Saturday, December 5, 2009
Even with their eyes shut they would still manage to crawl up the sides of their cage and I would find them crying pitifully as they scooted across the floor trying to find Mom, or some sort of warmth. I would scoop them up and put them back in the cage under the heat lamp. After about 3 jail breaks I finally rigged a top for the cage which kept them contained for the time being. They grew fast, as did their appetite. I did a lot of research, trying to learn everything I could about the proper care of these wild babies entrusted to my care. I met many people, all with horror stories to tell of raising raccoons. I admit to having many trepidations about the long term commitment that this obviously was going to be. You see, raccoons are not able to fully fend for themselves until they are 5 or 6 months of age. Now that may not sound like a very long time, but let me assure you it is. Many wild animals are ready to be released at 2 to 3 months. This was going to be double that amount of time. These are animals that seem to have a special gift for finding and getting into trouble. At 3 months of age we placed them outside, they had full run of the yard and took up refuge in a hollow tree in our front yard. Each morning I would yell for them and they would very drowsily drag themselves up and out of the safety of their new found home to see what all the commotion was about. They would crawl down the tree, stretching in a very exaggerated fashion as if to tell me "this better be worth waking me up" A few treats in the form of marshmallows or grapes and all was forgiven.
Raccoons and water seem to go hand-in-hand, and it didn't take them long to find our goldfish pond, try and try as they might they could not figure out how to catch those obnoxiously tempting orange fish. You could almost see the frustration on their faces! I lost count of how many times they went head first into the pond, only to come racing out with their tail tucked between their legs looking all bedraggled from their experience. It almost seemed cruel to taunt them with those tasty fish that were inaccessible to them. I finally took pity on them and bought a kiddy wading pool and stocked it with crawfish, minnows and tadpoles. Oh...you should have seen them. They were like kids at Christmas, not knowing what gift to try first. In no time at all each of the treats swimming around in the water were stomped on, crushed or otherwise devoured. Oh what fun!
As each week went by they became braver and braver and began venturing out on exploratory missions that would have them gone sometimes for days. As any mother would I worried, concerned that some unfortunate accident had injured them or worse.....
They would return, heads held high looking quite proud of themselves for their grown-up behavior. I would just shake my head and smile...congratulating them on being big kids now. Nothing was safe around these mischief makers, if it struck their curiosity they found a way to get into it, or out of it. I walked on the back porch one day to find one of these "teenagers" laying on his back with a Mountain Dew can in his paws drinking his fill of the bubbly, caffeine laden beverage. Oh great!....just what I needed on my hands a caffeinated raccoon! As if they weren't energetic enough. I scooted him back outside sans drink. He pouted for a bit, but soon found something else to occupy his time.
Once they reached 5 months of age, in September, Ringo was showing all the signs of being an aggressive, independent male raccoon. His sister Rascal, was still sweet natured and liked people. So we had a puzzle on our hands, do we turn Ringo loose on his own and hope he makes it, or do we turn them loose together and hope Rascal stays away from people? The decision was made for me one evening when Ringo made his way into our duck enclosure and was trying have Duck Ala Orange' for supper. I entered the cage and grabbed for him and he turned on me. That was all I needed to see to know he was ready to be on his own. We took both of them 2 miles away to a stocked pond and beautiful pasture with nearby trees. Some friends of ours owned the property and were thrilled to have us release these raccoons on their property. They seemed so happy in their new home and I felt good about leaving them. Until......three days later Rascal showed up on a neighbors porch looking a little worse for wear. She had been in a fight with something, and was begging for help. We took her back in, gave her penicillin and fed her. Two days later my son drove her on his four wheeler back to the pond, only to have her return to our house the very next day. We were sitting in the kitchen and heard a racket, I pulled open the curtain to discover Rascal laying in a bird feeder on our kitchen window. Ok this wasn't going to do at all! My friend who owned the property suggested that she was probably just not ready to be on her own. She offered to take Rascal in for the winter and see what the spring would bring. It was amazing the difference a few more months made in Rascal demeanor. She became much more aggressive and raccoon-like. In March we released her again......or so we thought! She made her way back to our house again and tore into our greenhouse looking for food. We live trapped her and drove her 10 miles away to a conservation area, far away from people. It was high time she learned to be a raccoon. As far as we know she survived and caused no more problems.
This was one of the best experiences I never want to repeat that I've had in my life. Raccoons are charming, ornery, mischief makers that will win your heart, make you laugh, and drive you absolutely crazy!