This week, in New Brunswick, NJ, a house was on fire. Once all of the human residents made it out quickly and safely, the media put their attention on a raccoon squatter who was caught up in the conflagration (that word might be a bit of an exaggeration.) From an elevated position, the critter was seen on the rooftops running for safety until it finally made a desperate leap to lower ground. Sadly, it miscalculated and its rear clipped the edge of the gutter, causing the animal to start spinning mid-air (that’s a good trick!) to the next lowest level. Then, shaking off the potential disaster as though it meant to do that, the raccoon wandered off to safety.
There was some drama this week at an office building in the suburbs of Detroit, MI. A raccoon, through a feat of nature which can only be described as a million-to-one shot, found itself stranded outside on a windowsill on the sixth (highest) floor. Office workers were distraught by the sight of the hapless creature, especially after a snowstorm left it covered and shivering. Frantically calling animal removal services–many of which refused to assist because the raccoon was up so high–they finally got a pest control company to come to its aid. During the night, with lifts, nets, spotlights, and a cage lowered by rope from the roof, they managed to get the raccoon down in a rather harrowing, albeit sloppy, manner. The rescued raccoon immediately scampered off to hide under a car in the parking lot. The rescuers coaxed it into a cage and brought it to a wildlife resource center where it will be briefly cared for before getting released back to nature. Or the city. I think no matter where you release it, it’ll find its way back into the city.
Generally, I don’t like to present stories here that involve raccoons and rabies. First, such stories are extremely common and so this blog would end up being rather repetitive. Second, such stories rarely end well for the raccoon. However, this week a couple of friends saw fit to share a story about a raccoon with rabies being killed and even I had to take notice of it–as did some other news sources–if only because of the story’s abundance of irony.
The Mainer in question, Rachel Borch, a vegetarian, went jogging in the woods of Hope, ME.
Shortly after realizing what a beautiful day it was, she was confront by a snarling, rabid raccoon on a narrow path.
The raccoon immediately attacked her, biting her on the thumb and staying latched to it as it began clawing at her.
As she struggled, her phone fell into a puddle. Noticing the water, Rachel immediately thrust the raccoon under the surface and held it in place until it died.
She then pulled out her thumb and ran off to get medical attention.
As she ran, she was worried that raccoon had not died and might still be chasing her. In her words: “It felt like Pet Semetary.” A reference to a novel written by prominent Maine resident, Stephen King.
Between the melodramatic prose of the article and little details included, writers at both Esquire, Daily Wire, and SB Nation were compelled to comment upon both the event itself and its coverage. The esquire commentary is especially impressive, working in an erudite reference to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and even giving significance to the bag the raccoon’s body was placed in. Peculiarly, none of them bothered to comment on the ironic twist of fate for the raccoon: that late-stage rabies causes a fear of water, which would be prophetic for this animal as it ended up drowning.
Truly, truth is stranger than fiction. And high art? That hides in the most unassuming of places.
Back in September an unnamed man went on vacation from Florida to California (too much sunshine!) and unbeknownst to him a pregnant raccoon gave birth to a litter of babies in his van along the way. Upon arriving in Stinson Beach he found five of the six cubs alive but in critical condition (the sixth died.) He rushed them to a nearby animal hospital, where the living babies made a recovery. Unfortunately, releasing raccoons into the wild is illegal in California! Rather than them having to be put down, however, the nearby Oakland Zoo‘s veterinary hospital was willing to take them for some more long-term care while WildCare seeks either a permanent home for the animals or an opportunity to release them into the wild.
Good luck, little cuties!
Personally, I’ve never liked that zoos don’t consider raccoons “exotic” enough to have in their exhibits. They’re cute, dammit! Put ’em on display! And I’d love to find a petting zoo with raccoons. I really want to find a petting zoo with raccoons.
Yesterday was International Raccoon Appreciation Day. I celebrated by watching Guardians of the Galaxy. I also took the time to read a great article from Slate that details the rapidly developing raccoon population and how humankind is inadvertently helping them become smarter and bolder. Some excerpts are below:
On how urban and rural raccoons differ
She tracked urban raccoons outfitted with GPS collars and found that they avoided crossing major roads, as if they’d learned to avoid cars. She placed tough-to-open garbage cans in both the city and country, with delicious treats like cat food at the bottom, and found the urban raccoons, for the most part, could solve the puzzle, while the rural ones had no success whatsoever.
On the need to study raccoon psychology further
“I would put their little brains up again pretty much anything,” MacDonald says. Studies from the early 1900s put raccoons near monkeys—and ahead of cats and dogs—on several measures of intelligence. (Raccoon brains are seriously overdue for study. Early comparative psychologists were fascinated by them, according to a short history of the topic, but their work devolved into academic squabbles, and there hasn’t been a lot of research into raccoon psychology since.)
On being the most American of animals
Besides, just what constitutes a pest depends on whom you’re asking. Native to the New World, raccoons stand for “wilderness and freedom … self-reliance and adaptability,” argued a 1963 Harper’s piece that called them more American than the bald eagle. One writer, pointing out how traits like adaptability and opportunism are shared by humans and raccoons, asks: “[I]f we reject animals for their destructive habits, at what point do we turn the gaze on ourselves?”