Is it legal to have a pet raccoon dog?
No, you cannot have a raccoon dog as a pet. Raccoon dogs, also known as tanukis, are 100% illegal to keep as pets in the United States. Not only is having a pet raccoon dog illegal, possessing a raccoon dog in any capacity is illegal except under very strict circumstances. There are currently only four raccoon dogs in the United States at the moment. The reason raccoon dogs are illegal in the United States is because of their federal classification of “injurious wildlife.” If you are interested in what that means and the exact reason why you are not allowed to have a pet tanuki, read on.
What is the Lacey Act and what does it have to do with raccoon dogs?
The Lacey Act is a federal conservation law that serves as a foundation for combatting illegal wildlife trade. The Lacey Act was enacted in 1900 and “prohibits the importation, exportation, transportation, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase of any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or any Indian tribal law, or foreign law.” (US Fish and Wildlife Service). In short, the Lacey Act allows the federal government to prosecute individuals and organizations for wildlife crimes.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service states that, under the Lacey Act “any importation of injurious wildlife into the United States or its territories or possessions must be authorized under a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, for any injurious specimens listed in the code of federal regulations (50 CFR 16), transport between the continental United States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States by any means whatsoever must be authorized by the Service.” Under the Lacey Act, Raccoon Dogs are classified as “injurious wildlife,” so that is a big federal NO to having a pet raccoon dog.
What does "Injurious Wildlife" mean?
The classification of “injurious wildlife” under the Lacey Act refers to non-native species that are determined to pose a significant threat to native ecosystems, agriculture, the economy, or to human health. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strictly regulates the importation and interstate transportation of these species in order to prevent their introduction and potential damage.
Why are raccoon dogs considered "Injurious Wildlife?"
Raccoon dogs are classified as “injurious wildlife” due to the significant threat they pose to the environment of the United States. But what does that mean, exactly? Why are raccoon dogs classified as a threat?
You see, as it turns out, raccoon dogs are remarkably good at adapting to new places. The tanuki’s soft coat, combined with their large litter size and how quickly they reach reproductive age, made the animal a prime choice for fur farmers. However, when raccoon dogs end up escaping from these fur farms, they are able to thrive. While I am all for escaping fur farms and living your best life, it becomes an issue when an animal is doing so well that they manage to establish a whole new population in an area they are not native to.
Due to these escapes, the raccoon dog–which is native to China, Japan, Russia, and Korea–is now invasive species all across Europe. As cute as these animals are, they are wreaking havoc on Europe. Raccoon dogs prey on native wildlife, compete for food, and are carriers of many diseases that they can pass on to humans.
These invasive raccoon dogs in Europe were already a problem for a while. Had the US not taken precautions the moment an issue arose, tanukis could have become a problem here as well. In the early 1980s, there were a few fur farmers in the midwest that had imported raccoon dogs without any kind of state or federal oversight. Nobody knew these animals were in our country until one escaped from a fur farm. The tanuki was found dead on the side of the road in Minnesota. This meant there was no risk of harm to our environment from that particular animal, but the problem still made itself known to wildlife officials. Animals escape, and with how raccoon dogs managed to take over Europe, it was not something the US could risk. After the raccoon dog in Minnesota was discovered, the US quickly amended the lacey act banning the importation or possession of the species. In the end, this took the chance of anyone having a pet raccoon dog off the table.
Where can I see raccoon dogs in the United States?
As of 2023, there is only one place you can find a Tanuki in the United States: The Oklahoma Zoo. They have four.