a resident in this area, or if it escaped from captivity still needs to be verified… [T]his observation is fourth confirmed record of the raccoon dog occurring in Slovenia, and since all sightings have been made in different parts of the country, we may expect more encounters in the future.”

Kirbiš is talking about Nyctereutes procyonoides, a type of small Asian canid that is spreading through Europe, something of an Old World version of the coyote’s success in America.  The sighting took place in northeast Slovenia in an area sandwiched between Austia and Croatia and not too distant from Hungary.  The animal has been hunted for its fur in Siberia and parts of Asia for hundreds of years, and has recently found itself at the center of a political dispute concerning rules issued by the Federal Trade Commission.  How that dispute came about is the reason for a blog on a species most Americans have never heard of. 

But first let us take a closer look at the biology of this curious animal. 

Nyctereutes procyonoides

Michael W. Fox (2009) describes the animal as follows:

“The raccoon dog is a native of eastern Siberia, Japan, Manchuria, China and northern Indochina.  This dog has been widely introduced into a number of European countries: European Russia, Poland, Rumania, Sweden, and Finland.  This canid has short ears, shorter legs and tail than foxes, and a large dark spot beneath and behind the eyes on the cheek resembling the mask of the raccoon.”

Raccoon dog is a translation of the Latin, Canis procyonoides, the first Linnaean term for the animal given to it by John Edward Gray in 1834, one of whose sketches appears here.  The animal is called mangut in some parts of Russia and enot (raccoon) in others.  Since its pelt has long been used for fur products, there are also furriers’ terms, such as Ussurian raccoon and Asiatic raccoon, and it is the distinction in terminology between the names commonly used in biology from those used in the fur trade that has led to the nomenclature dispute that the FTC recently resolved in favor of the fur trade. 

Canis procyonoides (Gray, Illustrations of Indian Zoology, 1834)
The raccoon dog is classified biologically as a carnivorous mammal and is a separate genus, one of about 12, of the Family Canidae. Although the dog, Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris, is by far the most common domesticated canid, Dusicyon australis, Cerdocyon thous, and several other fox-like canids in South America were at least partially domesticated by South American Indian groups, as discussed in a prior blog. The African Wild Dog is also a canid separate from the wolf, being instead in the Genus Lycaon. Genome studies suggest that the raccoon dog is most closely related genetically to a group of fox-like canids. (See Zhang and Chen, 2010; Ostrander and Ruvinsky, 2012.) Raccoon dogs are, however, not closely related to raccoons, which are classified in a separate family, the Procyonidae.   

V.G. Heptner and N.P. Naumov describe the animal’s coat in detail:

“The general color tone of the winter fur is dirty, earth-brown or brownish-gray with a more or less considerable overlay of black (color of guard hairs). The tail is considerably darker than the trunk. Along the back extends a darker stripe which broadens on the shoulders, forming there an unclear cross-shaped figure. The abdominal surface is yellowish-brown and the chest is dark brown or blackish.  Ears are black posteriorly.  In the eye region, in front of them and on the cheeks below and behind the eyes and crossing the ‘side-whiskers’, is located a dark (almost black) field.  Together, they form on the muzzle of the mangut a characteristic picture in the form of a mask which contrasts sharply with the brighter color of the muzzle and remaining parts of the head.  This picture in particular, and the general color tone gives the described species a certain similarity to the American raccoon.”

It is this visual similarity to the American raccoon that the fur trade wishes to emphasize, while it is the scientific classification as a canid that those seeking to limit the use of the animal’s pelt think should not be overlooked when it comes to labeling fur products. 

Heptner and Naumov say that, in its original habitat, the raccoon dog lives in “light deciduous and mixed forests near streams with dense understory, or the thick growths of shrubs, usually found on gentle slopes of mountains, interrupted by waterfalls and creeks, with rock outcrops and clear areas…. They avoid coniferous forests and are only encountered there along forest edges, riparian shrubs, or on cliffs along the sea coast. In unforested regions, they are met with only in stands of reeds along the shore of rivers and lakes.” 

The raccoon dog is nocturnal and omnivorous, eating both animal and plant food, particularly insects and small animals.  Heptner and Naumov state:

“During the day, activity of the animals is curtailed and they hide in shelters or spend the time bedded down. During the period of rut, pregnancy and the initiation of nursing the young, from March to May, the raccoon dogs are very cautious and are active almost exclusively in the dark period of the 24 hours. In summer, when the pups begin to feed independently, they frequently are encountered during the daytime. In autumn, in September, regardless of increased feeding, raccoon dogs rarely come out in the daytime and usually leave their shelters only at twilight. In winter, the animals are active at twilight and during the night.” The animal does not migrate, though as winter comes, individuals living near reeds along wetlands may move in groups to dry places. 
Winter Lair (Heptner & Naumov)
The raccoon dog uses burrows, and because it hibernates, has complex winter shelters, which may have more than one entrance.  Winter shelters may be shared with badgers, which go into hibernation a few weeks before raccoon dogs and stay in hibernation longer.  If a raccoon dog hibernates longer than a badger in a burrow, however, the badger may bite the raccoon dog to death.  This is uncommon as the raccoon dog’s hibernation does not involve a deep, uninterrupted sleep, though there is a decrease in metabolism of about 25%. 

Mating occurs in spring.  They are monogamous, though polygamy occurs in captivity if one male is kept with several females.  “Copulation occurs most frequently during the night or early in the morning, usually in quiet weather. Coitus lasts for 6-9 minutes on the average….  Pregnancy lasts from 59 to 70 days, with young born mostly in May.  Litters are usually of six or seven.  Young are born blind and open their eyes on the 9th or 10th day.  Lactation lasts from 45 to 60 days.  Sexual maturity is attained in 8 to 10 months.  In nature, animals live at around 6 to 7 years, but may live 11 years in captivity.”

The major natural enemy is the wolf, but also stray dogs, and of course human hunters.  Puppies may be vulnerable to birds of prey, including owls and eagles.  

“When in danger, [the raccoon dog] conceals itself, closely presses itself to the ground and, owing to its brown color, merges with the surrounding soil background or forest bedding. In case of direct close approach of a human, it usually closes its eyes and lies completely still, even when touched. During twilight and night, it is more courageous and sometimes tries to defend itself. It swims well, willingly enters water and can swim across wide rivers and lakes.”

Geographic Distribution of Raccoon Dog (Heptner & Naumov)
A good deal of recent research has concerned the spread of the raccoon dog into Europe, where it has been quite successful.  As stated by Jaap Mulder (2012):  “Since the Russians started to introduce the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides Gray, 1834) in the former USSR, from 1928 onwards, the species has successfully colonized large portions of north and central Europe.”  (Also see papers by Ansorge, Drygala, Hong, Kauhala, Korablev, Mulder, Oerlemans, Pitra, Puraite in bibliography.)  Studies in France in 2005 and 2014 found considerable spread in a single decade (Leger and Ruette, 2005 and 2014). 

Thus, arguments concerning the use of the animal for fur should not be seen as implicating the survival of the species.  A map produced by Oscar Ward and Doris Wurster-Hill for The American Society of Mammologists in 1990 shows considerable expansion in Europe over what the map above by Heptner and Naumov would indicate. 

Hunting Raccoon Dogs

Heptner and Naumov report that raccoon dogs are hunted when the snow is deep, at night, using dogs often with bells on their collars so that the hunters can follow them in the dark.  “The dog quickly follows the trail and overtakes the animal, and if it does not flee into a burrow, the dog strangles it or worries it until the hunter arrives. Traps for the raccoon dogs are put at burrows, along the shores of water bodies, and around marshes and ponds.” 

Rafal Kowalczyk (2007) notes that now, in much of Europe, the raccoon dog is not hunted for its fur but rather to eradicate it as a pest: 

“In Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania raccoon dogs may be hunted all year round, with no protection during breeding season. In Denmark hunting is not allowed unless harm is done to game animals…. In Finland and Poland raccoon dogs are protected during breeding season (in Finland, only females with puppies are protected in May-July). In Finland, the annual hunting bag varied between 75,000-130,000 in 1998-2003…, 20,000 in Germany…, 6,000-10,000 in Poland …, 4,000-5,000 in Estonia, 3,500-4,000 in Lithuania …, and 2,000 in Latvia. In other countries raccoon dogs are hunted occasionally.”

Skinning Raccoon Dogs

At the beginning of the 20th century, upwards of 300,000 pelts were sold every year.  The number is far greater now.  In addition to the figures in the preceding paragraph, 150,000 annually come from China, 140,000 from Japan, and 30,000 from Korea. Many raccoon dogs are raised in cages, particularly in China. A report to which three groups contributed—Swiss Animal Protection, Care for the Wild International, and East International— provides the following information about slaughter practices of foxes, mink, and raccoon dogs in China (attachment to Humane Society submission):
Caged Raccoon Dogs (courtesy Swiss Animal Protection)

“Slaughter practices used on animals farmed for fur in China involved extremely rough handling and stunning or attempts to stun the animals with repeated blows to the head or by being flung head first against the ground. Following this treatment animals were often left next to, or piled on top of each other. Some animals may have been dead, others stunned. Clearly injured, many were convulsing, trembling or trying to crawl away. Workers made no attempts to ensure that animals were dead before skinning. In other cases animals regained consciousness as their skin was being removed. Workers then used the handle of their knife to beat the animals’ head repeatedly until they became motionless once again. Others simply stepped on the animals’ head or neck to strangle it or hold it down. Desperate and writhing in agony, animals conscious during these proceedures hopelessly tried to defend themselves even to the point where all their skin had been forced off. Even so, breathing, heartbeat, directional body and eyelid movements were evident for 5 to 10 minutes.”

Fur Products Name Guide

Under the Fur Products Labeling Act (PL 106-476, November 9, 2000), commonly just called the “Fur Act,” and regulations issued under the Act, products made partly or entirely of fur must have labels stating:
  • The animal’s name as provided in the Fur Products Name Guide.
  • Whether the fur was bleached, dyed, or otherwise artificially colored.
  • If the product includes paws, tails, bellies, sides, flanks, or waste fur, this must be stated.
  • The name or Registered Identification Number of the manufacturer.
  • The product’s country of origin.
The animal from which the fur was taken is to be identified under its “true English name,” or if there is none, “the name by which such animal can be properly identified in the United States.” For instance, Mustela vison is “mink.”  The FTC’s Fur Products Name Guide (16 CFR 301.0) provides that Nyctereutes procyonoides is to be labeled “the Asiatic Raccoon.”
Clubbed Raccoon Dog (courtesy Swiss Animal Protection)

In 2010, Congress passed the Truth in Fur Labeling Act (PL 111-313, December 18, 2010), which eliminated an exemption for furs worth below $150 but also required the FTC to initiate a review of the Name Guide.  That led to the request for comments in March 2011. 

Comments on Raccoon Dog vs. Asiatic Raccoon

Among comments submitted were suggestions that the label for the species be changed from the Asiatic Raccoon to the Raccoon Dog.  The Humane Society of the United States recommended this change for three basic reasons: Raccoon Dog is the “scientifically accepted common name” of the species; it is also the “most widely-accepted common name;” and Asiatic Raccoon is confusing and misleading.  It is misleading because the animal is found outside of Asia and, being a member of the Family Canidae, is closely related to other canids but not to raccoons of the Family Procyonidae.  Congressman Jim Moran, who introduced the Truth in Fur Labeling Act in the House of Representatives, also argued for the term Raccoon Dog. 

Industry fought back, arguing that Raccoon Dog would “mislead consumers and harm retail sales.”   The harm to retail sales would, of course, come from the fact that people do not want to be told that they are about to buy dog fur.  The National Retail Foundation said that “how a product is marketed ought to be a critical factor in deciding” an animal’s name.  In other words, marketing obfuscation should be honored because it allows the public to remain ignorant. 

Industry got support from an official of the Fish & Wildlife Service:

“Ms. Lynn [Sharon Lynn, Senior Wildlife Inspector of the Fish and Wildlife Service] of FWS noted that the word ‘‘Asiatic’’ is helpful, despite the existence of European nyctereutes procyonoides, because it ‘gives you an idea where the animal originated naturally.’ Ms. Lynn further explained that Asia is the species’‘native habitat’ and, therefore, ‘the Asiatic name would be a neutral’ description.  Ms. Lynn observed that using ‘Asiatic Raccoon’ to refer to European nyctereutes procyonoides is like the common practice of using ‘African Lion' to refer to lions raised in America.” 
Waiting to Die (courtesy Swiss Animal Protection)

This fails to note that a term like lion is correctly applied to a certain taxonomic classification, but is consistent with the sort of fuzzy logic that Fish & Wildlife has been using to open up gray wolf populations to hunting in the United States.  Dr. Alfred Gardner of the United States Geological Survey gave at least tangential support for the use of Asiatic Raccoon by observing that the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), which gives the common name of Nyctereutes procyonoides as Raccoon Dog, is not necessarily authoritative as a source for common names of species.  Unfortunately, this reference was enough to justify the FTC in claiming that it had support for the use of Asiatic Raccoon from at least two scientifically oriented—or at least (one hopes) scientifically conscious—federal agencies. 

The Fur Information Council of America argued that the “Asiatic/Finnraccoon” is very different from a dog because it “hibernates, climbs trees, … cannot bark, and it does not wag its tail.”  Also, it has “rings around its eyes, [so] it clearly looks like a raccoon.”  This is true, but irrelevant to the taxonomic status of the animal. Differences could be found with the African Wild Dog as well, and if it's fur were valuable it would probably be called the Eastern Savannah Leopard, or some such idiocy.   

FTC Stays with “Asiatic Raccoon”

In 2012, the FTC acknowledged that there were different points of view but stated that it wanted to retain Asiatic Raccoon “as the only name for that species,” yet the issue remained at least theoretically open. Then, on May 28, 2014, the agency reaffirmed this position and finalized its rules on the subject.  Bewilderingly, the FTC insists that “‘Asiatic Raccoon’ is not a trade name.  Rather, it is the true English name prescribed in the Name Guide for over 50 years.”  Thus, the FTC’s longstanding acceptance of an industry term is made into a proof that Asiatic Raccoon is “the true English name.”  The submissions of the Humane Society of the United States and the New York City Bar adequately refute this logic, for anyone who cares, which the FTC does not. 


At least three agencies in the Obama administration have defied taxonomic and genetic science, as well as the dominant lay term for a species, in order to protect the fur industry.  Perhaps this is justified by the fact that Americans don’t know what raccoon dogs are—they are not New World canids in any case—but the only real problem for the fur industry is the word “dog.”  After all, the industry sells wolf pelt products, while there are many scientists who would label the domestic dog as no more than a subspecies of the wolf, Canis lupus familiaris. 

To his credit, Obama has made a point of accepting scientific results on climate change, a difficult issue for any American politician.  Yet when it comes to wolves and raccoon dogs, the President’s people have hardly been scientific or, in the case of raccoon dogs, even logical.  It is probably too late to scream—I admit that I did not focus on this issue until commenting officially was no longer possible—so this blog may be no more than yelling at the umpire after the call.  Still, if enough people yell at the umpire, the next call may be made a little more carefully, which is all that I have come to hope for from the current administration with regard to wildlife. 

The history of the law discloses, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “every painful step and every world-shaking contest by which mankind has worked and fought its way from savage isolation to organic social life.”  I hope—many hope—that a part of our organic social life will involve recognizing rights for animals.  I do not know what course this may take.  I do not at present think that the law will require all citizens of any country to become vegans or that horse racing will soon be banned.  Yet I do think that there are some horrors perpetrated upon animals that make us less than human, and skinning them alive is surely one of them.  Unfortunately, the new FTC rules are a step backward in the struggle towards any organic social life that accepts that those animals with which we share the planet have any rights at all.  

Thanks to Fran Breitkopf, Richard Hawkins, and L.E. Papet for comments and suggestions.Thanks to Mark Rissi of Swiss Animal Protection SAP for granting permission to use the photos of raccoon dogs caged, about to be skinned, and after skinning. In addition to the Humane Society of the United States, organizations posting information on these issues include the Anti-Fur Society, the FurFree Alliance, and the International Anti-Fur Coalition

Raccoon Dog Coat (courtesy Swiss Animal Protection)

Ansorge, Hermann, Ranyuk, Maryana, Kauhala, Kaarina, Kowalczyk, Rafal, and Stier Norman (2009). Raccoon Dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides, Populations in the Area of Origin and in Colonised Regions—the Epigenetic Variability of an Immigrant.  Annales Zoologici Fennici, 46, 51-62  (“The native raccoon dogs of the Amursk region were completely separate from the European populations as a consequence of the distinct reproductive isolation of about 60 years, as well as an effect of the colonisation and migration history of the species.”).

Drygala, Frank (2009).  Space Use Pattern, Dispersal and Social Organisation of the Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides GRAY, 1834) an Invasive, Alien Canid in Central Europe.  Thesis, Technische Universitat Dresden.  

Drygala, Fran, Korablev, Nicolay, Ansorge, Hermann, Fickel, Joerns, Isomursu, Marja, Elmeros, Morten, Kowalczyk, Rafal, Baltrunaite, Laima, Balciauskas, Linas, Saarma, Urmas, Schultze, Christoph, Borkenhagen, Peter, and Frantz, Alain C. (2016).  Homogenous Population Genetic Structure of the Non-Native Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in Europe as a Result of Rapid Population Expansion.  PLoS/OneDOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0153098 (April 11, 2016) (noting: "This invasive species is of management concern because it is highly susceptible to fox rabies and an important secondary host of the virus.We hypothesized that the large number of introduced animals and the species’ dispersal capabilities led to high population connectivity and maintenance of genetic diversity throughout the invaded range.").

Drygala, Frank, Zoller, Hinrich, Stier, Norman, and Roth, Mechthild (2010).  Dispersal of the Raccoon Dog Nyctereutes procyonoids into a Newly Invaded Area in Central Europe. Wildlife Biology, 16, 150-161 (This was a study of dispersal patterns of the animal in northeastern Germany.  The researchers state: “Radio-collared, dispersing animals showed a variety of movement patterns and the impression of flexible migration behaviour was confirmed. The fact that males and females showed equal dispersing behaviour is supposed to be one of the factors contributing to the high expansion and the success of the species.”). 

Drygala, Frank, and Zoller, Hinrich (2011).  Spatial Use and Interaction of the Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Central Europe—Competition or Coexistence?  8th European Vertebrate Pest Conference, DOI: 10.5073/jka.2011.432.011 (finding “no evidence of strong interference competiton between the two canids.”). 

Federal Trade Commission, Fur Products Labeling Act, Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; Request for Comment, 76 Fed. Reg. 13550 (March 14, 2011).  Comments were received from:
  • Humane Society of the United States; a secondary filing includes damning attachments including the report on Chinese fur industry practices was also filed.
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland (“Finland is the world’s largest Finnraccoon fur producer with approximately 160,000 skins produced per year… we would encourage the FTC to revision its decision not to accept, as an alternative to Asiatic Raccoon, the term Finnraccoon for products of the Nyctereutes procyonoidos species.”).
  • Finland Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (to the same effect as the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
  • BCI International Group, Inc. ("The Asiatic Raccoon product … has suffered a setback in the marketplace in recent years, as a result of the attempt to link the product in the media with the term 'raccoon dog.'").
  • Saga Furs Oyj (Favoring the Finnraccoon designation, noting that “the name ‘raccoon dog’ had resulted in a number of major department stores terminating their use of the animal because consumers confused the nyctereutes procyonoids with domestic dog.”).
  • Fur Information Council of America (“The common name, ‘Asiatic Raccoon,’ has been used on labels for fifty years.”).
  • New York City Bar, Committee on Animal Law (urging the FTC to (1) change the name of Nyctereutes procyonoides from “Asiatic raccoon” to “raccoon dog” in the Fur Products Name Guide (the “Name Guide”) and (2) reject the proposals to allow the use of the terms “finnraccoon,” “tanuki,” or “magnut” in the Name Guide to describe Nyctereutes procyonoides.”).
  • Congressman James P. Moran, 8th District of Virginia (“The FTC has proposed to continue the use of the term ‘Asiatic Raccoon’ for fur from Nyctereutes procyonoides, a species known by other federal agencies, and the scientific community, by its common English name, ‘raccoon dog.’ This species from the Canidae family is unrelated to the raccoon and appears in Europe as well as Asia, making the term ‘Asiatic Raccoon’ highly misleading. This is exactly the type of mislabeling that the statute was intended to address, in order to protect consumers who may wish to avoid buying fur from a particular species of animal.”).
  • National Retail Foundation (“[W]e believe the FTC’s propose rules under the Fur Products Labeling Act for this animal are proper and correct.”).
Federal Trade Commission, Regulations Under the Fur Products Labeling Act, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Request for Comment, 77 Fed. Reg. 57043 (September 17, 2012).  See also 78 Fed. Reg. 36693 (June 19, 2013), regarding additional proposals on rules regarding guaranties from third parties attesting that transferred products are not mislabeled or falsely advertised or invoiced. 

Federal Trade Commission, Regulations Under the Fur Products Labeling Act, Final Rule, 79 Fed. Reg. 30445 (May 28, 2014).

Fox, Michael W. (2009). The Wild Canids: Their Systematics, Behavioral Ecology and Evolution.  Wenatchee, Washington: Dogwise Publishing. 

Gray, John Edward (1834). Illustrations of Indian Zoology, II. London: Adolphus Richter & Co.   The version of this book on Internet Archive is protected in some manner that precludes printing or downloading, but various sites include the picture here.  

Heptner, V.G., and Naumov, N.P. (1967). Mammals of the Soviet Union, II, Part 1a.  Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola Publishers. 

Hong, YoonJee, Kim, Kyung-Seok, Lee, Hang, and Min, Mi-Sook (2013). Population Genetic Study of the Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in South Korea Using Newly Developed 12 Microsatellite Markers.  Genes and Genetic Systems, 88(1), 69-76 (describing the raccoon dog as becoming a top predator in Korea despite its modest size).

Hsieh-Yi, Yi-Chiao, Yu Fu, Mark Rissi, and Barbara Maas (2005).  Fun Fur? A Report on the Chinese Fur Trade.  Report published by Swiss Animal Protection SAP, Care for the Wild International, and East International.  See also the documentary correlated in part with this report: Dying for Fur: Inside the Chinese Fur Trade (2005). 

Kauhala, Kaarina, and Kowalczyk, Rafal (2011).  Invasion of the Raccoon Dog Nyctereutes procyonoides in Europe: History of Colonization, Features Behind Its Success, and Threats to Native Fauna.  Current Zoology, 57(5), 584-598 (“In northern Europe potential competitors include the red fox Vulpes vulpes and the badger Meles meles, but studies of their diets or habitat preferences do not indicate severe competition. The raccoon dog is an important vector of diseases and parasites, such as rabies, Echinococcus multilocularis and Trichinella spp. and this is no doubt the most severe consequence arising from the spread of this alien species in Europe.”). 

Korableve, N.P.,, Korablev, M.P., Rozhnov, V.V., and Korablev, P.N. (2011)  Russian Journal of Genetics, 47(10), 1378-1385 (“Phyologenetic patterns of the introduced population were associated with probable heterogeneity of autochthonous donor populations with respect to relatively large group of founders and a dramatic increase in the species number after the introduction.” .

Leger, Francois, and Ruette, Sandrine (2005). Le Chien Viverrin [Nyctereutes procyonoides] en France.  Faune Sauvage No. 269.  These same authors detailed further incursions in 2014.  Raton Laveur et Chien Viverrin: Le Point sur leur Repartition en France.  Faune Sauvage No. 302.   

Libois, Roland M. (1996). The Current Situation of Wild Mammals in Belgium: An Outline. Hystrix, 8(1-2), 35-41.

Mulder, Jaap L. (2010). A Review of the Ecology of the Raccoon Dog (Nytereutes procyonoides) in Europe. Lutra, 55(2), 101-127.

Oerlemans, Marcella, and Koene, Paul (2008). Possible Implications of the Presence of the Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in the Netherlands.  Lutra, 51(2), 123-131 (“The raccoon dog is an opportunistic feeder, what makes this species rather insensitive to fluctuations in single food resources and reduces dietary overlap with fox and badger. As a vector of rabies and the fox tapeworm, the presence of raccoon dogs in the Netherlands might have consequences for wild and domestic animals, as well as for people. Additionally, Trichinella can be carried by raccoon dogs and this disease thus might reach the Netherlands. Mortality, starvation, hunting, disease and traffic accidents often include animal suffering and are thus animal welfare issues.”).

Ostrander, Elaine A., and Ruvinsky, Anatoly (2012).  Genetics of the Dog.  Oxfordshire, UK: CABI  (at 249, placing the raccoon dog within the fox-like canids).

Pitra, Christian, Schwarz, Sabine, and Fickel, Joerns (2010).  Going West—Invasion Genetics of the Alien Raccoon Dog Nyctereutes procyonoides in Europe.  European Journal of Wildlife Research, 56, 117-129.

Puraite, I., Griciuviene, L., Paulauskas, A., et al. (2011). Genetic Variability of Raccoon Dogs and Their Impacts on the Environment in Lithuania.  8th European Vertebrate Pest Management Conference. DOI: 10.5073/jka.2011.432.022 (“The genetic data suggest that raccoon dogs colonised Lithuania from different neighbouring countries Belarus and Latvia. The raccoon dog impact on native species and communities (C0-C2) were moderately negative for amphibians, mollusks, rodents, birds, insects, and reptiles and for transmission of pathogens.”).

Rafal (2007). NOBANIS—Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet: Nyctereutes procyonoides. Posting of the NOBANIS European Network on Invasive Alien Species. 

Ward, Oscar G., and Wurster-Hill, Doris H. (1990).  Nyctereutes procyonoides. Mammalian Species, No. 358, 1-5.

Zhang, Honghai, and Chen, Lei (2010).  The Complete Mitochondrial Genome of the Raccoon Dog.  Mitogenome Announcements, 21(3-4), 59-61 (“The phylogenetic analysis based on the concatenated data set of 14 genes in the mitochondrial genome of Canidae shows that the raccoon dog has close phylogenetic position with the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and they constitute a clade which has an equal evolutionary position with the clade formed by the genera Canis and Cuon.”).