One particularly lovely thing that can happen in wildlife rehabilitation is a reunite of a displaced baby with its mom. If the baby or babies are in good health and the particulars of circumstance and location are right, it is possible to attempt to reunite the “orphan” with its mom. However, in far too many cases, those three pieces do not come together to allow the attempt. And, even when the attempt is made, all too frequently the reunite isn’t successful.
Steve and I have become fairly skeptical over the last 13 years, having gone to too many finders’ houses to do the set-up only to get the call the next morning that the baby was still there. One particular thing that makes us very wary is when one baby comes in. If mom is still around, she probably has a few other kids she has to care for and may need to write off the missing one. Sometimes three babies come in, and two will be gone the morning after the first reunite attempt, but that third is still there. We’ll sometimes try for a second night, but the last baby is rarely retrieved. It’s like the mom raccoon gets two back and says, “you know, that’s really all I need right now”. Hooray for the two that were taken back, but then we are left with a lonely singleton that we’ll need to create a family grouping for. But, every so often, a true rehabilitation miracle occurs.
One Sunday this summer, we got in a beautiful, fat, healthy baby that had been found on a walking path. In many cases, this happens when the mama raccoon is moving her babies to a new den and gets startled by an early morning dog walker. The baby is left on the trail and is found by people before the mom thinks it’s safe to come back. In this case, the finders were willing to have us attempt a reunite, which is the first hurdle, the baby had obviously not been left alone very long, and the finder location was less than a mile from our house, so Steve and I committed to trying the reunite set-up that evening.
Although we were a bit concerned about the nature of this walking path – was it a frequently hiked trail? were there lots of people and dogs? would there be good cover for the kennel? – it turned out it was actually just a path from the finders’ front yard to their back yard. The house was off a side street with very low traffic and lots of privacy. There was a big, welcoming tree on a small sloping hill that came to a three-foot retaining wall just above the walking path. Steve walked around the tree and saw a wonderful hollow beckoning in the trunk. As we were visually scoping out the yard, it was hard not to come to the most logical conclusion – the weaning age baby had been misbehaving, venturing out of the hollow while mom was away, had fallen from the branch onto the slope and then toppled over the retaining wall and onto the walking path. Once there, it started making calls to its mother, which were heard by the finder who came out to investigate.
Steve decided to utilize the baby’s vocalizations to see if he could determine if the hole in the tree really was an active den site, lifting the baby up and letting it scream at the indignity of it all for a minute. Hearing the soft sounds of baby raccoons coming from within, Steve was just about to head to the car to get our inspection camera to try and get a view inside when a decidedly unbaby-like raccoon head popped out of the hole to see what was the ruckus.
Almost unable to believe our luck, Steve quickly placed the baby raccoon on a branch next to the hole and the mama raccoon reached out and pulled it into the den.
The baby for some reason wasn’t quite sure he was ready to return to his family – perhaps he’d heard about the legendary Master Chef-style raccoon diets I’m known for making. At any rate, he made some trilling noises and started climbing back out of the hole. I admit, we were slightly concerned that perhaps it wasn’t his family in that tree after all. But he was quickly tugged back down by his mother, who undoubtedly made it clear he was grounded.
We cautioned the finders to just leave the tree alone, assuring them that the family would move out in a few weeks (possibly sooner now that the den had been discovered), and to call us if the baby were back on the ground the next morning, and certainly not to attempt to put the baby back as Steve just had. No such call was received all day, and we coincidentally ran into them the next evening at the county fair where they assured us that all was quiet on the raccoon front.
We do very much wish we had been able to get video of the mother and child reunion, but everything happened too quickly. I was stuck on the porch with the finders while Steve had been intending on just an initial investigation. Once it was clear mama raccoon was at home and able to receive her son, we desperately didn’t want to risk jeopardizing a successful reunite while messing around to get the video going. Or risk pissing off mama! Can you just imagine? “Yah, we could’ve done the reunite, but instead we got this great selfie of Steve holding the baby just as the mama raccoon was leaping onto his back!”
So, Steve will just have to enjoy the memory, while I make do with his description of the miraculous event. At least we’re both able to take profound pleasure in knowing that the baby grew up with his family in the wild, as he was supposed to, and we did not have yet another singleton that needed us to create a new family for him.