Thursday, September 28, 2006

Raccoons, Part 1

A few months back DC and I started hearing odd chattering noises coming from the fireplace. Clearly, there was something alive in the chimney. The noises sounded vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place them at first.

I know what you’re thinking. Why in the world would anyone put fireplaces in houses in a city where the average summer temperature will fry eggs on the sidewalk and where the air conditioning regularly runs on Christmas Day? I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe the fireplaces are subsidized by the Duraflame™ industry. Twice a year, whenever the temperature falls below 40 degrees, they want us to run out, buy Duraflame™ logs, burn them in our useless fireplaces and pretend it’s winter.

DC and his brother climbed up onto the roof to see what was going on. They discovered that the chimney cap was missing, leaving our chimney wide open and available for anyone who cared to move in. They couldn't see anything inside the chimney at first, so they dug around in their respective toy boxes and returned to the roof sometime later with some sort of camera thingy on the end of a cable. Lo and behold, the camera revealed that a mother raccoon had moved into our chimney and was living on the ledge just above the flue with one or more babies.

My first thought was, “Oh, how cute! Baby raccoons! That’s what that chattering noise was. We should let them live there. They’re not hurting anything.”

DC’s first thought was, “How can I most expeditiously remove this infestation?”

He immediately started the eviction process. The process involved him burning very tiny pieces of paper in the fireplace while I hovered behind him, bouncing on my tip-toes, waving my arms and wailing “What are you doing??” and then “Stop it! YOU’RE GOING TO SUFFOCATE THE BABY RACCOONS! ARE YOU COMPLETELY HEARLTESS?? LEAVE THEM ALONE! STOOOOP IIIIITTTT!! ”

In order to understand the origins of my distress, we have to go back to around 1973. One rainy night my father came home with a wet baby raccoon in the trunk of his car. He had spotted the baby on the side of the road, clinging to body of its squished, dead mother. Being the softie that he was, he stopped, put the baby in the trunk and brought it home, I guess intending to bottle feed it until it was old enough to take care of itself. Turns out that once the baby dried out and fluffed up, it wasn’t nearly as little as he had originally thought, so there was no bottle feeding necessary, but it was still too little to be on its own.

After a few days, the raccoon became very tame, and we named her “Waddles.” We brought her into the house sometimes to play with her. We gave her pieces of carrot and dry dog food and watched her wash her food in a little bowl of water before she ate it. She used to crawl around on our shoulders and nibble our hair and make that little chattering sound that raccoons make. She was friendly and funny and CUTE.

(She wasn’t, however, housebroken. I have no memory of the incident, but my mother claims she once backed up into a corner of the dining room and crapped on the new carpet.)

Anyway, she didn’t stay with us long, just until Dad thought she could manage on her own in the woods. Eventually we took her out to some property that my grandmother owned and let her go. In my mind, she’s still there, living a healthy, happy raccoon life, and I’m not interested in hearing anything to the contrary. Please, if you have any stories about animals raised by people that were too tame to survive on their own in the wild and starved or were eaten by wolves, just keep them to yourself, OK?

Now, fast-forward 23 years and here was my husband trying to kill Waddles’ kinsfolk! Just imagine my anguish.

DC stopped the burning long enough to convince his semi-hysterical wife (i.e. me) that we really didn’t want raccoons living in our chimney. These were not tame, friendly raccoons that would nuzzle our hair while we fed them Purina Raccoon Chow. These were wild raccoons that would sink their teeth into our flesh and scratch out our eyes if given half a chance. He also tried to assure me that no one wanted dead baby raccoons in the chimney any less than he did. He only wanted to convince Momma Raccoon that the chimney wasn’t a good place to lodge her family. I stopped wailing, but continued hovering and bouncing, not completely convinced.

Luckily, the ending of this part of the story is a little anti-climactic. There were no baby raccoons killed. After a couple of smoke treatments, the raccoon family abandoned our chimney, the chimney cap was replaced, and our chimney and fireplace have been sans wildlife ever since.

But, the story isn’t quite done yet. Stay tuned….


Blogger Franco said...

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8:26 PM  
Blogger ian said...

Hehe. I remember a similar incident with raccoons in the chimney from my own childhood. We couldn't get them out no matter what we tried, however, and eventually had to have animal control remove them. Fortunately (for them), the town I grew up in (Boulder, Colorado - maybe you've heard of it) is full of granolas and the raccoons were promptly driven up into the mountains and set free.


6:09 PM  
Blogger CrimsonKing said...

Once raccoons were eating RIGHT outside my window (the window was low to the ground, so it was easy to see them.) I tried to talk to them, but the hissed at me so I yelle at them and they ran away. Not a big fan of raccoons anymore. Because they all hate me.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Stucco said...

How do skunks and raccoons get along? I can take the raccons well enough, even though the dogs tend to howl at them in the middle of the night as they party in the yard. Hell, I'd leave out Raccoon Chow and some finger bowls with beer and gravy for the little critters if they'd get the skunks the hell out of here. Plus, now we have a fluffly little kitten living under our greenhouse. Don't get me started on the snakes (who have been turning up dead, probably by the cooling nights), bunnies, or falcons. I'm really not out in the boonies or anything- I swear.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

ian, sounds like chimneys must be pretty attractive to raccoons. I don't understand it. I have a hard time picturing their fat little bodies scaling the bricks every day. I'm glad to hear no raccoons were harmed in the removal process at your house either.

crimsonking, you're right. Wild raccoons are extremely unfriendly. Their cute exterior is deceiving. They can make some of the scariest sounds I've ever heard.

stucco, sounds like you have way more fauna than we do. I only have one shunk incident. DC set up a little electric fence around his tomato garden last summer, and the next morning the entire back yard smelled like shunk. A shunk probably touched the hot wire and let the spray fly. Haven't had any shunk problems since.

6:44 PM  

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