Backyard Visitor Part of a Springtime Trend

Closeup up of the raccoon, taken from inside through my screen door.

Many of us love a mild winter. But it has its downsides. One of them literally came to me this week.

A few times a day, we open the patio door a crack so Cuddles can sniff through the screen. We call it “reading the news.”

Cuddles was catching up on the latest headlines on Wednesday while I fussed in the kitchen. A low, gutteral sound interrupted my whisking. Cuddles had never made that kind of noise before. I leaned over to see what was going on and a large raccoon was outside on its hind legs, letting our cat know he wanted to be king of the back yard.

I clapped and yelled but only Cuddles was startled. The raccoon held its ground. I got a large bowl and filled it with cold water. Tossed it toward the animal. He acted like he enjoyed the shower. I called up Iron Maiden on YouTube. Pretty sure the raccoon was a metal head because he didn’t flinch.

For the next half hour, he toured the perimeter of our little yard over and over and over. Then he flopped over and seemed to take a nap.

A rear view of the resting raccoon shows just how round his body is.

Up once again, he returned to making wide circles in the exact same path. Clearly, something was wrong with him.

Cuddles watches intently as the raccoon passes by the patio door for the 30th time in a row.

I went online and found the wildlife rescue organization in Port Stanley. Fur-Ever Wildlife Rehabilitation. They’re volunteers, regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources but they don’t receive any government funding. Then I remembered meeting Colleen who heads the small but mighty group. I called her and let her know the details. She said, “I’m on my way.”

She arrived in minutes with a cage and we had a closer look at the animal through the patio door. He was very sick. Distemper, she said. It’s a bad year for it because the virus didn’t diminish over the winter. It didn’t get cold enough for long enough.

I distracted the raccoon while she set out the cage with an open can of yummy cat food inside. “Oh darn, I forgot my pole”, she said, and hurried to her vehicle to get it. Meantime, the raccoon wandered into the cage and left just a few centimetres of his tail out the door. Just as I thought to go and get a broom to give him a push, he took a couple of steps and the door shut on his behind.

The raccoon looks up from his last meal. A can of cat food inside the cage where he is locked inside.

Colleen assured me it’s not always that easy. Sometimes she needs to use the pole and grab the animal with its spring-loaded cable. It doesn’t hurt them but it’s still not fun. A self-serve raccoon is ideal.

So far this year in tiny Port Stanley, Colleen’s organization has picked up 56 sick raccoons and more than 35 ailing skunks. All of them had to be euthanized. Disetemper is highly contagious and usually fatal in raccoons and skunks because it’s caught late.

What Distemper Looks Like

Symptoms of distemper may include discharge from the nose and eyes, a rough coat of hair, emaciated appearance, and unusual behavior such as disorientation or wandering aimlessly. The animals’ symptoms become progressively worse and the disease is usually fatal.

Oregon Fish & Wildlife

Sadly, we found another sick raccoon when we first moved here. The animal ran toward me when I got out of the truck to get our mail. As you probably know, a healthy raccoon’s reaction would be to run away. I jumped back into the truck and it started pawing at the door, trying to climb up. It’s terribly sad. It walked in tight circles until it was picked up. If I’d encouraged this week’s raccoon to jump into my arms, I’m sure it would have done it. That’s the opposite of normal behavior.

The Cuddles Factor

My biggest concern was our cat, of course. He and the raccoon didn’t touch noses or even get within about ten inches of each other. Raccoons tend to carry canine distemper which can’t be passed to a feline. Also, when Cuddles reacted to the visitor, he instinctively backed up. I don’t see a reason to worry about illness. But there might have been a fight if there hadn’t been a door between them. For dogs, distemper is very serious but in many cases they recover.

We made a donation to Fur-Ever to thank them. What would I have done without them? It must be a hard job to pick up sick animals and take them to the vet all day long, knowing they can’t be saved.

I had been planning to repot a huge cactus out on the patio. (Story to come!) The new pot, soil and gloves were already outside. The raccoon walked over and past the items dozens of times. I’m grateful I hadn’t started the project before he arrived or I would have had a closer encounter with him. This is also more evidence why I believe cats should stay indoors. They’re house-cats, not at-risk-cats, right? 🙂

8 thoughts on “Backyard Visitor Part of a Springtime Trend”

  1. Pauline Couroux

    You are so right Lisa, so many cats go missing because they are allowed to wander, so many posts on Facebook animal sites looking for them.

    Not to mention the coyote population. It hurts my heart.

    1. Mine too, Pauline. Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. And when they’re out prowling they kill songbirds and poop in our gardens!

  2. I belong to a non-profit, no-kill organization dedicated to providing shelter to abandoned, lost or rescued animals. They provide care to, and find homes for almost 500 kittens and cats each year. I see so many stories about people who have lost their fur babies because they let them “play” outside. I’m with you Lisa, cats don’t have a chance in the great outdoors.
    So glad that Cuddles is happily safe and sound and didn’t have contact with that raccoon.

    1. I’m not surprised that you would help such an organization, Claire! That’s wonderful. So many things can happen to outdoor cats, and few of them are good.

      Something else I forgot to mention is that people should not feed wildlife! People who feed raccoons, squirrels, geese – they have a misplaced sense of kindness that actually does the opposite of what they hope. So cut it out. 🙂

  3. What a story Lisa and told beautifully.
    Glad your Cuddles didn’t hook up with the sick raccoon. Years ago we rented a house
    for the summer in the Hamptons. We kept hearing noise on the roof. I went outside
    with a flashlight. Shined it on the roof and
    all I could see were eyes of several raccoons
    looking down. I didn’t know that raccoons could carry a dangerous illness

    1. Thanks, Bill. The healthy ones have long memories! I lived on the upper floor of a house in Toronto where the previous tenant used to pile garbage on the balcony. Once or twice a week I’d get a hilarious show of a mama and her babies playing on my deck even though I didn’t keep a scrap of anything edible out there. She never forgot. The babies were adorable and playful as I watched from inside.

  4. We rented a cottage with an almost floor to ceiling front window. Raccoons would come up on the veranda at night & walk by the window. You could see critters (bugs & fleas?) jumping off them. Ugh. They didn’t seem to fear anything either. I keep my distance whenever I see one. They are cute little things, though. From you, I learned not to toss apple cores & small bits of food on the side of the road, so as not to attract hungry animals and then making it a possibility they get hit by a car. Thanks for that tip.

    1. Thanks, Pam. I learned that tip from Brian Salt at.Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue Centre..He’s been a great source of knowledge for so many people.

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