Suburban college-town couple perform catch-and-release of wily critter
Well, the raccoon tail, er, tale, is finally over. I feel very good this morning; better than I've felt in weeks. At least something on my ever-growing list of jobs/projects has been completed, and to my satisfaction at that.
We have been plagued by a raccoon for more than a month, except we didn't know our trespasser was a raccoon until the night Callaway died, Monday, 5/2. Our 11-year old cat's sudden death naturally upset me and I couldn't sleep, so when our dog, Step-and-Fetchit, started her nightly whining, barking and running up and down the stairs, signaling that someone/something had invaded her territory, I was already up.
From the den window I saw the invader emerging from our attached garage via the cat door, not more than four feet in front of me. Although I was incredulous that such a large creature came out of that tiny opening, there was no mistaking, even without my glasses, the ringed eyes and busy tail of a raccoon. As I watched by the light of the moon, and Step-and-Fetchit kept up her menacing growl, this brazen creature simply turned and waddled unhurriedly across the cul-de-sac to disappear into the dark.
Judging by the amount of damage and litter we had to clean up every morning, we suspected that whatever critter was getting to our bags of cat food, dog food, bird seed, fertilizer, and anything else it could tear open night after night was stronger than a domesticated house cat; but we were guessing it was the large (maybe feral) cat that had been hanging around and challenging our other cat, Apollo, during the last three months. We wouldn't have believed anything bigger could get through the 6" flap that covers the cat door in one corner of the garage.
But, as the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way! And when there's food in them thar' premises, the will becomes even stronger. Rocky found his way. We rented a live trap Tuesday and set it with peanut butter and an ear of corn (from the squirrel-food supply). I was confident that Wednesday morning I'd be releasing a young raccoon into one of the wooded areas on campus where I work. I actually thought the wooded lot behind the Physical Sciences Building was the perfect spot, and was already charting my course to work the next morning.
Ha! Rocky was a lot smarter than I gave him credit for. Not only did he have a good meal on us, he managed to feast without tripping the trap door. We didn't think he'd have the nerve to do his marauding in bright daylight, but I blocked the cat door from the garage into the kitchen anyway, lest he find THAT opening too and we'd come home to find the refrigerator raided. (Not that there's much in there these days; can't remember the last time I cooked a meal....)
We think, however that before this, Rocky actually did get into the house because a garbage bag I had put by the kitchen side of the garage door was torn apart and the contents strewn through three rooms. (However, there is some reason to believe that Step-and-Fetchit, not Rocky, was responsible for that mess, even though the M.O. was unlike any of our dog's previous trash-bag raids. We'll never know for sure though.)
In the meantime, Step-and-Fetchit is going nuts because this intruder is just on the other side of the kitchen door and she can't get to it; and poor Apollo, in addition to mourning his life-long companion and searching for her everywhere, has also lost the freedom to venture in and out at will, as his life is further disrupted by being locked into the house all day.
Last night it happened. We got back slightly after midnight from the Andre Rieu concert down in the Big City (which was awesome, by the way) and had been discussing our failure to trap the raccoon. I told Bob that I was going to return the trap today; the rental on it by now was probably more than the cost of a new one.
Since we hadn't seen/heard any raccoon activity for 48 hours—taking into account that his appearance had been a consistent nightly happening for at least the past month—I figured he was gone for good: killed by the traffic on nearby Doobie Road or permanently disabled. By now we had gotten a little smarter and had removed all the coon temptations from the garage. My car has been converted to a portable silo for cat food, dog food, bird seed bags, suet cakes and dried corn bins.
Furthermore, Bob, who had decided to build, rather than buy or contract, the desk for his new home office, had rigged a work bench in the garage and had been sawing, pounding, and hammering to his heart's content. I was sure the extra activity in itself was further discouragement for a bold critter looking for a safe and quiet diner in the middle of a cul-de-sac in the suburbs.
Apparently NOT! At 3:30 this morning Step-and-Fetchit went nuts again. I knew Rocky was in the garage, and as I mentally kicked myself for not replacing the set trap in front of the cat door as I had done the previous nights, I opted not to get out of bed, not really caring at that hour to know what new damage I'd be cleaning up today. I was just keeping my fingers crossed that the raccoon wouldn't destroy or soil the wood being crafted into a desk on the makeshift workbench. Bob, who sleeps like a log even on his restless nights, was oblivious to the noise or the animal shenanigans.
At 6:30 this morning, however, he did have the pleasure of making that long-awaited announcement: "We have a raccoon!"
Bob put the cage with the subdued and very frightened Rocky in the trunk of my van, warned me that I would probably have a hissing, angry, possibly thrashing raccoon to release when it regained its strength, and headed for work. I called my office to report that I'd be late due to my 'undercover' involvement in an Animal Witness Relocation Program, got dressed, grabbed my camera, three ears of corn and the half-empty jar of Jif creamy peanut butter, gave Apollo back his lost freedom by unblocking the kitchen cat door, and headed for campus.
By now it was close to 8:00 and I knew that campus traffic, even on the outlying farm roads, would be heavy. I just couldn't see myself pulling over, hauling a big cage from my trunk, and releasing its contents with morning traffic whizzing by. Although I was fairly sure the campus of an agricultural university would be a legally safe place to deposit small wild animals, I'm also aware of ordinances against this kind of release in many townships, so I was a bit edgy about my furtive activity.
Even though the woodlot was my first idea when the question of capturing and relocating an animal first came up, in the ensuing days I dismissed it as being too close to main roads, besides which I'd have to first get INTO the woodlot's fences.
I thought some of the open areas and fields by the new pavilion might be a safer place for wildlife and headed toward the cattle and sheep fields near Burnit Road, but on the way I got a brilliant idea (if I do say so myself)! I headed for Mount Sheba Road, past the pavilion, past the golf course, past the college tennis facility. I turned into Greenbriar Cemetery and followed the curved road to the huge wooded ravine from which Bob and I have seen countless deer and at least one woodchuck emerge. I parked, opened the van gate and took a couple of pictures of the caged Rocky.
I carried the cage about 30 feet into the open woods, fidgeted with the trap door a bit—this was the only part I dreaded: although not as angry and noisy as I expected, Rocky did hiss at me and turned around in his cage, which I didn't think was possible. But he must have sensed that I wasn't going to harm him because once I maneuvered the door open with the help of a long twig, I didn't have to hold it. Without a backward glance or a "thanks for everything," Rocky sprinted into the woods and all but disappeared behind a fallen log before I could grab my camera and catch a shot of the magnificent tail blending into the camouflage of the woods.
I coated the corn ears with peanut butter and hurled them as deep into the flora as my underhanded pitch would send them, replaced the empty cage in the van, waved at the guy on the riding lawnmower who was undistracted by my unsolicited (and LIVE) delivery to this territory, drove 50 yards east, got out and paid my respects to Bob's parents. I told them they would probably have a regular visitor, but not to worry: Rocky Raccoon wouldn't touch the flowering cotoneasters flanking their black-marble memorial, nor the crop of budding irises that were just opening at their feet. He would just come by to say hello once in a while.
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