“Are you a cat person or a dog person?” I’m pretty sure I’ve been asked this question countless times during my lifetime, even more so since finding myself back in the world of dating over ten years ago. However, never once have I been asked if I was a raccoon person. Little did I know that back in April of 2020, a raccoon had chosen me to be her “human.” It was at this moment, my face became a permanent imprint on Rocky (my unbeknownst-to-me pet). It’s no secret to my friends and family that I’m an animal lover, often finding my compassionate side of empathy taking in a stray cat or rescuing a stray dog from the shelter, but a raccoon? This was new. This was unique. This was intriguing. This was something I was told not to mess with. This was a challenge. Thus, this was for me.
One afternoon in April, I was coming out of my house through the garage, when out of nowhere came a raccoon down the crepe myrtle adjacent to my home. He (I have always made animals a male pronoun initially for no good reason) stopped in his tracks, as did I, and we had a stare down for what seemed like eternity. Then came the infamous charge and growl I grew later to chuckle at. Rocky could puff himself up to look mean and scary and had that deep-in-the-back-of-the-throat growl that made one look for the nearest object you could climb. I had no such thing around me, so I went for the broom. The broom did its job, and Rocky scampered back up the tree to the roof of my house….. not to the lot full of trees next to my house where it seems a raccoon might be found. Suspicion immediately set in, and my worst nightmare was discovered a week later. Rocky had made his home in the crawl space over my patio connected to my house. Through another adventure that could have its own article, my friend and I got Rocky out and boarded up the hole, leaving him without a roof over his head, literally. Days passed with no sighting of Rocky. I concluded he had moved on and found someone else’s house to invade. What I didn’t know then that I know now was Rocky was not a “he.” Rather, Rocky was very much a “she” and just days from giving birth to her litter of four kits. During those days that I didn’t see her, she was bringing sweet Rip, Roxie, Roger and Rue into the world.
During the months of May and June, Rocky would visit me daily. Being a schoolteacher, I have the summer off, therefore I am able to give a little extra time in nurturing a relationship with a wild raccoon. Isn’t that what everyone does in their spare time? I spent many moments googling and researching everything there was to know about raccoons: do they have rabies, will they attack, what they will eat, and will they hurt cats? I read and educated myself, but none of the traits I learned about raccoons that cause fear were displayed by Rocky. Her attempts to look mean had passed and her growls ceased. I bravely found the courage one hot summer day in June to reach out and pet her down her back. She didn’t move. Rather, she got closer to me. She loved my hands rubbing her fur and scratching behind her ears. It was on this day I knew I had earned her trust. Her favorite feeding night was when I had Mexican food. She could devour tortillas faster than I can a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Yet, it was dessert time that made her the happiest. A veterinarian friend told me to give her marshmallows. Marshmallows quickly became a staple in her diet!
This routine continued until July rolled around. It was then Rocky introduced me to a secret she had been keeping. With a chatter over and over towards the direction of the trees, I watched Rocky “call” down four baby raccoons. My coon was a mama. My coon wanted me to meet her babies like she had met my babies, Phoebe and Stone. I froze. I’m now in the presence of a wild mama coon and her four babies. Does this change our relationship? Should I be afraid all over again? Will she get mad if I touch one? All these questions ran through my head during this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Through my best prediction of when I knew I had kicked her out of my house and when I had learned that baby raccoons start coming down the trees to look for food with their mom, I concluded they were around eight weeks old. Without missing a beat, I quickly named each of them. The most outgoing one that appeared to be strong and fearless was named Rip. I guess it’s obvious what show I’m watching these days. I named the pretty one Roxie after a Barbie doll I had growing up. The more reserved, suave coon was named Roger. My love for the famous tennis player, Roger Federer, runs deep. Last was the runt, who I named Rue. She has to be the runt because she’s half the size of the other three. Rue was the only name I could think of to stay with the alliteration I had going along with my last name, Robertson.
The days of August, September, and October were filled with countless moments of memories made with Rocky and the babies. I eventually became able to pet each of them, as well as feed them all from my hands. Rip would even let me lift him into my lap as a younger coon. Sadly, Roger went missing in September and never made his way back home. I’m pretty sure I sensed Rocky looking over her shoulder for him on many occasions. Rocky would play with them in the lot next to my house. I would see her sit in the middle of the lot and just let them tackle her, pull her ear, and try to nurse, even though they had long been weaned. She would lead them up the crepe myrtle to my roof, where they would form a line on the top of my house and take a nap. She was the best mother. She showed them never-ending love and nurture and how to take care of themselves. The last day I saw Rocky was October the 13th. The babies were only five months old upon her absence and typically don’t disperse from their mother until around eight months old. I’ve chosen to believe she found a home that can offer her marshmallows for eternity, tortillas from an automatic dispenser, and has her feet kicked up secretly in someone’s crawl space.
The New Year is upon us, and my baby raccoons are officially at the age where they will either choose to relocate or look for a mate. I still get visits daily from either Rip or Roxie, but rarely at the same time anymore. Rue has been gone for several weeks, though I never count her out. She’s the free-spirit one and a bit unruly. My gut tells me that Rip has “imprinted” me to be his human, much like his mother before him did, and this could possibly mean “he” is a “she.” I’m no raccoon whisperer, as some have teased me to be. Rather, I simply took a moment to show them love, tolerance, sympathy, and understanding… noble traits we could offer more in humanity daily.