I saw this post at Kim'Dehn's blog awhile back and enjoyed it so much that I asked her if she'd consider posting it here. She graciously agreed:
Helen, the Deaf and Blind Baby Raccoon
I love critters. I’ve shared my life with dogs and cats and birds and fish…but critters like raccoons and possums make me physically weak. My sister says I channel Ellie Mae Clampett. I take that as a compliment.
I have provided food and water for critters in my current home since 2007 when the Mid-South temps soared over 100 for several weeks. The raccoons were out at noon drinking the stray cats water and food. I put out a kiddie pool and scattered dog kibble along the wood line behind my home. They’ve been coming ever since.
On June 21st I discovered a blind and deaf baby raccoon. I noticed her eating with intense concentration long after her mom and siblings left. I went out to check on her, and was shocked that I was able to get close enough to take photos without a zoom lens. She never indicated she knew I was there. And I wasn’t deliberately quiet.
It was clear she recognized my smell as I was out there with food and changed the pool water every day. However, when my husband went to see her, she felt her way into the woods, to a tree where she climbed as she had been taught. She went up perhaps two feet, not high enough to protect her from danger. As we are dog less and kid less, I didn’t fear for her safety during the day. At night, you never know what hungry animal may happen along.
What would Ellie Mae do? Well. She’d ask Pa if she could keep the little critter, and surely Jed would say, yes! Unfortunately I’m overwhelmed with indoor cats and outdoor cats, not to mention my husband’s patience could snap any moment.
Fast forward two weeks.
I named her “Helen” as in Keller. Every day I’d see her by the kiddie pool, eating kibble. Alone. The size of a basketball, she would have been easy pickings for a dog or whatever to kill her. The morning a stray yellow lab appeared to eat the kibble, I knew time was running out.
I called Petra of Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation. I barely got the words ‘blind and deaf baby’ out of my mouth when she asked if I had the baby trapped. Well, no. I have enough cats to know what goes into their mouths comes out their bottoms. I wasn’t going to catch Helen until I knew I could hand her off immediately.
A live trap would not work on Helen. I would catch every member of her family before she accidentally stumbled into the trap. Petra suggested I drop a blanket over Helen, sweep her up and put her in a box, then call her.
Uh…too simple. Which meant I had to put my own sweet spin on catching her.
I didn’t like the idea of using a blanket. I have never caught an animal that way. I prefer luring into a baited live trap or cage and slapping the door shut. It worked many times on the wildest of stray cats, so that was the route I would take.
I found a large box, an old blanket, gloves (I’m no fool) and was making two peanut butter sandwiches (Helen loved peanut butter) when my husband called. I told him what I had planned for the day. He made a scoffing sound. “What?” I demanded.
“It’s not going to be as simple as you make it sound,” he said. “Its never simple with you. There is always a bigger story.”
I got huffy. Not everything I do with cats and critters ends with a bigger story. We agreed to disagree and hung up, with Ray saying he couldn’t wait to hear the bigger story, and me sticking my tongue out at my cell phone.
It didn’t take long before Helen appeared with her family. I waited until the others returned to the woods, then grabbed the box, gloves, sandwiches and a plastic lid from a storage box. I walked right up to Helen and set the box on end so she would walk into it. Then, Gidget decided to help.
Gidget is a year-old ex-stray and has watched her father, Jesse the Wonder Cat, smack raccoons when they try to grab his dinner. I’ve seen Gidget copy her dad, so I didn’t want her around when I trapped Helen. As it happened, Helen smelled Gidget and became frightened. She backed into the woods, and climbed a pathetic 2 feet up a tree.
I went back inside to wait for Helen to return. When she did, I put Gidget in the laundry room. I also said a prayer that I would be smart about trapping Helen. I didn’t want to frighten her. Imagine being deaf and blind, and suddenly something grabs you!
Helen sat in the middle of the kibble munching happily. She always had a perpetually happy smile on her face. A happy, blind and deaf baby raccoon that smiles and loves peanut butter sandwiches. I would never forget her.
I set the box between Helen and the woods, and baited it with a sandwich. I slipped a small bite under her nose. She went right for it, nibbling off tiny pieces. I gave her a really small portion, but it took her like, ten minutes to eat it. Meanwhile I’m standing over her, baking in the sun, itchy from the flies buzzing around the damp kibble and Helen, taking her sweet time eating.
When she finished, she picked up another piece of kibble. My patience thinned. I was ready for both Helen and me to get on with our lives. But then she smelled more peanut butter and headed for the box, only to stop and sniff the strange object, and back away. I held my breath. Please! I thought. And she walked in, part way. Ahhh, the power of peanut butter.
While she worked on the sandwich, I applied the plastic lid to nudge her further in, and at the same time tipped the box up on end. Helen toppled into the bottom and before she could make a sound, I had the lid taped shut. Yep. I used two strips of tape designed for sealing storage boxes. It had to be good stuff. My husband doesn’t buy cheap-o crap.
I called Petra, who cheered, and we agreed to meet half way. I released Gidget from the laundry room, and then placed the box with Helen in the backseat of my car. She road quietly for ten minutes. I could hear her smacking her lips. Then…she finished.
The box with the happy smiling deaf and blind baby raccoon began to shake. I had one eye on the road and one eye on the box, not easy to do unless you’re Marty Feldman. I was thankfully on a Mississippi backwoods highway with nary a car in sight. Very thankful when I turned around for a third time and saw Helen stick her nose out of the box top.
Looked like Ray’s comment that I always had a bigger story was about to come true. Which pissed me off! Yeah, I had taped the box shut. Two whole pieces! Dirty rotten cheap-o tape. Ray’s tape! I had something to blame him for!
Feeling much better, I pulled over and shook the box, thinking Helen would huddle quietly in the bottom for the rest of the drive. Nope! She ramped it up. Deaf and blind. Yes! Raccoon with claws? Damn straight!
I finally flipped the box upside down, with the cheapo-taped top against the seat, hoping Helen would sit on it quietly and I could drive and…
Nope! She dug at the bottom with power-tool-like claws.
I had a flash of déjà vu, taking me back fifteen years. And yes, it was one of those ‘bigger stories’ Ray mentioned. I had thought the feral cat I was taking to be neutered was safely locked in my cat carrier…except he kept head-butting the door and actually punched it out so that I found myself driving with a feral cat head-butting my windshield less than a foot away.
With visions of that dancing in my head, I threw my purse on top of Helen’s box, and held it down with one hand while driving like a demon for my exit. The box rocked and rolled. I tapped on it, hoping to…not scare her, rather…communicate. Yes! My tapping was me spelling w-a-t-e-r to Helen, assuring her she didn’t need to panic cuz I was doing enough of that for both of us.
I prayed my exit was coming up. It was! I prayed Petra would be pulling into the gas station at the same time as me. And she did.
Clearly Petra thought I had everything under control. I guess my wild eyes and shriek about Helen wanting out of the box NOW gave Petra pause. Instead she tossed aside her paperwork and opened the car door. Helen’s arm reached out from the box’s crap-o taped bottom (formerly top.) Petra pushed the paw back inside. Helen then punched her nose out the hole she had chewed in the box’s top (formerly bottom.) I think I yelped. Not sure. Everything went black for a second.
When I came to, Petra had a small pet carrier and a yellow bath towel. She opened the top and peered down at Helen. She then dropped the towel into the box and scooped my raccoon up like they had been made for each other. I watched with envy while Petra held Helen up to inspect her. Helen hung limp like a rag doll. Nothing like the boxed maniac terrorizing me down I-69.
“She has no eyes,” Petra finally said. “There is nothing there.”
I felt bad for thinking of Helen as a maniac. She didn’t have eyes!
Petra determined Helen was 3 months old, and was amazed she had lived that long. I wasn’t. Helen had been born to the right raccoon mom who, generations before her, had set up camp in the woods behind my house. Helen didn’t have to go far from her bed to get food and water. Ideal in every way to nurture a baby raccoon with birth defects.
I donated to Helen’s care, and Petra and I hugged twice. I was teary driving home, relieved Helen would be safe from harm. Relieved there are Petra’s out there to devote their every waking moments to critters in desperate need. Relieved I wouldn’t have to worry about the helpless little basketball of fluff groping her way around my yard.
Before we parted, Petra told me she currently had 20-some raccoons in her care, one of which had a broken leg. Clearly God put Petra in my path. Who better to take Helen than someone totally devoted to the species?
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