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Food For Thought

Raccoons dug up my son’s tomato plants– twice. We won’t know for a while if the electric fencing he put up will prevent further vandalism. I see them early, just after the sun is up, making their way back from the pond. I suspect that, if they didn’t have the pond so handy, they would go the other way to the creek in the pasture. Raccoons do need water. Not only to drink, but to help them eat. We once thought it charming that they so carefully washed their food before eating it. Turns out it’s more basic than that– they don’t produce saliva as some animals do, and need the moisture to help get the food down.
I don’t want to make any enemies here, but I think Walt Disney and his cohorts are partly to blame. By representing raccoons as cute, playful little creatures, they have given several generations of children the idea that raccoons are cuddly, lovable little cartoons. They aren’t.
There was a time when I knew people who kept raccoons as pets. I guess many people still do, but they all seem to get cranky and vicious as they mature (the raccoons, not the people.) They are, after all, wild animals and instinct can’t be blotted out by free food and kindness. It takes generations and generations to breed out those characteristics. Look at your dog– your toy poodle, golden lab, or Pomeranian– and see how far removed he is from his ancestor wolves. Raccoons haven’t changed all that much.
Since I live in the country by choice, I’ve had to accept the notion that I’ve commandeered a few acres of natural habitat and that I must coexist with the original inhabitants. I think I’m being fair in that I don’t allow hunting in my immediate space, though I do allow rabbits, squirrels, all the birds and pond creatures full range. There are oak trees, wild plums and berries, walnuts and other edibles in my timber. The pond provides a pretty good balance of fish, frogs, crawdads, watery vegetation and other benefits for a number of plants and animals. I even allow the dandelions to thrive. After all, their seeds, along with those of the thistles and other weeds, provide necessary food for goldfinches and other small birds.
Most animals seem to obey the laws of nature in that, when habitat becomes over-crowded, they adapt by moving into new territory, producing fewer and smaller offspring requiring less food. The raccoons seem to keep fighting that trend. They especially like abandoned buildings where they dig in and establish a community bent on producing enough descendants to take over the world. They become night raiders, destroying property and gardens under cover of darkness. They creep onto my deck and teach their children to use it as a bathroom, and dig up the flowers in my planter boxes. This, I’ve concluded, is not a natural way for raccoons to behave. It can only be deliberate nastiness, calculated to discourage me from enjoying the outdoors– including my man-made “tree.”
For most of the years I’ve lived here, I’ve had dogs– sometimes two or three at a time– and a cat or two. Even though these were mainly pets and spent the nights in the house most of the time, their presence on the property was enough to keep the coyotes and raccoons away from my door. Our golden retrievers usually stayed home or very close around, and for the last 10 years or so, the ones we had seemed to be aware of property lines and have respect for other people’s property. There are dogs in the neighborhood, but they are, for the most part, penned when not supervised by their masters, so don’t do much to deter the night marauders.
Even living in the country, it has become necessary to limit the behavior of pets. Not only is it a courtesy to the neighbors, it is necessary for the safety of the pets. Too many cars whizzing by on that nearby highway, and apparently, too many other hazards, including people with guns. Also, there are too many storage sheds where people keep lawn equipment, store gardening supplies, tools, three-wheelers, pool equipment, lawn furniture and even household goods. Any time there is a sheltered and human-free place to hide and build a nest, the mice and rats show up. What alternatives does the shed-owner have when he sees his stored items being befouled and destroyed? He buys copious amounts of rat poison. Raccoons consider this to be an all-you-can-eat buffet and make a habit of going out with their friends several nights a week to party. Result– some very sick raccoons who die agonizingly slow deaths. I see them sometimes, laboring back from the pond, dazed by the pain. They appear to be drunk– or rabid– and it would be a mercy if they could die quickly, but rat poison causes a slow, cruel death.
Even though I’m enjoying the freedom of my presently petless state and really don’t want to housebreak another puppy, I’m beginning to wonder if I should get another dog.