June 22, 2011

Channeling Ellie Mae Clampett

Deep ‘n dark confession: I luvs me critters. There! I said it.
I’ve shared my life with dogs and cats and birds and fish…but critters… Critters like raccoons, opossums (or possums as we say here in the South) make me physically weak.

I love watching possums eat leftover cat kibble, usually standing on the plate while peering nearsightedly around them. Meanwhile a cat perched on a table above them is scowling as they watch their dinner disappearing into a supersized rodent.

I also love how possums, in winter, will seek out a cozy cat bed in whatever shelter I’ve provided my strays for that season. Last winter one possum took over a former cat carrier filled with a pillow and thick blanket. Since he put his stink on it, the other cats avoided it, so that bed became his alone.

I love the way raccoons scrunch their noses up and down as they chew.

I love watching them piece away one dog kibble from the rest, hold it, perhaps wash it, and then lift it to their mouths and nibble. I love how they turn their backs to the food, then back over it, literally sitting on top of it so they can have the lions share of whatever they’re eating.

I have been providing food and water for raccoons since 2007 when a heat wave sent the Mid-South temps over 100 for well over a week. I saw them drinking the stray cats water and grabbing their food, regardless that it was high noon. I bought a kid swimming pool and a 50# bag of Old Yeller dog kibble, and put them along the wood line behind our home. They’ve been coming ever since…generations later.

We have one female white raccoon with an imperfect body who has never reproduced. She and her scruffy-looking pal with one bent ear were among the first to take advantage of my hospitality in 2007. Now in their golden years, they prefer to eat away from the younger generations, so I set aside food for them, closer to the house.

This week I discovered the teeny tiny coon baby I’ve been watching for a couple weeks is blind and deaf.

I have seen her alone, eating with intense concentration, long after her mom and siblings have left. We don’t have dogs and kids running through our yard or neighboring yards, so I did not fear for her safety during the day. However at night, you never know what hungry animal may happen along.
I went out to check on her, and was shocked that I was able to get close enough to take photos without a zoom lens. She never indicated she knew I was there. And I wasn’t deliberately quiet.

It’s clear she smells me, and perhaps recognizes my smell as I’m out there with food and changing pool water every day. However when my husband went out to see her, she did react with fear, and felt her way back into the woods, to a tree where she climbed as her mom had taught her. She went up perhaps two feet…not high enough to protect her from any serious danger.

And so…what to do?

What would Ellie Mae Clampett do?

Well…she’d ask Pa if she could keep the lil’ critter, and surely Jed would say, yes!

However, I’m already overwhelmed with indoor cats and outdoor cats, not to mention a husband whose patience could evaporate any moment.

And so, the darlin’ lil’ blind raccoon, “Helen”, will need to be removed for her safety.

I have a wonderful veterinarian in Olive Branch, MS. Dr. Ann Dye of Cat and Cow Veterinary Clinic. The clinic sits on her family farm and yes, she does have a farm animal veterinary business, as well as one for the usual cats and dogs. She has a cougar that hides in a large, tall grassed pen, and a monkey in an enormous outdoor cage. Rumor has it the monkey doesn’t like men.

There are guinea hens running through the gravel parking lot, and dogs and cats, all ex-strays, constantly under foot. In the waiting room, one of the strays will make himself comfortable on my lap, or on top of one of my cat carriers, staring down at my upset cat with a smirk.

In the exam rooms, a stray will join us, either lolling on the window sill, or perched on the counter while one of my cats is examined. When checking out…a cat, like tabby Nick, will either be sleeping in the basket used by the doctor for patient charts,

or will drape across your checkbook. The women who are at the reception desk work around their furry coworkers, and even provide a fur-filled bed for Kit, the Turkish-Persian to nap.

It’s a wonderful clinic, and I have hope that Dr. Ann will be able to provide Helen, the blind baby raccoon, the kind of care that will help her to grow into a well-adjusted adult.


  1. I have a feeling Helen will grow up to be an ambassador for wildlife and a good friend to all who meet her.

    Years ago my grandmother came to visit me, which she rarely did due to her difficulty in getting around. I am the only grandchild who had "Ellie Mae syndrome" and never offered up any human great-grandchildren. Mostly Grandmother just shook her head at me but that day, after seeing the parrots, horses, dogs, cats, lizards, fawn, and the coyote that usually drank from a water trough in the pasture, she pointed out a gap between my den door and the floor.

    "What will you do if a snake crawls in through there?" she asked. (Grandmother was deathly terrified of snakes.

    "Name it and feed it at 5 pm just like I do everything else around here," I replied, never missing a beat.

    Yeah. It's fun to channel Ellie Mae! :)

  2. Oh yeah! The Ellie Mae's of the world, Unite!!! And bring extra critter food.