A raccoon of my own
July 30, 2014 9:15 PM   Subscribe

The only thing that comes to mind when I hear "pet raccoon" is the unfortunate example of Rascal the Raccoon, an anime that caused a craze for the critters, who eventually became a serious invasive species in Japan.
posted by Small Dollar at 9:47 PM on July 30, 2014

A raccoon just took my sandwich, like 5 minutes ago.
Fuck those guys.
posted by St. Sorryass at 9:54 PM on July 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

Beautifully written. "We adore our pets not because they love us, but because they prove to us, day after day after day, that we love them with a purity not possible in human-to-human encounters."
posted by Peach at 9:59 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

That was one of my favourite lines too. I stopped at "the plain and quiet kind of plenty you miss when walking on a wire." because that is so much my truth as well.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:04 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will climb to the mountaintops and shout it at the top of my voice for all of mankind to hear: never put a leash on a squirrel.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:23 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh! And here's my personal raccoon story:

The entrance to my first shitty college apartment was off an external staircase to the third floor in back of a frat house and one night a family of raccoons was on the landing outside of my door and wouldn't go away so I had to stay the night in a spare room in the frat.

So raccoons and me don't exactly have the best history.
posted by Small Dollar at 10:36 PM on July 30, 2014

Yea, Small Dollar. The earliest raccoon related memory in my brain is being at the apartment I lived in as a little, but not too little kid. Like 7 maybe.

For some reason the little fenced off alley-like side yard between the building and a hedge was like the thunderdome for Raccoons. The fuckers would just beat each other up making crazy noises back there constantly.

One day, one of them actually killed another one... And just left it there, grunting and screeching and eventually dying.

It just rotted there. No other animal ate it for some reason.

It stunk up the entire back stairway, and the whole area at the back of the building. It was the worst smell id ever smelled, and it lasted I swear WEEKS. You could still catch whifs of it until the first huge rainstorm of the year, too.

I hated raccoons after that. I thought they were some kind of super skunks, like nuclear submarines of stench that threatened the entire surrounding area with funk-irradiation fallout if they ever died or were punctured.

Still not totally sure i was wrong about that.
posted by emptythought at 11:20 PM on July 30, 2014

This story is so well written. Thanks, Joe in Australia, for this treat.

I keep trying to find Honest Abe Lincoln's beautiful raccoon portraits--the most beautiful I have ever seen of this raccoon but he deletes his blogs almost as fast as he creates them so my favorite raccoon portrait links don't work anymore.
posted by Anitanola at 12:49 AM on July 31, 2014

I thought that racoons have the. worst. worm. ever., and thus even wildlife organisations only handle them very carefully.

Or I might just haven fallen to the propaganda of those pink aardvarks.
posted by pseudocode at 2:04 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a raccoon story, something I was just thinking about recently thanks to the time of year. There's no training involved, though:

When I was 11 my family made our usual summer visit to Wisconsin to see the relatives. One day we went to some crappy zoo that mostly (if not exclusively) held local fauna. If memory serves, it was in a park in a suburb of Green Bay. One of the exhibits was a raccoon pit: an open circular hole in the dirt maybe 15 or 20 feet deep and with a tree in the middle and a number of raccoons wandering around aimlessly at the bottom. I was leaning over the railing that kept visitors from falling into the pit, looking down at the critters with real interest. I lived in a raccoon-free suburb in Texas. I'm sure there were some in the general area where I grew up, but as there weren't any in my immediate neighborhood they might as well have been giant pandas. I'd been to plenty of zoos before, but with the possible exception of the old New Braunfels Snake Farm, never to one that held animals as un-exotic as the raccoon. I dug animals and as I'd never seen a real live raccoon before, I was digging watching them hobble around in a big dirt hole. I'd also just seen The Great Outdoors a week or so before at a drive-in on a double bill with Big (the memory of this pairing of films at a first-run theater helps me to date this episode as happening in the mid-to-late summer of 1988) which fueled my anthropomorphization of the raccoons.

My maternal grandmother ("Daba" to the family) joined me at the railing and looked down at the animals with rancor. Daba was probably in her late 60's at the time and still had all of her faculties. She always had kind of a cruel mouth, though, one of those people that loves to claim that they just tell it like it is and dammit if anyone's feelings got in the way. Feelings were for the weak, and Daba did not see herself as weak. "Why the hell do they have those damn things here?!?" Daba made it clear that she did not like having the same creatures who dug through her trash and nested in her attic put on display as if they were something special. They weren't special, they were pests, pure and simple, and she hated pests.

Daba then did something surprising: she handed me a quarter and told me to buy some corn from one of the repurposed gumball machines that were serving out their golden years as zoo-approved feed dispensers. She then disappeared and left me to toss food to the fat little bandits. I had quite the audience of raccoons - more than likely all of them - gathered below me in their dirt pit. I was their king (of the hill), a noble monarch, and my subjects were more than happy to eat from the scraps I so generously tossed their way as I held court safely towering above them.

My mother's mother reappeared a minute or two later with a brick-sized rock (that very well could have been an actual brick). After a quick look back and forth she held the rock over the gathering of beasts and, before I could say a word, threw it down into the gathering. Whether Daba had good aim or whether it would've been impossible to not hit one of the creatures, it landed squarely on one of the raccoons' heads. While the rest of the animals scattered to get the fuck away from this crazy old lady and her unwilling pre-teen accomplice, the victim lay twitching with a crushed skull. "Bullseye", Daba said without even a trace of a smile. "Come on, let's go find your mother." The raccoon had stopped moving. We caught up with my family and went on with our day. I waited until my grandmother was out of earshot before I told my mom what'd happened.

"Your grandmother really hates raccoons", my mom said, "but I'm sure the one she hit will be fine." My mother hadn't seen the blood - did I mention there was blood?

A few days later, we were at the duck hunting shack my maternal grandfather ("Papa"; he and Daba had been divorced since I was a toddler but still loved nothing more than to talk shit about each other to anyone and everyone) had turned into a house that just oozed masculinity when he came and found me with a .22 rifle in his arms. "C'mon, you're going to shoot that rabbit that's been getting into the garden." Turns out rabbit blood and raccoon blood are both red.
posted by item at 2:59 AM on July 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

Oh, here's the entirety of 'To Kill a Ladybird', the excellent episode of King of the Hill wherein Bobby befriends a raccoon and Dale convinces himself he's rabid.
posted by item at 3:09 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The writer's book, The $60,000 Dog, is spectacular; I just finished it. With that title, I expected a much more Marley and Me-esque romp, but this was serious and touching and funny in a subtle way. Her section on going to horse camp is the best.
posted by quadrilaterals at 3:31 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

A raccoon once opened up a camping trailer storage box and pulled maple syrup candies out of a drawer and then opened their cardboard containers, without ripping them, and took a single bite out of each of the nine maple leaves. I hated that raccoon but also never understood how it could only take a single bite out of a pure sugar candy treat and move on. I still don't have that level of self control 40 years later.

I also felt very let down by our campsite neighbours who reported it to us as they had watched the whole event unfold.
posted by srboisvert at 5:47 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a small suburban town in New Jersey that was adjacent to Murray Hill Bell Labs (birthplace of the transistor). The area was speckled with woods which had interesting local animals: deer, foxes, skunks, raccoon, woodpeckers, and so on.

We had some family friends in the area and the father of that group, who grew up in Germany, was about as close to an urban Grizzly Adams as you could possibly imagine. They raised all sorts of animals, usually those that had orphaned by an errant car. At one point, they had a suite of raccoon that they raised from kits. They bottle fed them and when they were getting too large to be safe, they released them in the Great Swamp. Reminded me of Rascal, in a way.

When he and his wife were approaching their 20th wedding anniversary, he asked her what she would like. She said, "a mink". Very poor choice of words. He got her a ferret. His name was Leroy.

Still, the morning that we woke up to a ruckus in our fireplace and discovered that a wood duck has nested there, we called him and he came over and helped my dad safely extricate her. She left an egg behind. I tried to incubate it at school (the science department had an incubator), but it was likely not fertile.

Years later, I was sharing a house in the area and there was a raccoon living in the walls (actually - several: a mom and kits). We called the landlord who refused to do anything (his standard approach to anything). We called animal control, who also refused to help. I called our friend who had the most pragmatic advice, "in the early evenings, mom is going to take the babies for a walk. Find out where they leave and after they're gone, close up the hole. They'll get the hint when they come back."
posted by plinth at 5:56 AM on July 31, 2014

My cousin had a pet raccoon that he adopted as a baby after his dogs killed its mother.

He compared it to having a girlfriend with a serious drug habit. Sometimes it was cute and snuggly and fun to be around, but sometimes it would rifle through your stuff in the middle of the night, tear out the insides of your stereo speakers and throw all your shit out on the lawn and hiss at you from a dark corner of your bedroom. He said that all you could really do when he got wound up is try to shoo it out of the house, because a well fed, fully grown male raccoon is *huge*.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:02 AM on July 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

My advice about pet monkeys applies to pet raccoons, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:40 AM on July 31, 2014

My friend's family often had oddball pets growing up, and at one point they fostered a blind raccoon. It was not really a well-behaved pet, but they loved it. It wasn't well equipped to deal with blindness, was always bumping into things and whatnot. The thing sounded to me like a bit of a nightmare. My friend was explaining how much he liked the pet and he showed me a few bite marks on his arms, and I expressed some strong skepticism that an animal that did that while playing could really be a decent pet. "Oh, yeah, but you can tell he knows when we're playing because if he wanted to he could just snap my finger like a carrot."

Raccoons are illegal to keep in California. It's not exactly clear why this raccoon was fostered, because after about ten months the state required that the thing be put down, since there's no way a blind raccoon can live in the wild. Maybe there's something I didn't understand, but they spent months living with this raccoon and feeding it from a baby bottle only to have it taken from them and killed. The only way to own a pet raccoon is to be a part of a program that brings live raccoons to schools in the nearly inconceivable situation that someone wants a raccoon in their class or at an assembly. The state has some odd rule (I'm half-remembering here) like only one of each prohibited animal per county. The demonstration raccoon is the county where I grew up was very old, and my friend's family lobbied hard to get their raccoon installed as a replacement, to no avail.
posted by vathek at 7:04 AM on July 31, 2014

Yeah, there's a reason why dogs and cats are really popular. Everything else is either actively dangerous, indifferent to your presence or requires you to be ok with your house always smelling like pee.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:05 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought that racoons have the. worst. worm. ever., and thus even wildlife organisations only handle them very carefully.

They can carry baylisascaris, which is a roundworm and some really nasty shit. "Symptoms may include tiredness, lack of coordination, loss of muscle control, blindness, and coma." So don't eat raccoon poop.

I recently bought a National Geographic book on North American animals published in 1960 and it has a whole chapter about pet raccoons and skunks and coatamundi and how you can buy them by mail order! Times have changed.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:27 AM on July 31, 2014

In elementary school, I had a friend who had a pet raccoon named Twiggy. She was apparently wounded or abandoned shortly after she was born, and my friend's family took her in. I recall that she would climb all through the kitchen looking for her favorite treat, Nabisco Nilla Wafers. She would consume the contents of the box and leave it empty on the counter.

Decades later, I heard the This American Life episode, Animals, and was floored by the story of Samantha Martin's basketball-playing raccoons. The description of their persistent wildness was amusing and a reminder that these are just not pets.

Loved the story, both the parts about the raccoon, and the author's experiences as a foster child in an alien situation. Thanks for posting it.
posted by metarkest at 7:59 AM on July 31, 2014

Yeah, there's a reason why dogs and cats are really popular. Everything else is either actively dangerous, indifferent to your presence or requires you to be ok with your house always smelling like pee.

Also, with raccoons, be prepared to have anything in your house taken apart that can be, and any food to be thoroughly and messily washed.

But here are some baby skunks in a bathtub.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:03 AM on July 31, 2014

It would be interesting to do with raccoons what has been done with foxes, who were domesticated using selective breeding.
posted by exogenous at 8:04 AM on July 31, 2014

Maybe there's something I didn't understand, but they spent months living with this raccoon and feeding it from a baby bottle only to have it taken from them and killed.

This is because an adult raccoon is an incredibly dangerous animal for all they look so cute.

Domestication is a lot more complicated than just raising an animal from a baby, and raccoons are not domesticable.
posted by winna at 8:15 AM on July 31, 2014

So don't eat raccoon poop.

Who are you, my mother? Don't tell me what to do.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:27 AM on July 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is because an adult raccoon is an incredibly dangerous animal for all they look so cute.

Oh yeah, sure. I wasn't totally clear, but I'm not saying that I think it was safe for them to keep the raccoon, just that I don't understand why the raccoon was put into an animal fostering program when the inevitable conclusion was that it'd be killed anyway.
posted by vathek at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2014

Yeah, there's a reason why dogs and cats are really popular. Everything else is either actively dangerous, indifferent to your presence or requires you to be ok with your house always smelling like pee.

posted by jpe at 10:01 AM on July 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

My dad grew up in the 1940s and 50s, and he had a pet raccoon named (I think) George. His family lived in one of the giant carriage houses behind one of the mansions of Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, across from the governor's mansion. Sometimes young Dad would put George on a leash and take him for a walk down that way.

Good times.

There is a photograph of the two of them out for such a walk, and I am very keen to find it and have it enlarged & framed for my home.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2014

This was just beautifully written. These lines in particular made me stop and reread it a few times, remembering certain parts of my own childhood:

I was nourished on danger, and rage too, a heady brew that brings the world to its brilliant boiling point for hours of every day; and you come to need it that way. You lose the casual manner of living, tasting a little of this, a little of that, the music on low, the page turning slowly, some sustaining story emerging. I knew nothing of this sort of sanity...

It took me years to learn appreciate that kind of sanity. To stop "longing for my long-lost poison". I'm struggling to put words to my thoughts right now and think I'm still processing. Not at all what I expected to find in an article about raising a raccoon as a pet. Thank you so much for posting, Joe in Australia.
posted by widdershins at 12:59 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Where I live there's a 40 odd step stairway to the front door. There's a raccoon in the area that sometimes hangs out one the steps, I assume because unlike most of my neighbors we don't have dogs.

The thing is, he isn't afraid of us. And I don't mean in a "oh how cute" way. I mean as in terrifying wild beast who isn't going to back down kind of a way. Every now and then I'll come home at dusk and he'll just stand on the landing kind of daring me to come at him while I try to keep my dignity about being kept out of my own place by a goddamn animal.

(I've also almost tripped over one walking down the middle of the sidewalk in the Haight who didn't seem to think it was just responsibility to get out of the way of any hairless monkeys in his path.)

God damn raccoons.
posted by aspo at 3:56 PM on July 31, 2014

When I was a kid my dad and I would regularly go visit Sandy, our small town's animal control officer, who kept and fostered stray/abandoned baby animals in her backyard until they were big enough to release back into the wild. She always had one or two baby raccoons, which were the only animal she'd let me play with. I loved them, I loved feeding them Oreo cookies, and I loved watching them go around being all cute baby raccoon-like. They were awesome.

But I learned very early on that I could never adopt a raccoon and take it home when one of the babies leapt on my leg and proceeded to climb up my chest to get at the cookie I was holding. It didn't draw blood, but it hurt quite a bit. "That's what it can do as a kit," Sandy told me. "So imagine what it could do when it's an adult." That philosophy has kept me from unwisely adopting EVERY CUTE BABY ANIMAL EVER (and also possibly from having kids, but that's different).
posted by Spatch at 5:14 PM on July 31, 2014

Very nice read.

It would be interesting to do with raccoons what has been done with foxes, who were domesticated using selective breeding.

Somehow I think you wouldn't get much give outta the raccoon. Having kept both a fox and a big dog coon, I can tell you that the fox was a wild and skittery little ball of nerves that never, ever nipped, and the coon was a wild and crazy mean asshole that bit and clawed Every Damn Time he'd get close enough. Both were inherited as adults from idjuts that had gotten them young and never did much but keep them on a chain in the yard/garage.

The fox eventually went from a ragged twitchy bag of skin and bones that would choke itself trying to get away from you to a sleek red timorous beastie that just *might* on a good day, let you stroke his back. The raccoon went from a nasty mean bag of bones to a fat vicious fast bastard that got really good at conning people into thinking he wasn't going to charge the door of his cage whenever it was opened. At first we were worried he would get out, but later realized he'd sacrifice any hope of freedom for a chance to rip into human flesh.

Foxy curled up one evening and died in his sleep. Ash (short for Ash-ole) was crated and taken out into the woods. Maybe he starved to death. Maybe he didn't. He was certainly smart and knew how to kill things (bugs and grubs, mice, and once a cat) Frankly, it was either that or a needle or somebody getting badly hurt. The liability wasn't worth it. Given that there hasn't been a bear sighting for years in the area we left him, my money's on Ash still terrorizing the woods.

Both were stinky.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:28 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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