Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Raccoon Chronicles

The First Encounter

Tom came home from work and it was in the house. Large, fuzzy and smelly. It occupied almost the entire livingroom. Tom was frightened. He grabbed a broom and tried to look menacing. The raccoon laughed. It sprawled out on the rug.

Tom poked and yelled and finally the raccoon ran back out the cat door where it had come in. When I arrived on the scene, the raccoon hadn't gone much further than the middle of the yard. Tom and I pressed our faces against the pantry window and watched it flail around on the grass. It stumbled and drooled and headbutted a tree. That's about when I started screaming to grab that cat and check his last rabies vaccination date.

Then I looked down. All over the floor were foil wrappers. Our financial planner had given us a pound of chambord-filled chocolate barrels. They were all gone.


The Raccoon Develops a Taste for the Sauce

The raccoon told all his friends about the wonderful elixir and tasty treats available at our place. The next night, they all showed up. Loud banging noises shook the house and rattled Tom’s teeth. He rocketed downstairs in his underwear and flung open the pantry door. He was largely ignored.

Raccoons ripped open bags of chicken-flavored couscous and shredded Teriyaki sauce containers. Fig Newton wrappers and clumps of fur drifted above the frenzy.

Tom slammed the door shut. He contemplated his strategy briefly, then reopened the door a crack and blindly swung around his trusty broom. One raccoon smelled opportunity in the uncharted kitchen area beyond and hurtled toward the opened portal.

Tom blocked its exit. He felt the raccoon’s fur tickle his bare shins and its hot breath stir the hair on his toes. It was like looking death in the eyes. But he refused to go down quietly.

In a violent, adrenalin-fueled twitch, Tom yanked the door at least three times. Bang, bang, bang. But the broom handle blocked its closure! His heart pounded wildly. The raccoon bellowed a terrifying war cry and charged. It lifted its ten-inch razor sharp claws and took a swipe at Tom’s exposed ankle.

In a split-second decision, Tom sacrificed the broom, tossing it inside the pantry. The door latched and locked. He stared vacantly at the white hollowcore barrier and listened to the muffled festivities beyond. Then he retreated upstairs.

I slept through the whole thing, but Tom assures me it was a life-threatening encounter with even more daring exploits on his part than I have managed to capture.


Storming the Gates... or Catdoor.

We blocked off the cat door while our cat Alex looked on despondently. He was disappointed with us. He felt our actions smacked of defeatism. There may have been some truth to his accusations, but Alex always has been a risk-taker and fond of his ability to pee freely and frequently in the great outdoors.

We engineered a three-prong approach. First, we locked the cat door shut. Then we lay a table on its side and shoved it up against the locked cat door. Next, we positioned a heavy toolbox filled with tools on top of the overturned table for added resistance.

Tom did not sleep for a week. The cat door was directly below our bedroom window and the raccoons were irrefrangibly, nosily, persistent. For sunset till sunrise, they thudded and banged and shoved at the cat door. They fashioned a battering ram and the walls of our house shuddered under their forceful blows.

Tom became cranky and irritable from his unfortunate insomnia. Then one day, lying awake in the soft glow of the moonlight, he devised a plan. He chuckled deviously. It was foolproof. He enlisted me in his scheming. I agreed even though I was somewhat skeptical as to the necessity of the operation. I had slept soundly all week.


Defending the Stronghold


We carried buckets upstairs. Good-sized vessels of any kind, really. We filled them up with water and positioned them strategically around the bedroom window. We removed the screen and cranked open the window half way, in preparation. Then we went to sleep. I only awoke because Tom pulled all the sheets off the bed when he snapped into action.

The raccoon was directly below us, in direct line of fire. Tom hoisted up a big bucket and spilled it over the windowsill. Our target was drenched. We high-fived and felt like victorious medieval knights... for about one second.

The raccoon briskly shook out his fur. Drips of water flew in all directions. It pinched its snout into a wrathful grimace. Slowly its eyes rolled upward and held us in its steely gaze. Deliberately, the raccoon reached over. Our eyes were still locked. It firmly grasped the catdoor in both paws and yanked it off its hinges. It tossed the catdoor into the bushes and waddled off into the night looking disgusted.


Animal Control = Not Interested

I called animal control and told the woman that there was a raccoon home invader in our neighborhood that was as big as a mountain lion, maybe bigger. She asked if the raccoon had been spotted outside during the day. I said no.

The woman immediately lost interest because the raccoon was not rabid. She also told me about all the poor wildlife creatures whose homes had been destroyed by McMansions and now had nowhere to go. We humans were the home invaders, in truth.


Alex is a Bad Cat

Alex really needed a cat door. We puzzled over our quandary and finally elected to install a new cat door in the basement. There was no food in the basement and thus no reason for a raccoon to muscle its way in, we cleverly reasoned. But we were cautious.

We had heard a rumor that raccoons would steer clear of the human voice, so we set up a boombox on a timer and tuned it to talk radio. Tom went with an ultra-conservative station for extra insurance. He figured Rush wouldn’t do much for raccoons.

And it worked for a while. Until the Chipmunk Incident.


The Chipmunk Incident

Alex brought home a little friend for lunch. He pranced upstairs clutching his prized chipmunk and dropped it at Tom’s feet. Except Tom was standing in front of a white board conducting an offsite meeting in the living room. His business partner and ten of his employees gaped.

It was a feisty chipmunk. As soon as its little feet hit the ground, it took off running. Alex chased the chipmunk. Tom chased Alex. They circled the sofa. The chipmunk caught some air when it launched itself down the basement stairs. Alex was close on its heels and Tom brought up the rear. He was just in time to see the chipmunk disappear under the hot water heater.

Tom bought a chipmunk-sized Have-a-Heart trap that evening. He loaded it up with peanut butter and positioned it in the basement. Then we forgot about it and went on vacation.

Erin and Guy were in charge of Alex while we were away so we called them when we came home because the chipmunk trap was missing.

“Hi, Erin, so sorry about making you guys deal with the chipmunk trap.” I envisioned poor little Sophie in the backseat with a feisty chipmunk in a trap.

“What chipmunk trap?” answered Erin.

After a lot of searching, we finally located the chipmunk trap. It was halfway out the cat door. The peanut butter was still in the trap. Muddy raccoon footprints were spattered all over the scene.

Tom went right out and bought a raccoon-sized Have-a-Heart trap. We positioned it next to the chipmunk-sized trap in the basement.


Happy Holidays!

Raccoons are a festive bunch, always up for a celebration. We could tell because of the holy mess they left in the basement. All our Christmas ornaments lay mangled in a bed of dirty Easter grass along with some sticky candy cane wrappers.

Plastic eggs were wrenched open for a few stale jellybeans. The foil from a forgotten ten-year-old fruitcake dangled off a heating duct and a tin of caramel popcorn we’d bought from the boyscouts was squished and ripped open although there was not even a crumb of caramel popcorn anywhere to be found. The boyscouts are known for their caramel popcorn, so this wasn’t unexpected.

The peanut butter bread in both Have-a-Heart traps remained untouched. Tom recollected a brief glimpse of a chipmunk sprinting for the garage door on recycle day. That explained one trap’s vacancy. He concerned himself with the other trap.

After some consideration, Tom selected a new bait for the raccoon trap. He decided on cat food. Several factors influenced his decision, but it was mainly the zealous effort expended to engineer the explosive devices used to blow up a Rubbermaid container where catfood was stored. Tom felt the raccoons’ volatile undertaking may be indicative of a craving for Science Diet Lite Formula. He was correct.


The Cat in the Trap

Our plan required some fine-tuning. The cat also likes cat food. Alex, excited by the possibility of a snack, was not amused when he found himself ensnared by our trickery. He was downright furious. He glared at Tom through the steel mesh cage.


The Captive

We came back from a weekend away. It was one a.m. and the weak glow from the garage light glinted off its beady eyes. The raccoon squeezed into the raccoon trap like a grizzly bear squeezed into a raccoon trap.

The place was a shambles. Boxes and pieces of wood and magazines were strewn everywhere. Cautiously, we approached our captive. He peered at us through a pile of shredded fabric. Tom had camouflaged the trap with a bedsheet decorated in large, electric pink flowers. The raccoon had yanked the entire sheet through the trap’s chicken-wire sized holes.

The trap was also twenty feet away from its original location.

In the cage with the raccoon was twenty feet of an orange extension cord. Except all the orange rubber was scattered over the cement floor. Exposed wires tangled around the raccoon’s feet. The raccoon had used the extension cord to drag itself and the trap, paw-over-paw, across the basement.

I got my welding gloves out and we carefully transported the trap to the car. The raccoon was placid. It seemed to have accepted its inevitable fate. We drove to a park. We pulled up under the trees. Steam hung above the silent grass. It was the dead of night. There was no moon. Tom said he felt like Pauley Walnuts.

I put my welding gloves back on and carefully raised the trapdoor. The raccoon bounded toward freedom. We watched its raccoon tushy bouncing into the darkness. It ran really fast.

Tom vs. the Raccoon(s)
...alternatively titled, "Why I Have Been Exhausted All Week"

Tom sits ramrod straight in bed at 2 am.

"We got another one." He hops up and charges out into the hallway. His footsteps recede.

Moments later, he's back.
"Another raccoon. In trap. Must put on pants and drive to park."

I roll over, pull the blankets over my head, and consider that I have the bionic woman for a husband. How else could he hear the Have-a-Heart Trap snap closed two floors below in the BASEMENT? Only with Lindsay Wagner's ears would this be possible.

At 3 am, I am awakened again. Tom has returned. He jumps into bed and anounces that this was the 7th raccoon we've caught in the basement, or else we've caught the same raccoon 7 times. The ambiguity bothered Tom, but no more. He McGyvered a late night fix and cleverly spray painted the raccoon's ass silver.

"He made a god-aweful noise, but I'll know if he comes back, the little bastard."

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