A friend sent me her newspaper column about raccoons recently. It brought back good memories of Heidi, the dear sweet raccoon Dale and I adopted when we were first married. Heidi was born in the chimney of a summer cabin. The owners came to their cabin on Memorial weekend and lit a fire in the fireplace. Bad idea! Down came the babies into the fire.
We were asked if we’d take one. Yes!
Back then, fifty years ago, we didn’t have a debate about keeping wild animals wild versus keeping one as a pet. Laws were much more relaxed and rights of the animal were given less consideration. I still like the idea of keeping some wild animals as pets. We learn how to better care for them when they need care; and, more importantly, I think wild pets help us connect to wild animals in a way one never does in the wild or in a zoo. I’m sure some of my closeness to nature now is connected to Jasper, our crow; Minerva, my great horned owl; Zapidie, my jumping mouse; and, of course, Heidi, our raccoon. Some of my favorite books are written about living with a wild animal: “Born Free: by Joy Adamson, or “Ring of Bright Water” by Gavin Maxwell.
There was no need to debate whether Heidi should be kept wild. Her front toenails and part of her ears were burned off. She could no longer cope in the wild, but could have a decent life as part of our household.
I still chuckle at arriving at a family reunion with a pink blanket and a bottle full of milk. The aunties (Dale had lots of them) were all sure a little bundle of sweetness was wrapped in the blanket. My little raccoon hadn't quit healed yet and wasn’t quite what they had in mind. They were just beginning to get to know me.
Heidi healed beautifully and soon was exploring everything. Her little paws felt like soft leather, warm soft leather. She liked to explore our pockets, ears, nose, and toes – such a pleasant feeling.
She had the run of the house and politely pooped in the same place, maybe not the place of our choice, but an OK. place. She followed us everywhere. We lived on 25 acres at the time and often went for walks with our little family. There was a definite order to the procession: Dale first; then I came; followed by Keyair, the Chesapeake dog; Romulus, the malamute; Heidi; and finally Jasper, the crow. Jasper was always lagging behind to inspect things, and then squawked when it was time to catch up.
One of my fondest memories of Heidi was taking her to the local bar. We lived out in the country and a mile or two away was a rural bar. Life was so different then! The bar was a homey, local gathering place. Heidi loved it and so did all the patrons. We’d pop her on a tall bar stool, order beer for us, and corn curls for Heidi – probably not the best diet for her but mostly she ate good stuff at home and definitely enjoyed the corn curls as a treat.
Unfortunately Heidi’s end was quick and sad. In the fall we built a large pen so she could hibernate outside in proper raccoon style. One warm day she somehow escaped and wandered onto the highway. I like to think the few months she lived were good ones for her. They certainly were for us.