We never quite know what we are capable of, until the moment arrives and we have to make a choice.
This was my dilemma last Thursday when the woman from the state Fisheries and Wildlife Dept. informed me that if I trapped the raccoon(s) living under my house, I would be mandated by law to euthanize it (them).
Wednesday evening as my husband and I were bringing the trash cans back up to the side of the house, we both looked at each other curiously.
“Do you hear that?”
“That screeching sound?”
” Yes, I hear it. What is it?”
We followed the sound up the side of the house until we reached the area that juts out for our fireplace insert.
“What is that?” He asked.
“I think it’s raccoons. ”
“How can you tell?”
“Because it’s not cats. And I think possums just hiss. I think it might be babies.”
Also, in our house in California, I encountered possums in the garage pantry. I know what they sound like. This one had a particular affinity for Campbell’s soup.
Jeff grabbed a metal pole nearby and whacked it against the house. The growl that was emitted from the crawl space was ferocious.
We both turned and got out of the area as quickly as possible.
That night I texted my mother. “I think we have raccoons.”
My parents have dealt with raccoons at their house in years past.
She offered to send their trap over with my father the next morning.
I responded,” Yes please. Jeff says his online research determined that the person with the thickest wrists in the house has to deal with them.”
This statement needed no further clarification. Everyone knows I have the sturdiest bones in the family.
His research also indicated that it is almost unheard of for a raccoon to give birth under the house. They like to give birth up high, to protect their babies. Finding info on getting a mama and her babies out from under the house is nearly impossible, since it almost NEVER HAPPENS.
The next day my father brought the trap, and began setting it up. He told me he had an area where he could set them free once we had trapped them. He said they normally use cat food for bait, but we don’t have a cat, so I boiled some eggs.
This may seem like a strange form of bait for a raccoon, but I have personally witnessed their penchant for eggs, peanuts and animal cookies firsthand.
Back when Sydney was a baby, we were living with my in-laws while saving up to buy a house. Their house was nestled up to a wooded area, and so having a family of raccoons making their home adjacent wasn’t completely surprising.
This also happened to be 1995, the year that Pocahontas hit theaters. As I have previously mentioned ( in this blog ) I have always felt a connection to Native American culture, and I tried to pass this along to my children, to no avail. However, when they were small, they had little recourse.
Here is one year old Sydney with her Pocahontas doll and here…
is her first birthday cake.
As most of you know, in the movie, there is a mischievous raccoon named “Meeko.”
As a result, we called the raccoons at Jeff’s parents’ house “the Meekos.”
My mother -in-law often left out eggs, and the aforementioned peanuts and animal cookies for the Meekos. We didn’t exactly treat them as pets, but no one was kicking them out either.
So my father and I set up the trap with two boiled eggs in the back, and went to the side of the house to place it. The sound that came from underneath was otherworldly. Slightly demonic. My father’s eyes were enormous. I think I peed a little.
There’s nothing like a mama protecting her babies. That’s probably part of the reason I was feeling so much empathy for her.
Suddenly I was highly concerned that we would trap the mama and the babies would be stuck underneath without her, so that’s when I decided (on the advice of a friend) to call Fish and Wildlife.
“Unfortunately,” the woman said when I explained my predicament,” If you trap them, you are responsible for euthanizing them.”
“Why can’t we set them free?”
“Because state law says they must be euthanized.”
“I’m not bashing this mama and her babies over the head. I’m not doing it.”
“Well then I’d suggest removing your trap and calling one of the two local companies licensed to handle it. ”
She gave me the information and I hung up, distraught. I simply don’t understand this law. And there’s nothing inside me that is capable of harming creatures who did nothing wrong.
I called the first company on the list. “I’m not killing them,” I told the man.
“We prefer the term euthanize.”
“Please tell me there’s a way around this law.”
“The best thing you can hope for is that they will leave on their own. However, raccoons like to come back to wherever they’ve been, so if you are fortunate enough to get them all out, you need to close off the area so they can’t return.”
He told me the soonest he could come out was Tuesday. This whole thing was going to cost $500. I told him I didn’t think we could wait that long, seeing as how raccoons are very likely to carry rabies and we couldn’t go on the side of our house without fear of attack.
I called the other company, which happened to be Terminix. They said they could get someone out first thing Friday morning to evaluate the situation.
When the Terminix guy showed up (30 min past the time window) he seemed a bit flustered. I soon discovered why.
“I haven’t really dealt with raccoons. I’ve only been with the company 5 months.”
This was not a reassuring statement.
“Raccoons don’t usually give birth under the house. They usually like the attic.”
“Yeah, I have heard that.”
He was a rotund man, a bit sweaty, and he had his top three buttons opened on his polo, revealing ample chest hair. I watched him awkwardly work his way into a squatting position and then pop up quicker than a weasel in a toy box.
“Yep! There are raccoons under there!”
” I’ve been called out on raccoons twice before, but never found any. But you definitely have raccoons! She was lookin’ at me!”
“Yes. I know.”
“Well, see, the problem is, my boss is the only one licensed to deal with raccoons and he’s on vacation.”
“Let me call the home office and see what they say.”
I listen to his side of the phone call, and I know he’s got nothing good to tell me.
“yeah, so he’s real hesitant to say this, but, uh, you’re gonna have to call someone else.”
Funny, I had already made that decision on my own.
Actually, I called back to the first company and attempted to beg.
“Sorry, this has been a crazy month. Lots of ants. Early wasps. Now raccoons under a house. They never give birth under the house.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Look. Let’s get you scheduled for Tuesday. I’ll try to talk to Todd and see if he can squeeze you in tomorrow. In the meantime, try predator spray. It will make her think there’s a predator in the area. Maybe she’ll move the babies. Have you seen how many there are?”
“No. I haven’t seen them, only heard them.”
“She might not move them until their eyes are open.”
Three weeks. The answer is three weeks.
I called my husband. “The guy suggested predator spray.”
“Where am I supposed to find coyote urine?”
He looked online and called me back.
“This stuff isn’t easy to acquire. I could track a coyote and milk it in less time than it will take to get the strong stuff shipped here.”
He ended up getting a spray that had a reduced amount of coyote urine and hoped for the best. He sprayed it Friday afternoon to the sounds of growls and trills.
Friday night I took Zoe to her end of season soccer party. I explained my conundrum to a group of parents.
Someone said, “Raccoon feces is poisonous. I watched a bunch of guys in hazmat suits go to my neighbors 4 times to deal with their raccoon problem.”
“This is not the encouragement I’m looking for.”
I texted my friend about my raccoon problem.
She responded, “Do you have a plan or did you just bring them a housewarming gift?”
This is just one of many reasons I keep her around.
“I tried to reason with her.”
“I’m sure you did.”
Saturday morning Jeff got out a spotlight. He had decided to try a new tack: Operation Nifty Package Part Deux.
For those who are too young to remember, Operation Nifty Package was the U.S. government’s attempt to flush out Panamanian dictator and persona non grata Manuel Noriega from his refuge/hiding place in a church. Navy SEALs shone spotlights and blared rock music in an attempt to make him surrender and leave the church. I heard they also played “the Howard Stern Show.” Pretty sure that was a violation of the Geneva Convention approved tactics of torture.
My thought was the complete Morrissey collection would be the most likely to create an urgent escape(It would certainly work on me) , but Jeff had decided to go with an ultrasonic pest repellent noise machine. He set up the floodlight and we headed out to the hardware store in search of the machine.
When we got back, I peeked under the house (from a decent distance) but I couldn’t see the raccoon. I moved closer, but it was clear under there as far as I could see.
I was concerned that she had left and abandoned her babies, although I couldn’t see them either. I banged on the house. No screeching. No trilling. Jeff set the noise machine up, and as he did so, he looked as closely as possible. It appeared they were all gone!
“I see three whiffle balls, but no babies.”
My sense of relief was enormous. We were not going to be responsible for the deaths of these animals!
Jeff got some wood and boarded up the gap. There’s no room in the inn, Rocco. Or, Mrs. Rocco.
For a moment I wondered and worried that she had just relocated to a neighbor’s house. My next door neighbor has been out of the country and that would not be a fun surprise to come home to discover. I’m hoping they went to the swamp and found a place that was safe and warm.
Even though there was danger from disease, there was no part of me that was comfortable hurting this animal family. Many I talked to over the course of this ordeal felt differently. Jeff made jokes about using a BB gun, but the truth is, I’m not sure he could have done it either. We did a lot of reading up to try and figure out how to avoid killing them . We learned cayenne pepper and curry powder are repellents to raccoons. We tried to make the situation as unpleasant as possible for her without bringing harm to her and her kits. There are ways to handle it without resorting to death.
That night as we drove to the movies Jeff said, “Do I smell like predator spray? I think it wafted on me.”
“I don’t smell it. But the good news is, you won’t be attacked by wild animals. Except maybe a coyote looking for its mate.”
“That would be something.”
Good luck Mama Raccoon.