I love raccoons almost as much as I love cats. For the past seven years my yard has been used by raccoons to raise their families and escape the sometimes dangerous heat of Mid-South summers. I provide a couple kid-size pools, dog food, treats, and in return, they respect my trash bin and drive away poisonous snakes.
My relationship with the raccoons has always been positive. They know me and I know them well enough to name them. Sometimes during the harsh days of summer I will find several of them waiting for me on the porch. When I step outside with a bin of dog kibble, they gather around my feet and "escort" me down the slope to the back of my yard that butts up against a tree-lined creek. There I scatter kibble on the grass and also in the pool for those who enjoy eating and bathing at the same time.
Every year when the mother's bring their babies to my yard, the real show begins. My neighbors on either side invite their friends to watch the tiny brown balls of fluff as they follow their mom's around the yard, eating kibble and other snacks donated by neighbors. Throughout the summer into fall, the babies learn to trust me, and by early winter, when they are old enough to be on their own, they continue to return, as taught by their mothers. And, as Mother Nature intends, they soon bring their babies to my yard...and the cycle continues.
The most memorable raccoon of them all is a baby I named Helen. I discovered she was both blind and deaf 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.
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 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 having lunch with her family. 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 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, became frightened, and climbed a nearby tree a pathetic 2 feet up, thinking that was high enough for safety.
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. Yay! Except she stopped to sniff the strange object. And then she backed away. Darn! But then she walked in part way. Ahhh, the power of peanut butter!
While she was busy eating her sandwich, I used the plastic storage lid to gently nudge her further in, while at the same time I tipped the box up on end. Helen tumbled 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, Ray, 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 and secured her in the backseat. She road quietly for ten minutes. I could hear her eating her sandwiches. Then…she finished.
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 Igor from Young Frankenstein. 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!
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 skippy!
I finally flipped the box upside down, with the cheapo-taped top against the seat, hoping Helen would quietly sit on it and I could drive and…
Nope! She dug at the bottom, reminding me of the time I thought I had a feral cat secured in a cat carrier on the seat next to me while driving to my veterinarian…except he 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 the feral now head-butting my windshield less than two feet away.
I threw my purse on top of Helen’s box, and held it down with one hand while driving at a slightly accelerated speed. 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 opened the top, dropped the towel into the box and scooped my raccoon up like Helen was a frisky puppy.
Helen hung limp in Petra's hands like a rag doll...not 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. With two kid pools and food delivery twice a day, 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.
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?
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