June 29, 2011

Helen the Raccoon

For the past week I have been busy with (okay, obsessed over) a baby raccoon.

I discovered she was both blind and deaf on June 21st when I approached with food and her siblings ran for the woods, and she did not. I could slide food right under her nose, and she had no idea I was there. Her nose was in perfect working order, however. She loved peanut butter sandwiches.

I named her Helen (as in Helen Keller). Often I saw her sitting by the kiddie pool, where the critters got their water, eating kibble…alone. The size of a basketball, she would have been easy pickings for a dog or whatever to kill her. When I spied a stray yellow lab eating kibble by the pool, I knew time was running out. I had to do something.

I called my veterinarian, who advised me to contact a local wildlife rehab. I made inquiries and today spoke to Petra of Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation in Lake Cormorant. I barely got the words blind and deaf baby out of my mouth when Petra said, do you have her trapped? Well…no. I have enough cats to know what goes into their mouths comes out their bottoms. I was not going to catch Helen until I knew I could hand her off immediately.

A live trap would not work on Helen. I would catch every member of her family before she stumbled into the trap. I knew I would be somehow handling the baby, but I didn’t want to scare her. Petra advised me to put a blanket over Helen, sweep her up and put her in a box, then call her. Uh…too simple. Which meant I had to put my own sweet spin on catching her.

I didn’t like the idea of throwing a blanket over her. I have never caught an animal that way. I prefer luring into a baited live trap or cage and slapping the door shut. It worked several times on the wildest of stray cats, so that was the route I decided to take with Helen.

I found a large box, an old blanket, gloves (I’m no fool) and was making two peanut butter sandwiches when my husband called.

I told him what I had planned for the day. He made a scoffing sound. “What?” I demanded.

“It’s not going to be as simple as you make it sound,” he said. “Its never simple with you. There is always a bigger story.”

I got huffy, assuring him I could do it. We agreed to disagree and hung up, with Ray saying he couldn’t wait to hear the bigger story, and me sticking my tongue out at my cell phone.

It didn’t take long before I spied Helen out with her family, scrounging for kibble. I waited until the others returned to the woods. Then I grabbed the box, gloves and sandwiches, including the plastic lid from a large storage box. I walked right up to Helen and set the box on end so she would walk into it. Meanwhile…Gidget decided I needed her help.

Gidget is a year-old ex-stray and has watched her dad, Jesse the Wonder Cat, smack raccoons when they try to grab his dinner. I’ve seen Gidget copy her dad…so I did not want her around Helen. As it happened, Helen smelled Gidget and became frightened. She backed into the woods, and climbed a tree a pathetic 2 feet up.

I went back inside to wait for Helen to return. When she did, I put Gidget in the laundry room. I also said a prayer that I would be smart about trapping Helen. I didn’t want to frighten her. Imagine being deaf and blind, and suddenly something grabs you!

Helen sat in the middle of the kibble munching happily. She has a perpetually happy smile on her face. I hated to upset her. 

I placed the box between her and the woods, and baited it with a sandwich. Then I tore off a small corner of the other sandwich and slipped it under her nose. She went right for it, biting off tiny pieces. I gave her a really small portion, but it took her like, ten minutes to eat it. Meanwhile I’m standing over her, baking in the sun, itchy from the flies buzzing around the damp kibble and Helen.

When she finished, she picked up another piece of kibble. My patience was wearing thin. I was ready for both Helen and I to get on with our lives. But then she smelled more peanut butter and headed for the box, only to stop and sniff the strange object. She backed away. I held my breath. And then she walked in part way. Ahhh, the power of peanut butter!

While she was busy working on the sandwich, I used the plastic storage lid to gently nudge her further in, at the same time tipping the box up on end. Helen fell into the bottom and before she could make a sound, I had the lid closed and taped shut.

Yep. I taped it shut, using two strips of tape designed for sealing storage boxes. It had to be good stuff. My husband doesn’t buy cheap-o crap.

Then I called Petra, who cheered, and we made plans to meet half way. I released Gidget, closed up the house, then carried Helen in the box to my car backseat. She road quietly for ten minutes. I could hear her working on her sandwiches. Then…she finished her sandwiches.

Ruh roh!

The box in the back seat with the happy smiling deaf and blind baby raccoon began to rustle. I had one eye on the road and one eye on the box…not easy to do unless you’re Marty Feldman. I was thankfully on a Mississippi backwoods highway with nary a car in sight. Very thankful when I turned around for a third time and saw Helen sticking her nose out of the box top.

Looked like Ray’s theory that I always had a bigger story was about to come true…which pissed me off.

Yeah, I had taped the box shut. Two whole pieces! Dirty rotten cheap tape. Ray’s tape! I had something to blame on him!

Feeling much better about my circumstances, I pulled off the highway and shook the box, thinking Helen would huddle quietly in the bottom for the rest of the drive. Nope! She ramped it up. Deaf and blind—yes. Raccoon with claws—damn straight!

I finally flipped the box upside down, with the cheapo-taped top against the seat, hoping Helen would sit on it quietly and I could drive and…

Nope! She continued to dig at the bottom, making me recall the time I thought I had a feral cat safely in a cat carrier on the seat next to me while driving to my veterinarian in Jacksonville…except the cat kept head-butting the door and actually punched it out so that he crawled out of the carrier…while I’m driving…one eye on the road, the other eye on Tony now head-butting my windshield less than two feet away.

Ruh roh!

I threw my purse on top of Helen’s box, and held it down with one hand while driving at a slightly accelerated speed for my exit. The box rocked and rolled. I tapped on it, hoping to…not scare her but…communicate! Yes! My tapping was me spelling w-a-t-e-r to Helen, assuring her she didn’t need to be panicking cuz I was doing enough of that for both of us.

I prayed my exit was coming up next. It was. I then prayed Petra would be pulling into the gas station parking lot at the same time I was…and she did. Thank you, Jesus!

Petra got out of her van with paperwork. Clearly she thought I had everything under control and we could do a little business before making the transfer. I guess my wild eyes and shriek about Helen wanting out of the box NOW made Petra change her plans. She tossed aside the paperwork and opened the car door. Helen’s arm reached out from the box’s crap-o taped bottom formerly top. Petra pushed the paw back inside. Helen then punched her nose out the hole she had chewed in the box’s top formerly bottom. I think I yelped. Not sure. Everything went black for a second.

When I came to, Petra had a small pet carrier and a yellow bath towel. She actually opened the top and peered down at Helen. She then dropped the towel into the box and scooped my raccoon up like they had been made for each other. 

I watched with envy while Petra held Helen up to inspect her eyes. Helen hung limp like a rag doll, nothing like the boxed maniac terrorizing me down I-69.

“She has no eyes,” Petra finally said. “There is nothing there.”

Aw. I felt bad for thinking of Helen as a maniac. She didn’t have eyes!

Petra determined Helen was 3 months old, and was amazed she had lived that long. I wasn’t. Helen had been born to the right raccoon mom, who—generations before her—had set up camp in the woods behind my house. Since 2007 when we had a bad drought of 100+ degrees for weeks, I had set up the pool and kibble routine. Helen didn’t have to go far from her bed to get food and water. We have quiet neighbors. No dogs. No children. Ideal in every way to nurture a baby raccoon with birth defects.

Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation in Lake Cormorant, MS is a 501 © 3 non-profit organization. 100% of donations go directly to the animals in their care.
9865 Green River Road, Lake Cormorant, MS 38641
662-429-0044, 662-429-5105
I wrote out a fat check and Petra and I hugged twice. I was teary driving home, relieved Helen would have the care she needed, and would be safe from harm. Relieved there are Petra’s out there to devote their every waking moments to Helenesque creatures in desperate need. Relieved I wouldn’t have to worry about the helpless little basketball of fluff groping her way around my yard.

Before we parted Petra gave me powdered canine dewormer to sprinkle on the coon kibble. She said she appreciated my help caring for the wildlife and told me she currently had 20-some raccoons in her care, one of which had a broken leg. Clearly God put Petra in my path. Who better to take Helen than someone totally devoted to the species?


  1. Awe, I'm so happy for Helen. The poor baby would have been a splat on Goodman Road before long. Maybe I'll try your cardboard box and tape method the next time I have to transport Binky. Oh, wait. She can see and hear. And she's smarter than I am. Hey, there's potential here for a series of stories about an animal rescuer like Petra. Think about it.

  2. You went the extra mile for Helen and saved her life!

  3. Aww, what a wonderful story. I'm so glad you took care of Helen. Big hugs to both you and Petra.

  4. Thank you all. I know in my heart Helen is in God's hands. After all, whatever her future, it is up to Him.

  5. Kim, I'm so proud of you. I pass this post along to people as I go. Just beautiful.

  6. Oh Herman. Thanks so much for telling me about this post. I just loved it. So did the peep. I'm so happy for Helen and so grateful for your mum.

  7. This is such a great post, and you are an excellent writer. I was sitting right on the edge of my seat for the last half. You are also a wonderful friend to wild life,