Steve put a lot of thought into every aspect of our raccoon foster care cage when he designed it ten years ago. From the type of rot-resistant wood to use, to the gauge of the hardware cloth needed to keep bees out, to what was essentially the construction of two separate cages connected with a pass-through door that allows us to slowly integrate two groups of juveniles, every detail was considered. For ease of cleaning, we built the cage on legs that keep the bottom of the cage about one foot off the ground. This feature allows us to avoid too much time crawling around on the ground, and allows raccoon-related messes to fall through the bottom of the hardware cloth floor to the ground below, where we can rake up the miscellaneous hay and food bits without disturbing the cage above. It also keeps the soil from getting contaminated with any pre-treatment bugs these wild critters may bring with them, making it safer and easier to disinfect between litters. Brilliant!
However, there was one aspect of this particular design feature that we did not foresee. As the raccoons plow through their plates of food, pieces of kibble, bits of fruit, and the innards of too-soft boiled eggs fall to the ground below, creating a literal smorgasbord for any wild critters in the neighborhood who don’t mind a quick trip under the raccoons sleeping above.
This, in itself, hasn’t been a huge problem. Other than the scrub jay who took up residence outside our bedroom window one summer, squawking every 15 seconds starting at 6 in the morning, and who yelled at us whenever we went out to rake up its stash under the cage, we seldom encountered any of the free-loaders. But we could often hear them. Over the last couple of years, during which our summer raccoon load increased to the point where the cage was seldom empty from June through early November, we could hear an increased scampering on the roof above us.
It took us a while to figure out what it was. At first we thought it was squirrels when we heard it in the morning, but with the increased activity at night, it slowly dawned on us what it was. Most evenings as we relaxed in front of the television, we could hear an increasing family of roof rats make their trek back and forth over the house to the buffet on the other side. Oh well, live and let live. They were just trying to feed their family and there was food going to waste. We decided we’d make an effort to rake up the ground around the cage more frequently, but otherwise let it be. They had their space, and we had ours.
One Sunday morning this spring, around 4 am, we heard a mighty crash. Now, we live in a house with four cats, and they can be rather rowdy and mischievous, so this was not entirely unusual. I toured quickly and sleepily through the house and noted that some fold-up canvas lawn chairs stored in a corner had been knocked over. Ah, that was the sound we had heard. HB was standing close-by, looking a little guilty, but otherwise okay. Obviously, an early morning play session with a catnip mouse had gotten out of hand. I straightened the chairs and headed drowsily back to bed.
Being a Sunday in the spring, just as baby season was really heating up, Steve and I spent a long day at WildCare, getting home close to 3:30 that afternoon. After our usual post-WildCare showers, we grabbed a quick snack and headed to the back of the house to relax for a couple of hours before dinner. Everything was perfectly normal for our Sunday, dinner around 7:30, followed by sub-Q fluids for Cassady. We had just started to gird our loins in anticipation of the workweek ahead when I caught sight of something on the ground near those canvas chairs. “What the heck is that!” is something close to what I said.
Lying on the ground was a terrified, and barely moving, juvenile rat. This youngster had obviously not listened to his mother when she told him, “The people who live here are nice and keep us well-fed, but we must respect their space and never go inside. They have cats. Four cats!” I’m sure this adolescent was told something of the sort, but, like most teenagers, he thought he knew better. Or maybe he’d fallen victim to a double-dog dare.
With dawning horror, I realized that this rat was the subject of HB’s early morning romp, and he had been there all day, half crushed by the chair that rolled over him, unable to move even if he had dared, as two humans lumbered passed, and four cats sniffed the air curiously. And we had been at WildCare all day! If only I had seen him in the morning, I would have been able to take him there.
But now it was close to 10 pm, WildCare was long-closed, and Steve and I had to make a decision. Thinking the poor rat was probably paralyzed, we pondered the possibilities. While the theory behind cervical dislocation is sound, the practice is oogie. We couldn’t do it. We considered other alternatives, but we either didn’t have the tools or, more frequently, the intestinal fortitude to do the deed.
In the end, Steve and I decided to do the only thing two “reasonable” people could do – we set up the rat with water and a small dinner of birdseed and the fruit we already had chopped for the raccoons, put him in a dark, quiet room in box on a heating pad, and decided that if he made it through the night, we’d bring him to WildCare before heading to work.
And make it through the night he did, giving us quite a start as he leapt at our peeking faces, trying to get out of the box when we went to check on him in the morning. He spent a week getting two squares a day at Hotel WildCare, before being released back in the finders’ yard.
As for the rest of it. . .
2012 has been a beast of a year. There are other, less PG ways I usually describe it, but I’ll refrain. We started off the year with Ezra coming down with pancreatitis in January due to an excursion into our trash can where he came across some uncooked chicken. He was very sick (like in-the-hospital-with-an-IV sick) for a week, but managed to pull through. He has mostly gotten back to his old self, but I think the illness caused him to really feel his age for the first time, and it took most of the year for him to get back that old twinkle in his eye and swagger in his step.
Cassady got into the trash at the same time. It did not cause such a serious illness for her, just mild GI upset, but this can be trouble for a cat with chronic kidney failure. We got her back on-track with sub-Q fluids for several days in a row. She turned 18 this November, and continues her graceful and sassy aging, assisted by fluids every other day.
We have not been so fortunate with Elsa. She got sick with a respiratory illness in the spring and, after several weeks of trying to determine the diagnosis, followed by several months of treating what was thought to be asthma, we were recently given the devastating news that she has an untreatable, and now advanced, lung cancer. We are trying to enjoy our remaining time with her as much as we can.
As I said, it’s been a tough year; while I’d like to be able to keep things light for this letter, there’s just no good way to do it and still provide an update. The one bright spot has been that, other than a benign cyst on her back that needs periodic attention, HB has remained blessedly healthy.
I am still a law librarian at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. It was a good, but extraordinarily busy, year as the firm continued its merger process, and I started receiving projects from attorneys who are legacy “the other” firm. I remain active with the Special Libraries Association, and will begin my term as President of the San Francisco Bay Region chapter in January. I sometimes feel daunted by the task, but am usually excited about the things I want to accomplish. In July, I went to the association’s conference in Chicago, after which I headed to the suburbs for a quick visit with family. I was extremely fortunate that my 20th high school reunion was scheduled for that very same weekend. If it had been any other weekend, I would not have been able to attend; I was very glad see so many old friends.
Steve is senior development lead for the Collaboration Services group in Microsoft’s Apple Productivity Experiences group. It has been another extremely busy year for him as well, as his team pushed ever onward through a string of deadlines. Steve is currently considering which projects interest him in the future as they face THE project deadline in the spring.
We continue to volunteer our Sunday mornings in the Clinic at WildCare and provide foster care in an enclosure at our home for orphaned baby raccoons. This particular summer was actually a rather slow one for our raccoon cage. With other eager team members taking much of the burden, we only had a few groups come through the Barker-Shaw Bed & Breakfast. We also made good on our promise to minimize the food accumulation under the cage and haven’t heard any tell-tale scurrying across the roof in months.
If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, Steve and I can be found on FaceBook and Twitter.
Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and peace in the New Year.