I wrote this nearly a month ago, but never got around to editing it until now. Since then, more has happened. Hopefully it won't take me another month to post Part 2.
Last fall, I became aware that a couple of tiny grey guests were making themselves at home in an old barbecue on the deck behind our house. The adorable mice - yes, I used the word adorable, and I won't take it back - had made a cozy nest in their rain-proof and predator-proof shelter. Yes, I am aware that rodents reproduce at a rate to make your head spin, but I didn't want to evict them just as winter was setting in, especially as so many urban critters lost their habitat in the hurricane last September, so they were given a reprieve until spring.
Then, like any decent host, I worried about their welfare. What would they eat? I had some sunflower seeds left from feeding the birds and squirrels the previous spring, so I rigged up a covered mice-feeding station on the side shelf of the barbecue. As the days passed, the seeds kept disappearing, so I relaxed, happy that the guests were not going hungry and that the problem of relocation had successfully been postponed for a few months.
Then the vague suspicion entered my mind that more seeds were disappearing than could reasonably be consumed by two wee creatures. Around the same time, I noticed chickadees flying back and forth from the now-sparse treeline at the back of the yard to the deck. They of course had found the guest buffet and were availing themselves.
Last week I realized the rate of seed consumption had taken yet another giant leap, and somebody was leaving footprints all over the buffet, and I switched into high alert for evidence of just who the new guests might be.
I didn't have to wonder for long. Last night as I sat at the kitchen table, which put me within a few feet of the back door, I heard a small but distinct scratching noise on the other side of the door. Already suspecting what I would see, I turned on the outside light and, sure enough, there was a young raccoon, his little human-like hands braced on the door, peering back at me.
What to do? WHAT THE HECK TO HECKIN' DO???
I did what anyone would do. I took his picture. And then I simultaneously panicked and googled "what people food is safe for raccoons to eat".
The answer was, Do not feed raccoons. They will keep coming back and if they want to get in your house they can be very hard to dissuade from doing so.
And then the rest of the answer was that if you MUST feed the raccoons, feed only cat food, dog food, fruits, and eggs. Do not feed chocolate, raisins, or processed grain products.
As if I would give away my chocolate or processed grains! (I wouldn't feel nearly as protective about raisins, so it's good I don't have any.)
Meanwhile the scratching at the door continued. I wanted to go to bed but the internet warning about a raccoon's ability to commit a break-and-enter was bothering me. My Lucy cat's food is located not far from the door and I wondered if the raccoon had a good enough sense of smell to be able to detect it and decide this house was a good one to dig its way into. And although I personally would have another door between the kitchen and my bed, Lucy would not, and in a match between a raccoon and Lucy I would be betting on the raccoon. Sorry, Lucy, but even though I'm nearly as scared of you as I am of a raccoon, you are carrying a few extra pounds and you have asthma and arthritis. You would lose, trust me. Please don't bite me for just telling the truth.
By the time I debated at length with myself about whether to throw cat food from the second-storey window to a far-away corner of the yard, the raccoon had shuffled off.
In all seriousness, I feel I have to consider the effect of so many trees being lost in the hurricane when I am deciding whether to help out this little fellow. It's not just my trees, it's trees on a lot of urban properties that were uprooted or damaged and cut down and taken away after the hurricane. I know that there was at least one raccoon living near me before the hurricane because I was finding its poo in my back yard all last summer, and I discovered one out on a limb of one of the now-absent trees in our yard, hissing and shaking on the branch as he tried to get turned around without falling off. So this is already raccoon territory and I suspect my failure to feed my guest from time to time won't really make any difference except to relieve one animal's hunger. The internet article I read recommended not feeding regularly, so they don't become dependent or tame, because that can lead to the animal needing to be destroyed if it becomes a pest.
My inclination is to sprinkle some dry cat food at random places and on random days as far from my house as I can get without endangering my neighbours' yards, until the ground warms up enough that the bugs get active and the vegetation starts to grow again, and then taper off.
But I welcome your opinions about dealing with wildlife in an urban setting, if you'd like to share them here.
And when I have time to figure out how to get photos onto this new computer, I have pictorial proof of the trash panda to post 😀