A raccoon dog found living under some decking in a garden was just one of 230 calls the RSPCA received last year about exotic animals in Hertfordshire.

Ben Crane and his family, who live in Loudwater, near Rickmansworth, raised the alarm after they became concerned about a wild animal which had made a home for itself under garden decking.

The unusual callout has been revealed by the pet rescue charity as it emerges the RSCPA were called about an exotic animal 238 times – and nationally more than 15,000 times in 2018.

In September last year, Mr Crane called the RSPCA.

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The tanuki pictured in Mr Crane's garden

He said: “We discovered that there was something living under our decking but we weren’t exactly sure what it was. We thought it could be a badger or silver fox however, having seen it a couple of times of an evening and the strange noises it was making, we were intrigued to find out what this could be as we have never seen anything like this before.

“A few weeks later we saw this animal walking around our garden during the day and managed to take some photographs. After doing some research and contacting the RSPCA it was confirmed that this was indeed a raccoon dog.”

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The raccoon dog was rescued by the RSPCA officer, Kate Wright

Animal collection officer (ACO) Kate Wright went along to help the family set a trap, and using cocktail sausages and ham, they finally managed to capture her and called in for help from a specialist team who set about finding her a suitable, permanent home.

ACO Wright said: “We believe she was an escaped pet who ventured into the garden after being set free, abandoned or escaping from her enclosure. Raccoon dogs are wild animals and we do not believe they should be kept as pets. We knew we needed to find her a suitable home in a specialist setting where her specific needs could be properly met.”

The raccoon dog is now living with four companions at Sparsholt College in Hampshire.

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Raccoon dogs - also known as tanukis - are members of the canid family and are native to East Asia. They are wild animals but there is a growing trade in keeping them as pets in the UK. They have now been placed on the EU invasive species list, banning the breeding and selling of this species within the EU.

The RSPCA, which has a team of specially trained exotics officers, rescued more than 4,000 exotic animals in 2018, including more than 500 snakes, more than 300 turtles, 145 bearded dragons, five raccoon dogs, four marmosets and one wallaby.

In Hertfordshire, officers rescued 90 exotics in 2018.

Last year, the RSPCA received 9,608 calls reporting cruelty, neglect, injury and suffering of all animals in Hertfordshire, including 1,839 about cats, 2,430 about dogs and 530 about horses.