Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rabid raccoons

Sure, they look friendly and sweet despite their robber mask.

But raccoons are wild animals. And they become vicious when they gain a sense of entitlement or are ravenously hungry - or if they are infected with rabies, and raccoons are known carriers of the disease.

When people feed them, they gain that sense of entitlement.

Worse, they lose their fear of people. So they start to believe that people, as a genus, should feed them. Then when we don't feed them, they become angry and, having lost their fear of people, they attack us.

They also attack, kill and devour small animals - domesticated cats and little dogs along with squirrels and other wildlife.

The even worse part of feeding these wild animals rather than have them work for their food - they multiply in much greater numbers than they would otherwise. Soon that cute little raccoon the kids used to see when they walked to their school bus stop suddenly turns into a family of six, the elders developing a girth so massive they can only lumber along.

Along with the size, however, comes strength. Having to hoist themselves up in trees and other climbing behaviors to amble through our neighborhoods creates a lot of raccoon muscle we'd rather they did not have because it only makes them more dangerous around us, our children and pets.

If you are scratched or bitten by a raccoon, you must undergo an extraordinarily painful series of rabies shots - injected in the abdomen daily for its course of several days.

Ask the Seattle family whose dog was attacked along with one of its adult owners.

Vancouver, BC, is also suffering from raccoon attacks - including finding a rabid raccoon in one of its popular public parks.

A raccoon attacked a Tacoma, Washington dog inside the house by entering through the pup's doggie door.

There's no need to run screaming if you see a raccoon, and I don't want to be part of an anti-raccoon sentiment.

It boils down to this. We're dealing with a wild animal. One that is losing habitat and then multiplying quickly because of easy access to food.

This wild animal can actually be domesticated - and has been by several people, but we have to wonder why someone would want to train an animal still capable of living a natural wild life to be a pet. For the most part, cats and dogs have been so domesticated they're incapable of living on their own. And when they do - feral dogs and cats have very short life spans and are dangerous to people and other domesticated animals (including horses).

Raccoons still have the ability to make it on their own - as long as we don't feed them and make them believe they can be reliant on people for food (and therefore survival).

They are omnivores, so they eat just about anything. They love habitats that are dark and cave-like. Attics are frequently homes to intruding raccoons.

My personal experience educated me about letting wild animals - like raccoons - be wild in a very painful way.

I was caring for a farm in exchange for room and board while the family who owned the farm were gone for nearly four months while I wrote my book MIND OVER MEDIA.

There were cows and chickens and lots of vegetable and fruit plants and trees that needed care along with the normal chores of keeping fences repaired, taking care of the family cat as well as my own, Kitzel

I raised 25 chicks literally from being hatched to egg-laying age, which isn't all that long. One of them "Big Red" became a pet. Chickens make really wonderful pets. They love to be petted and can be very social. Red would follow Kitzel and I around as I did the morning chores.

A little latch closed the chicken coop when they were back in the coop for the evening. Fenced in, they got to roam around during the day as they wished outside, then I would close the door at night.

One night I was awakened with a cacophony of chickens screaming, so I ran to see what was going on.

A raccoon had, with its little fingers we anthropomorphize are so cute because they resemble our own, pulled the latch open and, within minutes, killed 13 of the young chickens. Including Big Red. I saw it running away carrying some of its prey.

I was devastated. I cleaned up the coop and made a much stronger latch to protect the chickens.

I called the local police to see if someone could trap the raccoon, who I was certain would return.

The voice at the other end found it difficult to speak, he was laughing so hard. This was farm country. You don't trap predators, you shoot them.

Believe it or not, a neighbor lent me his .22 rifle to take care of Mr. Raccoon. I hoped I could just fire a couple of warning shots and he'd get the message. Well, night after night I'd wait for MR to return. Nothing.

So I moved inside the chicken coop, leaving the door unlatched, waiting to shoot at him when I saw his face. Still nothing.

Then one afternoon, as I was writing, I heard familiar chicken consternation, grabbed the rifle and dashed out the door.

There he was. Dauntlessly marching toward the coop, where the chickens had run inside.

I yelled at the raccoon. Because he had lost all fear of people - someone down the road had been feeding raccoons huge bags of dog food - he continued to walk toward the coop.

I picked up rocks and threw them at him, even smacking him with one or two, but they had no effect. He kept ambling toward his prey.

I did NOT want to kill an animal. I love animals. I have cared for so many of them.

I fired the rifle at him, barely missing him (I'm a very good shot) - to no avail.

I realized what I had to do.

I shot the raccoon.

He was finally stopped.

My knees shook so badly I thought I was going to fall over; it took me awhile to catch my breath.
But I knew I did the right thing to protect the surviving chickens. And the cats, come to think of it.


Point made.

Don't feed raccoons. Don't leave pet food out for varmints. If you're inside a city, chances are you're legally supposed to report them so they can be captured by animal control or a borrowed cage. In some places, animal control is so underfunded you can't wait to have them come out to trap them, you have to use your own wiles to either trap or protect your home and family - pets, kids and other humans - from the intruders in whatever way you can.

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