As you might imagine, working with raccoons in rehabilitation is not always easy and comes with a variety of challenges. For a case in point, read to the end of this letter. Every so often, though, the masked bandits will make the job just a smidge easier for you.
Thus was the case in late September when we got a phone call from a friend about someone who had relocated a pesky raccoon only to discover two rather upset babies surfacing from under the deck a couple of days later. This, unfortunately, is an all too common tale, so let me begin by saying that relocating wildlife is illegal in California, and inhumane everywhere; plus, you may well end up orphaning some kids. Some people may find that to be an acceptable deterrent, but we do not.
In fairness to the young men who did this, they did not know the illegal and inhumane bits, and they had actually thought through the baby scenario and come to the conclusion that raccoons have babies in the spring so there wouldn’t be a problem. They did not consider that there is an exception to every rule, or the fact that raccoons don’t typically follow our rules anyway.
Having spoken with two of the roommates, there were a lot of outstanding questions about the possible orphans – one said they were about the size of a kitten, the other said they were about a foot long; such size disparity can make a huge difference when considering if the wee ones are wee enough to need to come into care. The young men were concerned enough about the consequences of their actions that they were willing to work with Steve and me to help the baby raccoons.
They sent us a photo of the area under the deck from which the adult raccoon and the babies had all come, pointing out a pipe that ran the length of the deck and appeared to be the entry point. There was a hill directly under the deck and the ground was a bit uncertain, but we figured it was worth going over to give it a look, so we grabbed up our bag of supplies: gloves of various strength and purpose; a sturdy kennel; a couple catchpoles (we figured one of us could push the babies from one end of the pipe out towards the other); and some towels (a towel, like to an interstellar hitchhiker, is about the most massively useful thing a wildlife rehabilitator can have!).
When we arrived, the situation under the deck was completely different than we had interpreted from the photo. Instead of running parallel to the house, the pipe ran perpendicularly out, with the far end at least 20 feet off the ground due to the aforementioned hill, a hill that was what I believe I have heard Bear Grylls call “scree”. The footing was horrible, the slope was steep, the scree was extremely loose and generated lots of dust, there was only a small cramped spot where we could wedge in near one end of the pipe, and accessing the other end would have required a far taller and sturdier ladder than we had or a cherry picker. Using a catchpole to harass raccoons from one end of the pipe was out of the question. Steve and I both had a sinking feeling that this was not going to be easy, but we had to at least try.
It should surprise no one who knows us that, in situations like this, Steve goes in to assess what we’ll need and how to approach the site, while I get stuck the responsibility of explaining to the homeowner what we will do. As Steve started carefully making his way up and across the slope toward the accessible end of the pipe, I began getting more information about where and why they had relocated the adult raccoon – breaking it to him that what they’d done was illegal, inhumane, and should never be done again – and explaining some of the reasons why a raccoon would have babies so late in the season (for instance, perhaps someone at WildCare had said something about raccoon foster care season being almost over…).
Meanwhile, Steve had made it over to the pipe and, upon squeezing himself into the little gap, started to make his most convincing raccoon mother trill. He immediately got a reply and seconds later a curious little face popped out to look at him. Upon seeing the furless biped, the young raccoon paused and tilted its head, but did not back up. Steve trilled again, and the eager baby that was behind the first, wanting to see what was going on (had mom come back?!?!), pushed the front raccoon closer to the opening. Seeing his one and only shot, Steve reached in and pinned them both with one hand while working his other in to snatch them up and toss them in the kennel.
Much amazement followed as Steve emerged in triumph just as I had finished telling the homeowner that we might not be able to get the raccoons and would probably have to set up a humane trap for them. This follows a rare-but-recognizable pattern that started a couple of years ago when we went to set-up for a possible reunite of a baby raccoon with its mother. As I stood on the porch, holding the tote bag of supplies and discussing the plan with the homeowners, Steve approached a tree that he thought looked like a good raccoon denning tree, softly trilled, and quite literally handed the baby back to the mother raccoon who peeked her head out.
I get a tiny bit jealous sometimes, but in reality, Steve is the hero these raccoons were waiting for, as I probably would not have been able to grab both of the porch babies, and one or both would have high-tailed it back to the other end of the pipe. However, from now on we’ll be adding a small head-mount camera to our supply kit so I can maybe get a first-person view of the heroics, even if it is after the fact.
We determined the babies were dehydrated and about 7-weeks-old, far too young to be left on their own, and took them to WildCare for intake and their eventual, and inevitable, transfer to our cage. As we described our mission and the results, one of the Med Staff proclaimed that Steve was like a Disney Princess – he sings to the raccoons and they just come to him!
As they come of age, Steve and I are looking forward to making these kids part of our traditional “Home for the Holidays” mid- to late-December release.
As for the rest of it. . .
Steve and I made a pilgrimage to Disneyland at the beginning of March in late celebration of Steve’s birthday. He may have turned 50, but he still charges through The Land at a pace that would wear out a 12-year-old (and certainly a then-42-year-old as well). After tracking a couple 30,000 step days on our Fitbits, we felt like we’d wrung everything out of Disneyland that we could. Happily, I was also able to visit the tasting room of one of my favorite cider makers when I realized they were just a short 10-minute drive from the airport we were flying into.
In April, we took a long weekend and drove up to Sutter Creek in the Sierras, where we napped, toured caves, and found tasting rooms for local cideries. On the perfect afternoon, Steve panned for gold while I collected rocks for eventual tumbling, before laying down on a blanket next to the river to relax while enjoying a growler of cider we’d picked up the day before.
My parents came out in July for their annual summer visit. We mostly stayed local, having dinner with friends, going to the farmer’s market, and exploring the old Nike Missile Site up in the Marin Headlands. That weekend happened to be an open house at the site, and veterans were there talking about their service at the base, with lots of really interesting, and scary, Cold War-era stories.
Steve and I vacationed on the Big Island of Hawai’i in October. The lava flow from the summer had stopped by the time of our trip so we did not get to see that, but we had a great time snorkeling, hiking, horseback-riding, and, yes, cider-tasting at the first cider-maker on the Big Island (and 2nd in Hawai’i). My Big Thing of the trip was getting my first tattoo, which was both planned and unplanned. I’d thought about getting it for years, but did not board the plane thinking I would be getting one on this trip. But when the sea turtle called, I listened, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Over the year, Steve and I took a few glassblowing classes at The Crucible, the local industrial arts school and studio. We really enjoyed the classes and are looking at ways we can continue this new hobby. Steve made a particularly good-looking goblet and pumpkin. My efforts might be better classified as “art glass”, but my vase has a particular Under the Sea charm, and enough heft to be an effective head clobberer in the event of an intruder.
H.B., Fergus, and Jonas continue to live their best furry lives and we love them immensely. H.B.’s kidneys have held steady through the year, and she seems to be in good, stable health through her 16th year. Fergus and Jonas romp around the house and snuggle happily with us and each other. I never really thought of Fergus as being in a shell, but he has really seemed to come out of one over the last year, being much more vocal and assertive in his demands of us.
I continue to be active in the Special Libraries Association. While I volunteer in a couple of leadership roles, planning the 2nd Annual SLA Cider Meet-up for the conference in Baltimore was the most fun. It was another huge success, with over 70 confirmed RSVPs before the event. Looking forward to Cleveland in 2019!
I’m still working in the Legal Department at Genentech, where I focus primarily on patent and prior art searching. Steve is still at Microsoft as a Principal Software Engineer working on PowerPoint.
After 15 years volunteering my Sundays in the Clinic at WildCare, I decided 2018 was the year for me to retire from the shift. Steve continues to go every Sunday, and we both continue to provide foster care at our home for orphaned baby raccoons. I also go in frequently on Sundays to help Steve with various raccoon care – weight checks, vaccinations, prying their mouths open to see their choppers (aka, helping age and evaluate them for release). This year has also seen us expand the use of our cage from weaning-age raccoons to a couple of larger, more challenging medical-case raccoons who need quiet, off-site housing with people who can reliably ensure they take the medications they require. As I write the first draft of this letter, listening to the blessed first rains of the season pour down the day after Thanksgiving, I’m girding myself for morning meds with a particularly noncompliant 12-pound bruiser who we all hope is finally healing after his tail amputation, so he can quickly be released back to the wild in which he so clearly belongs.
However, after years of chores not getting done at home, I decided to reclaim my time on Sundays, and spent several of those mornings this spring re-potting the many plants in our yard that hadn’t had attention in, well, 15 years. I also had other things that I felt I needed to shift my time and attention to this year. Starting with the Women’s March in January, 2018 has continued to see me at rallies and marches. I’ve volunteered at a couple of them, as well as at a volunteer fair for the local Indivisible/Swing Left/Sister District groups, and I did a little phone-banking and a lot of text-banking in the days leading up to the November election. There are only so many hours in a week, and having my Sunday mornings free allowed me to be more active in this important area.
If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, Steve and I can be found on Facebook. I also continue to blog periodically at www.midwesterngirl.com, posting about our travels, wildlife rehabilitation, and cider excursions. You can even find the full story of the successful raccoon reunite mentioned above there!
Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and, more than ever, peace in the New Year.