WASHINGTON, DC–In a 4 a.m. speech at the group's annual convention Sunday, North American Raccoon Federation president Bristletail called upon homeowners to loosen the lids of their garbage cans, providing the ring-tailed mammals with greater access to discarded food scraps during nocturnal scavenging.

NARF president Bristletail urges homeowners to be less careful about sealing their trash cans.

"Every time you seal a standard 30-gallon garbage can, as many as six raccoons are forced to go without their necessary daily supply of congealed baked beans, rancid cottage-cheese chunks, and moldy cantaloupe rinds," Bristletail told an audience of NARF members and human reporters. "This leads to malnutrition, starvation, and even death–all because humans do not have the decency to take the easy step of loosening or altogether removing the lids from their garbage cans."

Sunday's speech is one of many recent NARF efforts to advance its lid-loosening agenda. On May 22, a coalition of top raccoon leaders, including Bristletail, Rascal, Miss Nosy, and National Wildlife Federation mascot Ranger Rick, made their plea before the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife & Water. Blaming their human-refuse dependence on the steady disappearance of their natural habitat, the raccoons urged subcommittee members to pass legislation penalizing individuals who block access to putrefied hot dogs and other trash-based morsels.

Subcommittee members reacted strongly to the raccoons' plea.

"In all my years in the senate, this is the most adorable thing I have ever seen," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said. "The little raccoonies have come to visit! Aren't they precious? Look at their little pawsy-hands. Hello, little bandit masks! Look at the racoonie-woonies with their widdle bandit masky-wasks! Wee pawsy-wawsy hands! Oooh, I wish I could pick you up and give you such a great big hug!"

This is not the first time that the raccoons' lobbying efforts have been undermined by their own adorability. In March, a meeting between New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and NARF vice-president Rocky Raccoon was cut short when Raccoon was scooped up and taken to the Central Park Children's Zoo for permanent display in the "Cute Critters!" exhibit. A September 1999 visit was canceled by fearful raccoon leaders when they learned that President Clinton wanted to just eat them all up, they were so darling.

NARF member Bandit attempts to breach a Tulsa, OK, garbage can.

Despite their adorability, the raccoons are not without their opponents.

"What these raccoons conveniently neglect to mention is that their foraging creates an enormous mess," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said. "They recklessly overturn trash cans and rip apart garbage bags with their sharp teeth, then they don't even bother to clean up afterwards. In the morning, residents wake up to find garbage strewn about their lawns, creating an ugly, unsanitary situation. What's worse, they don't even have the decency to be quiet about it, knocking over metal cans in the middle of the night while decent, non-nocturnal folk are trying to sleep. They're animals, I tell you."

Wilmington, DE, homemaker Denise Durbin agreed. "This symbiotic raccoon-human relationship that raccoon leaders are trying to get you to buy into is a big myth," she said. "I mean, aren't these creatures supposed to be in the woods washing crayfish in a stream or something? And I'm pretty sure that Ranger Rick fellow is the one who killed Mrs. Sanderson's cat the other night."

Even if their congressional lobbying efforts fail, the raccoons remain hopeful that they can improve their situation through awareness-raising.

"When citizens put their trash out, we're hoping that some of them will think of us and voluntary leave their garbage-can covers slightly ajar," said Bristletail, gnawing on a bluish-gray ham hock. "Raccoons have proudly lived on this land for millions of years, and our existence is vital to its ecosystem. But our survival is in jeopardy unless citizens act promptly and decisively."

"Besides," continued Bristletail, "if we disappear, the possums might take over. And no one wants that."