So you’ve raised a baby raccoon

So you’ve raised a baby raccoon and the fun is over…

October 21, 2009

Fall. It’s the time of year I dread. People who “found” (aka stole, kidnapped, acquired, purchased, rescued, got from someone else) an infant raccoon in the spring, are now running out of duct tape and band aids and struggling to remember how much they fell in love with the growing terrorist that has taken over their lives.

The phone calls are frustrating as my crew follows instructions to reject imprinted wildlife and we are typically met with angry, rude and often abusive responses.

There was a day when I was unaware of the dangers of caging a lone imprinted, wild born raccoon. People do not call us because they are sweet and cuddly and they want to share the joy. They call us because somehow the precious cooing infant that they used to carry around with a bottle and blankie, suddenly turned into a bitter raging, switchblade toting demon and has infested every crevice of their home, and is miserable alone in the cage it has been banished to. They have discovered that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to bring home an animal that they know nothing about and integrate it into their family. Help that they somehow couldn’t find for the adorable little kit in the spring has suddenly materialized in the form of phone numbers, easily found on the Internet, of licensed professionals, who they will now contact to relieve themselves of the walking weedwhacker. (can you hear the calvary trumpet?)

Unfortunately, the seasoned professionals are about to give them an unexpected and most likely offensive education in “THIS is not my problem“.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the raccoon! One of the things I love the most about the raccoon is their ability to be bottle raised infants, and remarkably, turn completely wild if kept with their own kind, and not given physical attention from people once weaned. They are amazingly resilient wild creatures, and if their instincts to avoid people are given room to develop, that’s what they do. They become wild things again. HOWEVER, you have to know the WHEN to let them turn. The ‘when’ is just as critical as the ‘how’. When people miss the ‘when window’, they experience a ‘wilding mutant‘.

A ‘wilding imprint‘ (my term, don’t google it) is an animal who has crossed over into unmanageable and independent, but has not developed the instinct to be reclusive of humans nor the skills to survive in a timely manner appropriate for the upcoming winter months. These animals have not been given the proper circumstances and an environment to break their bonds with people and transfer those into bonds with their own kind, forming a releasable group of raccoons. A ‘gaze’ (not my term, you may look it up) is a bonded group of raccoons who work as a family to survive, assisting each other in finding the three things needed to make it through life…”food, water and shelter”, a lot like a human family, (only young humans also require I-pads and high speed Internet).

Giving an infant raccoon the opportunity to bond with a group helps ensure their survival upon release. Like people, animals have various levels of intelligence. I have personally witnessed those animals who just aren’t as smart and capable as others to survive alone, and a group of raccoons is the perfect environment to ensure that additional time and training is available once my care of them is complete. It’s a remarkable opportunity for successful rehabilitation, but unfortunately, the fall raccoon calls find me with my cages empty, my team exhausted, my raccoons now successfully released, and absolutely no desire to take in a singleton who identifies as someone other than a raccoon.

What people do not realize is the amount of time and money these animals require to raise them properly to become releasable animals. In order for them to be healthy and large enough to release in the fall, we feed them the most expensive formulas and foods on the market, spend hundreds of man hours keeping them clean and fed well, and we physically endure the most abuse of all our wild intakes, for months on end until we get them into their outside cages and begin their ‘wild conditioning’. The day we release the last of the raccoons onto properties where they are safe and food is available, we have earned our hiatus from “raccoon hell”. This break is the ONLY thing that enables us to forget the nearly unbearable grind, and be ready and willing to do it all over again the following year. I need my large outdoor cages for the injured animals that will come here for care this winter, and a wild raccoon that has been injured is NOT in the same category as these hand raised infants. Over-wintering a lone orphan comes with a set of dangers not found in injured adult raccoons. An adult raccoon avoids me while I clean its cage, and if it heals during the dead of winter, can still be released and establish a winter den. Not even CLOSE to the same commitment for us. Its not the same set of problems at all.

But yet, having said all of the above, I consider myself a negotiator any time it can benefit the lives of others in my care. I am still willing to take the physical risks and fund the long winter of water defrosters and food, scraping poop-sickles from the cage and den box, in exchange for the following to anyone who still wishes that I take the little demon off their hands and attempt to undo the damage that has been done to this animal.

One raccoon off your hands for possible rehabilitation = $1,000.00


         Maybe. Even with sponsorship I reserve the right for the choices of others to fall under “not my problem”.

Annette King, Wildlife rehabber
Wild Heart Ranch Wildlife Rescue
Claremore, Oklahoma