Tuesday, August 6, 2013
A Raccoon's Placemat
It's 2 a.m. and I am, naturally, sound asleep. Suddenly there's a ferocious wild monster jabbing, scratching at me -- trying to eat me alive! - digging its claws into my side for a coiled-spring launch out from under the covers. Then, just in case I wasn't all the way awake, a machine gun volley of the "this-is-serious!" invader-bark. Zeek, having flown out of the bed, is flying around the house in a maniacal frenzy, barking at every door and trying to scale the walls so he can bark out every window. He's vibrating, quivering, on fire. A hard-working, driven hunting dog, he is serious about his task, but he also loves it. He is smiling big and vibe-ing me to let him out, let him at it.
We had our first invasion last summer. We'd been off somewhere for a couple of weeks. When we arrived back at the house, opened the gate and stepped into the yard, the dogs instantly sprang into something-has-been-in-the-yard mode. This isn't so unusual as there are a couple of neighborhood cats that like to torment the dogs, sitting in sight just outside the gate where the dogs can see them and want them and salivate for them, but can't actually get them. I'm pretty sure those cats venture into the yard when we're gone to leave torturous scent trails for the dogs. But this time was different. The something-has-been-in-the-yard behavior was exponentially more frenzied than it had ever been for just a cat.
The frenzy continued, for Zeek, over the next week. Every time I'd let him out to pee, he'd tear around the yard, forgetting he had to pee, hijacked by his drive to hunt whatever had been - and maybe was still coming every night? - in the yard. Then one early morning when I let him out, it – whatever it was - was still here, not yet departed from its night visit, sitting by the golden currant bush. Zeek bolted for it; it bolted over the fence; Zeek followed. Over my 6’ fence into the neighbor’s yard, over their 6’ fence into the next neighbor’s yard… After three more instances of Zeek sailing over the fence in pursuit of it - whatever it was - and me running around my neighbors’ back yards in nightgown and bed-head trying to catch and calm him, we did a little fence re-configuring so Zeek couldn't gain leverage on the lateral 2x4s and - hopefully - no longer be able to escape.
With that part of the problem solved, maybe, we still had the problem of the invasions making Zeek crazy. I had no concept that it could be anything other than one of my neighbor's cats, maybe a new, unfamiliar one? I didn't want Zeek to kill it if that was indeed who our night visitor was, so I inquired as to whether my neighbors had recently gotten a new cat, told them about our mysterious night visitor, and they said, "Oh, no, it’s a raccoon; it’s been eating out of the compost bin, and eating our tomatoes."
One live-trap and one dish of dog food soaked with salmon oil later, we had Zeek’s nemesis safely ensconced in a cage.
We thought it was important to show Zeek the raccoon in the cage, and let him see it being removed from the yard, hoping he would understand that it was now gone, and we then relocated the little guy to the river at the other end of the valley.
End of story?
Where there is one raccoon, there is a whole litter of brothers and sisters, and obviously some parents. Not only does my yard lure with a compost bin and a garden chock-full of fresh food, there is also Zeek’s goldfish hunting tub which, come to think of it, has been strangely void of fish lately.
Raccoons are smart. They’re notorious for recognizing a trap and rather than entering it, reaching through the side bars and removing the food without setting off the trap. They’re known for a couple of effective, lethal ways of defending themselves from dog attacks: holding a dog’s head under water until it drowns; or rolling onto its back when attacked and slashing the length of the dog’s stomach as the dog pounces on it, leaving the dog’s guts pooled on the ground.
Zeek and I had a close encounter of this kind at the river one summer when the boys and I were tromping around in 5-foot high grasses on the riverbank. I could locate the boys by watching the grass move; otherwise the grass was nearly over my head and visibility was nil. Suddenly I heard an unfamiliar, deep, vicious growling – not Zeek’s voice, not Sprocket’s voice – and then the unmistakable ruckus of a dog-and-? fight. I, as I realized later, adrenaline-slung the can of bug spray I had been applying at the moment, and leapt over a narrow runnel toward where I saw the grass moving and heard the growling and gnashing. I parted the grass to see at my feet and there was Zeek on top of something, snarling and thrashing and going for broke. I grabbed him and pulled him off whatever it was, and lo, there was a raccoon on its back, slashing away at the air where Zeek’s belly had just been.
It is for these reasons, and because we have no desire to bring harm to the raccoon(s), that I don’t intend to let Zeek at it, as he so fervently desires.
With this little bit of raccoon experience under my belt, I now feel like I can distinguish between cat-frenzy and raccoon-frenzy. This morning, starting at 2 a.m., was most definitely a raccoon-frenzy. And then, when I finally did get up for the day and went out to the courtyard, I was greeted with what can only be the remains of a raccoon meal (grapes this time) on my doormat, which apparently served as the raccoon’s dinner placemat last night. While raccoons are known for being fastidious eaters, preferring to wash both their hands and their food before they eat, and even going to great lengths to find a body of water in which to do so, they are clearly not so big on cleaning up after they’ve eaten.
I never did find the can of bug spray on the riverbank, but I do still know where my raccoon trap is.