In a follow up to my last article where I bemoaned the inconvenience of having a pack of raccoons as uninvited guests around the house… I want you all to know; I am not a raccoon hater.
As a matter of fact, I have a great fondness for the little ring-tailed, furry, masked bandits! This goes back to my childhood when my sister, Mary Jo and I had a pair of baby raccoons for pets.
Our pet raccoons came to us courtesy of a good friend of the family, Bill Stiers. Bill was in high school at the time, working for a local farmer and came across the little raccoons while moving hay out of a barn hayloft. With Bill’s encouragement, Dad and Mom agreed to let us keep them, but just for a little while.
The little raccoons were right at the age where they could eat bread soaked in milk with just a little sugar added to it, and they gobbled it up like two tiny pigs! It wasn’t long before they were eating everything landing in their food bowl. For a secure home, we put them in the old coal shed attached to the back of the house. The shed no longer being used was clean, had a concrete floor, smooth plywood walls, and gave them a lot of room to play. My sister Mary Jo and I outfitted the coon cage with several limbs for the little raccoons to practice climbing along with a large box full of clean rags for their bed.
Dad helped us name them… he suggested the names Coonie and Coonrod. I understood picking Coonie, but it was 20 years later before I found the origin of the name Coonrod while looking at an old plat map of Moscow. It seems many years ago when my father was a boy, there was a man who owned a large tract of the river bottom next to Moscow; and his last name was Coonrod.
You would think telling two identical baby raccoons apart would be difficult. Believe me… it wasn’t.
Coonie was docile and would come to you, and she loved to be picked up and petted… Coonrod not so much. When you started to reach for him, Coonrod would hump his back and dance a little on stiff, outstretched legs. Before you reached for Coonrod, you had better have something for him to eat or he might bite. After a bit of roughhouse and a snack and with some reluctance, Coonrod would let you pick him up.
We kept the little raccoons for several weeks before we turned them loose in the woods outside of town. Before they were released, they could snatch up and eat full grown, live crawdads I brought them from the river.
When we turned them loose, they were as fat as two little pigs and took to the woods without hesitation. Coonrod was leading the way and Coonie was following close behind.
Keeping a pet raccoon now requires anyone other than a certified rehabilitator to have a license. An application is available online at https://forms.in.gov/Download.aspx?id=8652.
It’s never a good idea to feed wild animals on a regular or continuing basis. As bird lovers, my wife and I keep a feeder loaded with sunflower seeds and a suet cake, and we have a proliferation of birds around our home.
One afternoon a few years back in late June, I looked out the window to see a small, very scrawny, underfed young raccoon scrounging under the bird feeder for any scrap seeds it could find. Even at a distance, I could clearly see its ribs and knew it was very undernourished and needed more than the scant moldy leftovers under the bird feeder.
Retrieving a couple of slices of bread, I slipped out the back door and started walking quietly to the bird feeder. My approach was blocked by the picket fence, and I was able to get within 15 feet of the little raccoon undetected.
Wadding up one of the bread slices; I peeked over the fence and threw it in the direction of the little raccoon. The bread landed about two feet behind the little rascal, and I almost burst out laughing as I saw it stop, stand up on its back legs and sniff. Suddenly it spun around and rushed to the piece of bread. It scooped the bread up in both front paws and looked at it like, “How did I miss this choice morsel?”
The little raccoon gobbled the bread down. When it was finished, I threw the other slice and simply said, “I’ve got your bread.”
At the sound of my voice, the little raccoon shot across the yard and into the safety of the brushy mill race. Standing there, I patiently watched until I saw a small pair of eyes peeking around the branches of the nearest tree. It was keeping an eye on me and watching another piece of bread on the ground.
I went back in the house, and in a few minutes when I looked, the second slice of bread had disappeared.
The next afternoon, the scenario was repeated. But this time, the little raccoon didn’t scamper up the tree when I said, “I’ve got your bread.” It stopped at the edge of cover and peeked out at me through the weeds.
Over the next few days, my encounter with the little raccoon came closer and closer. Even to the point, I could open the gate and it would very hesitantly let me approach to within just a few feet.
My next tactic was to get as close as possible, kneel down, hold out my hand and say, “I’ve got your bread.” Slowly, the little critter got braver and kept coming closer and closer.
In the following couple of days, I would kneel down; hold out my hand and say, “I’ve got your bread. But you are going to have to come and get it.”
I was amazed as the little fellow came within inches of my outstretched hand. I could see it quivering and shaking from fear at the huge creature offering it something to eat. I finally tossed the bread the couple of feet to the little coon.
The following evening, I held my ground until the little guy came up and after several minutes of a standoff, very carefully approached, took its two paws and lifted the bread from my hand. As soon as it had the bread in its mouth, it shot over to the safety of the brushy cover. What an incredible experience!
The ten days or so of supplemental feeding was enough to get the little guy “out of the woods.”
No pun intended, and it was the last time I saw the little critter.