Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Scorekeeping: Raccoon 2, Jen 0

If you follow me on Twitter (@jenstrikesagain), you already know that I'm having an interesting adventure with that most cute and furry of all backyard pests, the North American raccoon (Procyon lotor). This probably came about because of the feral cats. When we moved into this house some six years ago, we found that a colony of wild cats (about five or six, though I forget the exact number) had already claimed the alley, portions of the yard, the underdeck and the roof of the shed. Being rather fond of cats, even cats that hated me and hissed when I got too close, I started feeding them and became the neighborhood crazy cat lady. However, I also trapped them all, got them to a vet, got them shots, and got them spayed and neutered (I think I scooped up a few of the local non-ferals while I was at it, but thus far none of the neighbors have complained or, in truth, have probably even noticed).

How do I afford this, you ask. Well, if you live in Dallas, there's a couple of organizations that can help you out. One is Feral Friends Community Cat Alliance, and another is Kittico. Both organizations have the same basic idea; feral cats will never be house cats, they don't like people, they have rotten lives on the street getting hit by cars, eaten by dogs, starving and getting diseases, and the best thing we can do for them is make sure they don't make any feral kittens while giving them sufficient food and a safe place to sleep. Makes them better neighbors, too; if not in heat, they won't howl, and if fed, they won't dig through trash. Both organizations work for free, or nearly. In fact the only time I had to actually pay big bucks for neutering a cat was when I scooped up a mom cat, already pregnant, and had to take her to the McKinney SPCA because everybody was full up. That cost me a hundred bucks, not to mention a day's pay. I figure I've singlehandedly prevented about a thousand kittens by now, so it was worth it.

Anyway, my little colony of cats went up as high as twelve at one point, but street cat life is hard and I'm now down to one. I call her Frost. Two or three hangers-on come over from local houses for extra meals once in a while, but for the most part it's me and Frost. Frost always has a dish of food outside and a bowl of water, and it's this that has attracted other backyardigans. This very hot summer I ran through water like, well, water; I think every squirrel in the neighborhood, to say nothing of birds, small rodents and other cats, were drinking from the bowl. And now, just recently, we have this raccoon.

No, not that one; that's just a representative photo. But she does look a little like that. I first suspected I might have a problem when I found the external food bin turned on its side and, uh, opened. The bin opens like a submarine hatch and is hard for me to manage on cold mornings. I couldn't figure out how in hell a cat (or, say, an opossum) could do that with just paws. Course, if you have opposable thumbs, less of a problem, right? Guess what has opposable thumbs. Yeah. See above.

The next day, I found the water fountain knocked over on its side, the water gone, and the water reservoir on the other side of the lawn. Also odd behavior for a cat or an opossum but quite logical for a raccoon, which likes to wash its opposable thumbs before it eats. I don't know why, they just do. I am not a student of raccoon behavior.

So I called Tracy, my time-traveling neo-craftsperson animal trainer friend and champion closet-door opener, and laid out the evidence. She agreed that I probably had a raccoon, and should try to trap it because it might be rabid. Rabies is bad in North Texas this year. I have a trap, so I took it out and baited it with bread soaked in agave nectar. (The correct recipe is marshmallows, but I didn't have any marshmallows. Excuse me for living.) Set the trap, went to bed, waited. The next morning I opened the door and found the trap on its side, the door open, all the bread gone, and the raccoon nowhere to be found. I called Tracy to report this and she said, "Oh, definitely a raccoon. Better luck next time."

Trouble is, I wasn't sure there'd be a next time. If Madame Raccoon could defeat a Havaheart trap, she was pretty smart. Hard to know what I'd come up with next time. Besides, I asked Tracy what to do if I caught her (for some reason that hadn't yet occurred to me) and she said, "You'd call Animal Control and they'd come get her." And then what? "Rabies is really bad this season," she repeated, emphasizing the words really and bad. Getting the hint, I asked if there was any way around the whole Aminal Control solution. She said, "Well, you could take her somewhere else and release her, like a public park or something. But don't get caught. It's illegal." Nice. But it beats killing her, which, you gotta admit, is kind of un-Buddhist-y.

Yesterday, Joan and I went to the State Fair of Texas, probably our first visit of many. Last night about 10:30, when we finally got home, I carefully opened the back door and turned on a flashlight to check out the feral cats' food bowl. Whenever I have to go out there at night I break out the flashlight; there's all manner of creepy crawlies known to hang around the food bowl, and they freak me right the hell out. The last thing I want to do is step on one. Instead of creepy crawlies in the bowl, though, I got a full-face shot of one very startled raccoon. "Oh my gosh!" I exclaimed to this fuzzy critter that doesn't, as far as I know, speak English. "Hi!"

In response, she retreated a way, though not all the way down the porch. This is good. Raccoon wary of human means raccoon probably not rabid. Then Frost, my sole surviving feral, came bounding up the porch for her evening meal. When she saw the raccoon, she hissed and took a swat at it. Raccoon immediately backed up another couple of feet. Very good. Raccoon wary of cats means she knows her place in the universe. And another hint that she's probably not rabid.

I filled the bowl, then called Joan in to check out the raccoon, which had waited patiently under the table for Frost to finish her meal before she ventured in to check out the leftovers. This morning Joan and I had a Discussion about the raccoon. The Discussion pretty much finalized that we're not going to try to trap her again. Much as they're not exactly welcome visitors, this particular one is not getting into the trash (why bother, there's plenty of cat food!), not rabid and in general not bothering anybody. I'm not sure what we'll do if Madame Raccoon shows up next spring with a litter of raccoonlets, but I guess we'll cross that frozen wasteland covered with ice when we come to it. (That's a Texas winter, in case you were wondering.)

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