Friday 28 April 2023

The Wild Things - Part 1

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.


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 😀


Mr. Shife said...

First off, welcome back.
Second off, it's glad to have you back.
Third off, I look forward to pictorial proof.
Fourth off, I have little worthwhile advice to offer you because we have been fortunate to be mostly critter free.
Fifth off, have a good weekend.

Elephant's Child said...

I like your feeding solution - and would LOVE to see a raccoon.

Elephant's Child said...

PS: I hope you can post photos too. Hugs.

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

I would do as you say feeding irreularly both in time and space. I do so with birds in winter. Enough for them not to starve, but not regularly enought for them to get totally dependent and drop dear of hunger if I should fall ill.
I look forward to pictyer proof. Trash panda is a new to me name :)

dinthebeast said...

Our cat occasionally brings in a mouse and lets it go. Briana took pity on one such creature and left food for it to eat. It ate a hole in the wall at the back of the closet, made a nest out of threads from a fluffy blanket, and chewed a hole in the toe of one of Briana's shoes. I caught it in a plastic box-trap and Briana let it go outside.
We went to town for groceries one afternoon, and as it had rained earlier and the cat was outside, I didn't close the door all of the way, so he could get back in before we got back if he needed to. When we returned the door had been opened a little, the wastebasket was knocked over and its contents were scattered around the floor, a bag of M&Ms had been chewed open, and the cat was hiding under the bed. So yes, raccoons will sometimes come in and pillage if they get the chance.
Last year Zsuzs got mad at them for eating all of the little fish she had in the pond to eat the mosquitos. They don't seem to have come back yet this year, but the snow is just now melting, and there was a lot of it, so I figure they'll be around soon enough.

-Doug in Sugar Pine

Janie Junebug said...

Wildlife in an urban setting is sad because we encroach on their territory and expect them to deal with it. I know you want to feed the raccoon. I don't think you should because he is going to make you crazy with hanging around your house and finding a way to get in. I will refrain from commenting on the mice. Wbat kind of a fool would give away chocolate?


Marie Smith said...

I would be thrilled to see a raccoon. I have only ever seen one. I would be nervous about having one so close to home though. It’s a great idea to put the food far away from the house!

Joanne Noragon said...

I used to feed cat food to every critter interested in eating it. I basically had raccoons, opossums and skunks. I thought I was very altruistic. One day my neighbor wandered over. A wise man. I relied on him a good deal when I was first divorced. He surveyed my smorgasbord and some of my customers. After noting I was being very kind to wildlife, he said "Every one of them can carry rabies, you know. I'm surprised you are so willing to put your cats and dogs at risk." At the time I had three indoor/outdoor cats and two dogs. On further reflection, I was putting my children at risk, and by extension all the neighborhood children. I explained to my children why our little feeding zoo was ending and moved the cat food and cat feeding indoors.

messymimi said...

Raccoons have moxie, so you're right to be leery. Throwing food out randomly far from the house would be the best way to do it if you feel you have to.

River said...

I would recommend not feeding them at all, including the mice. Before you know it you will be buying bulk bags of food and feeding far too many who see you as their personal buffet.
I had that with the cockatoos, began with feeding one sickly bird and ended with a flock of two dozen some days, twice a day. I gradually put out less until the food ran out and now I don't put out any. One or two birds still come around hoping, but the wildlife society recommends no feeding and I could no longer afford the seeds anyway.

jabblog said...

I, too, think your solution of throwing food out far from the house would be the best solution.
I'm intrigued by the mice, though. Are you going to put them on the pill?

DB Stewart said...

Well back...fingers crossed for that new computer.

Steve Reed said...

"Trash panda"! I love it.

I don't have much experience with raccoons. I know at least one other blogger who feeds them and I don't think she's suffered any ill effects, but please don't take that as an endorsement. :)

We don't worry about rodents in the garden as long as they STAY in the garden. Which they sometimes don't.

jenny_o said...

Mr. Shife: Thank you times five :) I'm trying.

Elephant's Child: Raccoons truly are interesting creatures. I have another post in mind about the one my cousin rescued as a baby and raised for a while. I'm not sure if the device I took the picture with is compatible with this computer or not. I hope I can get that picture off it. Hugs to you, dear friend.

Charlotte: Yes, that's my reasoning too. And I can't claim to have invented "trash panda" - I found it on the internet :)

Doug: Yikes on the mouse AND the raccoon! I draw the line at critters inside the house (except for my cats, of course).

Janie: The house is pretty tight so I'm not overly worried about the mice. And the raccoon hasn't been back to the door, which is good :)

Marie: It always feels magical to me to see wildlife up close. I'm sure it's partly the novelty, and I definitely wouldn't want them inside the house!

jenny_o said...

Joanne: That was good advice, although the situation here is a bit different. I never meant for this to be a long-term arrangement, just to tide us over until spring made it easier for animals to survive after the loss of food and shelter in the fall. Our spring has been very cool, as well. But I'm already phasing out the buffet.

Mimi: Raccoons are definitely an animal I avoid. They can be vicious if they feel threatened.

River: Yes, it can get out of hand if a person isn't careful!

jabblog: LOL! There's more to come on the mice situation, so stay tuned :)

DB Stewart: Thanks - and I'm still getting used to the updated operating system - it's so different from the one I was using.

Steve: Sadly, "trash panda" is not my invention; someone on the internet, someone smarter than I am, coined it. I actually considered the odds of the mice coming in the house and figured the chance might be less if I left them alone than if I de-housed them right when the weather was getting cold. Although our house is pretty tight and I don't get too worried about them getting in. Also, I have two cats :)

kylie said...

I just love everything about this!

You're rewilding. Hopefully no critter decides to rewild inside your house

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday week my birthday twin! I’ll be thinking of you on Wednesday. Big love.

Anonymous said...

That last comment was me, 37paddington. But you probably guessed!

Anonymous said...

Be careful around raccoons. It isn't that they are mean, or vicious, most are fairly tame, cute, and manageable. The problem is they can carry rabies, a disease that is almost 100% fatal. The very few that didn't die after waiting too long to get the vaccine, spent months in a coma and years recovering.

Unfortunately raccoons cannot be cleared of rabies and they cannot be vaccinated to prevent them getting rabies. This has to do with rabies and raccoons co-evolving. Raccoons can carry rabies indefinitely without getting sick. And once infected there are no proven ways of eliminating the virus in their system. Multiple rabies vaccine injections have no effect long term.

I got this information from a county animal control guy when he came to handle a neighbor that had three 'pet' raccoons. Florida state law prohibits keeping raccoons.

Nothing against raccoons. They are cute and productive as wild animals. Just, please, admire them from a distance. No touching, or feeding. Keep domestic animals and raccoons separated. Make sure your pets are vaccinated. If you are even slightly injured near a raccoon get vaccinated for rabies. Even a small scratch can be fatal. And please note that waiting for symptoms of rabies can easily mean it is too late. Do not wait.

Emergency prophylactic rabies shots are not given in the stomach any more. They are not the stuff of nightmares any more. The first one goes half in the wound site and the rest in your arm. You will also need to get three more at intervals in your arm. No big deal. Be safe.

Diane Henders said...

I agree that mice and raccoons are adorable! Also, extremely undesirable in or near my house. ;-) Those critters are very resourceful and adaptable, so unless they actually look emaciated, they don't likely need any extra food. And if they do look ill, it's probably safer to keep your distance and call a wildlife rescue place to come and help them. Just my 2 cents worth... or I guess that would be a nickel's worth these days. :-)

baili said...

this is breathtaking actually and i felt while reading dear Jenny that you are such a wise and cool lady and one can learn so much from you specially how to deal with situation like this without loosing head .
needless to mention that i am happy when you post so despite i was about to get up as it was my walk and tea time when i saw your post i could not resist and jumped to read :)

i am sure blog friends will be sharing how they deal with such situations . we have to push away rats because of the damage they do to things as we have house open with all the doors opened until w lock before go to bed . all i can remember birds and cats rescue i did many many years ago .
will be visiting again to read comments and your responses soon .
hugs and blessings

jenny_o said...

kylie: I'm so glad. And so far, so good :)

37p: Thank you, and the same to you :D

Anonymous: I wish I knew who you are! Thanks for the information; I knew most of it but it was interesting to learn about the current treatment. Don't worry, I'm careful.

Diane: Yeah, ordinarily I'd keep a bigger distance from the wildlife. And your advice is worth far more than the inflationary equivalent of that two cents :)

baili: I sure didn't feel wise or cool when the raccoon was snuffling right on the other side of the door! From your comment, I realized I never thought about this being a world-wide problem but it definitely is. Man against nature - unfortunately it's an ever-present battle. Thank you for reading, my friend. I haven't been getting around much in blogland lately but I'm feeling a little more like doing so now. I'll be over to visit you soon :)

Martha said...

What a story! I wouldn't know how to deal with raccoons. Thank goodness for the internet! I think your feeding solutions sound about right. (P.S - I also think mice are adorable. I don't want them in the house but they are cute.)

jenny_o said...

Martha: What did we ever do without the internet?! I wouldn't mind having a pet mouse (I had a hamster once upon a time) but with the cats it's a no-brainer not to :)

Terry said...

Hi Jenny and anyone else I know. It’s been years.

jenny_o said...

Terry: Do you have a last name so I can know who you are? :)