Pet Prose: A Lesson from the Wild Raccoons

By the Pet Pro
(The Pet Pro has over 20 years of professional experience caring for animals of all kinds.)

This is a true story. My brother lives in Ohio, and has a great house with a strip of trees in the back that hides the freeway, and gives the illusion of being in the woods when you sit out on the deck. There’s a large tree that grows through a hole cut in the middle of the deck, and a little creek runs nearby. It’s a lovely spot that attracts all kinds of critters, and my brother is an animal lover like me, so naturally, when the raccoons came to visit, even though he’d been told you shouldn’t, he put out food and water. One of the little masked creatures came nearly every day, and eventually would take food from his hand. He named her Isa, and they became friends. After a while, Isa stopped coming, and he thought she’d found a new location and hoped she was OK.

One day Isa returned, and surprise, surprise, brought with her several babies.

Throughout the summer and fall they came often, and Isa watched fondly as her babies also ate from his hand. Unfortunately, raccoons being raccoons, the band began to break into the sun porch looking for food when my brother wasn’t home and, fearing for the safety of his two cats, he had to stop feeding them and put heavy screening on the back door to keep them out. That seemed to be that.

The following year, he began to hear noises up under the roof, and thought he had rats or squirrels in the attic. He called a professional “verminator” and was told it was a family of raccoons.

Regretfully, he let the man do his job, which involved trapping and “disposing” of the animals. He caught all the little ones and took them away, but was unable to trap the mother. After several tries, he finally lured her into the trap, and when he brought it down he left it sitting on the deck for a few minutes while getting something from his truck. My brother looked at the animal, who was hissing and spinning around in fright, trying to escape. She looked familiar, and he said, “Isa?” When the exterminator came back, he gaped in astonishment as Isa calmly was taking food from my brother’s hand. The man said that in all his years of working with wild raccoons, he had never seen one relax enough to eat while in a cage. My brother asked whether there was anything to be done for her. The fellow thought about it, and then said, “You know, I have a buddy who has a sod farm, and they use raccoons to work there maybe he could take Isa. She’s already so used to humans, she would fit in perfectly, and it would be a real shame to destroy her.” It turns out that on a sod farm, each day the farmers lay the sod out in long strips and water it, and each night the raccoons roll up the sod into perfect bales as they eat the grubs that are growing on the bottom. The next day, the farmers roll the sod flat again and water it, and the next night the raccoons roll it up again and eat the grubs. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship. The raccoons aren’t tame, but they co-exist in this working collaboration. So Isa was retired to the sod farm, and my brother no longer feeds wild raccoons. Thankfully, this story had a happy ending, but the message is still clear. Wild animals are wild, and need to stay that way. We can help them best by protecting the natural world that is their rightful home, rather then trying to make pets out of them. (My brother does still have several squirrel-proof bird feeders in his backyard, where the birds provide hours of viewing pleasure for his two house cats.)

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