Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Raccoon Lodge

I like raccoons. Some people might think of them as roadkill or a source of hats, but at our house, they are our cat's best friends. We used to have a dog, three cats, two gerbils and two kids who lived at home. The animals have all died except Casper, our fat orange cat who is -- I think -- 13 years old now. The kids are grown up and live in different states, and Casper gets lonely. It's just him and us. Well, and a whole lot of raccoons.

It's not as weird as it sounds. About two years ago, a litter of raccoons was born under our deck. Our cats used to play with the little ones. Heck, even our dog hung out with them. Although, I admit, the night I followed my dog onto the deck and realized we were not alone, it was a little hard on my nerves: two of our cats, a possum and two raccoons were on the deck with us. Luckily, my dog was too stunned to react, and I got her inside before she could wreak havoc.

Most of those raccoons moved on, but at least one -- possibly two -- stuck around. The female had babies of her own this spring, plus she seems to have adopted a little one recently. Mama raccoon -- my husband has dubbed her "Raquel" -- has a tiny bite out of her ear, which makes her easy to recognize. Casper also has a tiny bite out of one ear. Hmmm. Coincidence? Maybe they called a truce.

Anyway, mama raccoon comes and taps on the patio door when she wants Casper to come out and play. He instantly runs to the door when he hears her, and it's gotten to the point where he's not interested in going out unless the raccoons are there. Sometimes a little possum joins the fun. The deer can't manage the stairs to the deck, or I'm sure they'd be up there, too.

We'd been blaming the raccoons for knocking over some plant containers, until my husband caught a squirrel in the act. It was a logical mistake -- when the four toddler raccoons play on the deck, it's like raccoon bumper cars. They crash into each other, bounce back, run away and come back for more. Casper stands well out of the way when the little ones are around.

The mama raccoon likes us. She will let us take her picture, and when she spots us through the window she goes up on her hind legs. Last night, the young ones were being more rambunctious than usual, and my husband went over and opened the patio door. "Keep it down, you guys," he reprimanded. And then cracked up at the sight of four little raccoons, lined up in a row, standing on their hind legs and watching him solemnly. Yeah, it still makes me smile.

So, while some people may gripe about raccoons in their gardens, they are welcome guests at our house -- part of our extended family. Not that I plan on letting them in the house, at least not intentionally. The other full grown raccoon that we think is from the original litter has a nickname -- Smarty Pants. That guy will hide next to the door and try to sneak in when we open it. He will also jump up and hang from the door handle, trying to open it. I don't think he's smart enough to figure out how to undo the latch.

But I wouldn't count on it.


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