Trick or Treat–Raccoon on the Roof
Trick or treat? That is the question that runs through my mind every time my phone rings. Especially on those rare occasions when I am not at work at Peace River Wildlife Center. Sometimes it is a relatively benign question from one of the rehabbers like, “Where do we order crane chow from? We are completely out of it.” (Never is it, “We are running low,” it always has to be a scramble!) Inevitably the next phone call will be, “What can we feed the cranes until the crane chow comes in?” And, yes, crane chow is a thing—a specially formulated pelleted food that we feed our resident sandhill cranes. The answer, by the way, is Crossties Farm and Garden in Punta Gorda. They have been supplying PRWC with not only crane chow, but bird seed, hay, and numerous other staples for over ten years. And they usually don’t even snicker anymore when we call them with questions like, “Is crane chow more like dog chow or kitten chow? Or Cheerios?”
Those are the questions I look forward to. Many times the first question from the disembodied voice on the other end of the phone is, “Are you busy?” That never ends well. A recent phone call that started with that inquiry was a doozy. I knew I was in for trouble when the rehabber on duty wasn’t even the one calling, but had somehow talked the volunteer in the office into calling me. That poor guy. Apparently there was a baby raccoon stuck on the roof at Lowes in Port Charlotte. Was I busy? I have been advised by the editor that I cannot report on the exact nature of what my response was. Suffice it to say that I threw some rescue equipment in the car and headed OTB (Over The Bridge) anyway.
Luckily for me, unluckily for him, my husband was trying to nap on the sofa in front of a bad football game. (All of our favourite teams are not having exactly stellar seasons this year, so they are almost all bad games lately.) When we arrived at Lowes my favourite Charlotte County Animal Control officer, Ronelle Moore, was already on scene. It turns out there were five baby raccoons and a mother on the roof. One had fallen into the garden department earlier and had climbed up the chain link fence in the far corner of the store and seemed to be stuck there, not knowing how to get down or back to where mom and the siblings were.
Ronelle had been successful in getting one other baby off of the roof, into a net, and transferred to a carrier. Raccoons being as smart as they are, that was not going to work a second time. The mother was there splitting her time between the three babies still on the roof and the one in the carrier directly below. The baby in the far corner at the top of the fence was seemingly not on her radar at the moment, so that is where we headed next. An extension ladder was provided and I shimmied up, grabbed that baby, and handed it down to Ronelle.
Sounds simple, right? It was not. First I had to convince Lowes’ safety officer that I knew what I was doing, wouldn’t fall, and wouldn’t sue them if I did. Then I had to convince myself of the first two things. Have I mentioned lately that I suffer from acrophobia—an irrational fear of heights? Although in my own defense, I don’t really see how being leery of climbing a rickety ladder to wrestle with a wild animal could be considered irrational. The Lowes employees and well-intentioned by-standers were not vaccinated against rabies, so they couldn’t handle the raccoon, even though babies this young are not really at risk of the disease, raccoons are Florida’s number one rabies vector species and should always be handled as such.
After tripping over some crazy rope that was intertwined with the ladder rungs and the sales label that was attached half way up the ladder, I made it up to the baby. That was when everyone started yelling that the mother raccoon was headed my way. The baby had a remarkably strong grip on the fence and was just out of reach, but I finally pried him loose and gently tossed him into Ronelle’s waiting net below. Meanwhile the chorus of “Here she comes!” was getting ever louder. I couldn’t look up—I surely didn’t want to stare a mad mama raccoon in the face. I couldn’t look down—never look down! I just picked my way back down through the impediments as quickly as I could and listened to Cat Stevens serenade me in my mind with “Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world.”
We placed the two captured babies in the woods at the edge of the parking lot and mama followed, leading them away from the store. That is when Casey McVey from Assurance Wildlife Trapping showed up. We moved the ladder next to the area where the remaining three babies were hunkered down and he wove his way through the overhanging tarps to grab them and hand them down to us. He made it look so easy. Of course, the little tykes were tired out by then (probably from laughing at our antics.) The last of the babies were reunited with mom and the family lived happily ever after. Or not. All I know is that they did not end up back on Lowes roof the next night. And don’t think for a minute that I wasn’t worried about that happening.
Kudos to Ronelle and all the CCAC officers for helping with wildlife emergencies even though their job is to provide service to companion animals and protect people. A big thanks to Casey who obviously knows his way around a ladder and isn’t afraid to use it. Most importantly I want to point out that Lowes closed down a large portion of their garden center for a couple hours while we orchestrated the removal of the raccoon family. It is so gratifying when the whole community works together. What a treat!
Stop by PRWC in costume during our normal business hours of 11a.m. to 4p.m. on Halloween for a special treat.
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM