Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Midnight Marauders

It's true. We've got coons.

For the past 45 days or so, we've been feeding a tribe of raccoons unawares. It has been prime eating at our house. Top of the line cat food- $30/bag. Free for the taking. An all you can eat buffet. Bring your friends.

And they did. They came in droves. And ate. And ate. And ate. We were going through cat food so fast that I thought my cats had worms and we de-wormed them. Twice. It didn't help. Obviously. Unbeknownst to me, Einstein, and the children, we were being robbed. Nightly. Masked bandits were sneaking into our house through the cat door and pillaging our food supply. For almost two months we let them get away with this... somehow we missed all the signs.

Exhibit A: the water dish.
In a constant state of funk, sometimes filled with shiny treasures.

Exhibit B: the food container.
Apparently they can read the instructions on the handle. It says, "Press to Close; Lift to Open." We found it open on a daily basis. (Note the tooth and claw marks)

Exhibit C: strange hair (of the non-cat variety, all over the place.)

We also heard frequent, strange/loud noises which we largely ignored because frankly, with three kids and four cats, strange/loud noises are par for the course around here. On the occassions when I did pursue the noises I was greeted with the swinging of the cat door. Zoooom! Whatever it was it did NOT want to be seen.

A few days ago I heard the unmistakable chatter of raccoons outside. Then we read the raccoon chapter in The Tarantula in My Purse: and 172 Other Wild Pets by Jean Craighead George. And of course I have been hearing the ongoing tales of my mom's baby raccoons out West... Finally we started putting the pieces together. It sounded like a preposterous idea. Raccoons! In our house?! Bwah! But... maybe?

We decided to do some detective work. We came up with a plan:

1. Lay out some flour on the laundry room floor to check for animal tracks.

One of our cats assisted by making cat tracks all over it immediately.

2. Pursue the noise in a smarter way.

The noisy critter was fast, and we needed a two-person team to catch a glimpse of it. We decided that one person would open the laundry room door, and the other person would be watching out the window to see what ran out of the door.

We didn't count on the fact that it was going to be hard to see out of that window at night. The flashlight didn't do much but create a glare that bounced off the window, but we tried anyway.

I heard some sounds and Einstein manned his post at the window. He couldn't see a thing. I was going to have to be fast then and run in to catch sight of it zooming out the cat door. I tiptoed over to the laundry room door and as fast as I could, I opened it and ran in... and I screamed. A surprising, loud "WHOOOOOOOOAAAAAAA" escaped from my mouth like a siren and I ran back out and slammed the door. The room was dark, and I had almost run into it-- a large raccoon, big as a dog! Massive sucker. It did NOT look friendly. Had it stood up on its hind legs in defensive mode I would have peed myself.

It wasn't alone. The other(s) were busy squeezing their fat bodies out the cat door. Einstein didn't see them, but he heard my scream and joined me. We cautiously opened the laundry room door again and tiptoed in the room with the flashlight and turned on the overhead light. Sure enough, the food was eaten, the water bowl was a mess, and the floured floor was a disaster. But there, alongside the cat prints, were unmistakable, five-fingered, raccoon tracks.

Outside our cats were leisurely laying out on the driveway, giving the laundry room door a wide berth. "There's plenty of food to share. Don't mind us. We'll just be over here, minding our own business. Help yourselves." Smart cats. Those raccoons could swallow them whole. We gathered them in and locked them up safely for the night.

Next morning the kids were excited to hear about our exciting discovery and see the tracks. They had questions, and we ended up dragging out our animal tracks book and reading the raccoon section in the book The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Apparently they can congregate in groups of up to 30 if food is plentiful. Hmph!

We rounded out our studies by cleaning up the flour and drawing some pictures together, Moonshine, Sunburst, and myself:

Remember our Raccoon Envy? As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

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