Wild Heart Ranch is located in Claremore, Oklahoma. We provide medical or infant support to any indigenous wild animal in need of assistance and release it into suitable wild habitat once care is completed.

So you've raised a baby raccoon and the fun is over...

October 21, 2009

It's the time of year I dread. People who "found" (aka stole, kidnapped, acquired, purchased, rescued, got from someone else) infant raccoons in the spring, are now running out of duct tape and band aids and struggling to remember how much they fell in love with the growing terrorist that has taken over their lives.

I'm getting the calls, and I cannot express how they make my heart hurt.

There was a day when I was unaware of the dangers of caging a lone imprinted, wild born raccoon. People do not call us because they are sweet and cuddly and they want to share the joy. They call us because somehow the precious cooing infant that they used to carry around with a bottle and blankie, suddenly turned into a bitter raging demon and has infested every crevice of their home, and is miserable alone in the cage it has been banished too. They have discovered that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to bring home an animal that they know nothing about and integrate it into their family. Help that they somehow couldn't find for the adorable little kit in the spring has suddenly materialized in the form of phone numbers, easily found on the Internet, of licensed professionals, who they will now contact to relieve themselves of their switchblade toting burden. (can you hear the calvary trumpet?)

Unfortunately, the seasoned professionals are about to give them an unexpected and most likely offensive education in "THIS is not my problem".

Dont get me wrong. I LOVE the raccoon! One of the things I love the most about the raccoon is their ability to be bottle raised infants, and remarkably, turn completely wild if kept with their own kind, and not given physical attention from people once weaned. They are amazingly resilient wild creatures, and if their instincts to avoid people are given room to develop, that's what they do. They become wild things again. HOWEVER, you have to know the WHEN to let them turn. The 'when' is just as critical as the 'how'. When people miss the 'when window', they experience a 'wilding mutant'.

A 'wilding mutant' (my term, don't google it) is an animal who has crossed over into unmanageable and independant, but has not developed the instinct to be reclusive of humans nor the skills to survive in a timely manner appropriate for the upcoming winter months. These animals have not been given the proper circumstances and an environment to break their bonds with people and transfer those into bonds with their own kind, forming a releasable 'band' of raccoons. A 'band' (not my term, you may look it up) is a bonded group of raccoons who work as a family to survive, assisting each other in finding the three things needed to make it through life..."food, water and shelter", a lot like a human family, (only young humans also require I-pods and high speed Internet).

Giving an infant raccoon the opportunity to bond with a band, helps ensure their survival upon release. Like people, animals have various levels of intelligence. I have personally witnessed those animals who just aren't as smart and capable as others to survive alone, and a band of raccoons is the perfect environment to ensure that additional time and training is available once my care of them is complete. It's a remarkable opportunity for successful rehabilitation, but unfortunately, the fall raccoon calls find me with my cages empty, my raccoons now successfully released, and absolutely no desire to obtain more until next spring's brood of legitimate orphans.

What people do not realize is the amount of time and money these animals require to raise them properly to become releasable animals. In order for them to be healthy and large enough to release in the fall, we feed them the most expensive formulas and foods on the market, spend hundreds of man hours keeping them clean and fed well, and we physically endure the most abuse of all our wild intakes, for months on end until we get them into their outside cages and begin their 'wild conditioning'. The day we release the last of the raccoon bands onto properties where they are safe and food is available, we have earned our hiatus from "raccoon hell". This break is the ONLY thing that enables us to forget the pain, and be ready and willing to do it all over again the following year. I need my large outdoor cages for the injured animals that will come here for care this winter, and a wild raccoon that has been injured is NOT in the same category as these hand raised infants. Over-wintering a lone orphan comes with a set of dangers not found in injured adult raccoons. An adult raccoon avoids me while I clean its cage, and if it heals during the dead of winter, can still be released back where it came from as it will be able to locate it's family and winter den. Not even CLOSE to the same commitment for us. Its not the same set of problems at all.

And no, I will not release an adult imprint at any of my coveted and secret release locations. Raccoon bands have leaders and followers. I will not risk a raccoon who teaches my orphans to approach dogs, people and houses to forage or beg for food. I do not allow mine to learn these deadly habits, and one bad apple...well, you know.

But yet, having said all of the above, I consider myself a negotiator any time it can benefit the lives of others in my care. I am still willing to take the physical risks and fund the long winter of water defrosters and food, scraping poop-sickles from the cage and den box, in exchange for the following to anyone who still wishes that I take the little demon off their hands and properly undo the damage that has been done to this animal.

One raccoon off your hands for rehabilitation = $1,000.00

The money will purchase a raccoon cage that we would not have otherwise, therefor not robbing my facility of room for others who need help. I will pay for the food and utilities, battle the ice and snow, and tramp through whatever weather comes our way to see that this animal is cared for on a daily basis. My time and tribulations will earn another cage for our facility once this animal has been released. I will not accept a modified dog run or ferret cage as a proper over-wintering cage for an aggressive imprint. I have my own standards for anything I care for, and what is acceptable for you, may not be acceptable for me. If you have spent $1,000 on a cage, then it is probably going to hold this raccoon for me and not become a risk to my other animals, and will be large enough for me to build habitat that offers me safety within the cage while I clean.

The fine in Oklahoma for being caught with a wild born raccoon is around $800. I am clearly within reason, and your animal will not be in danger of euthanasia nor will you receive a blemish on your record for your crime.

I apologize if I sound harsh. This is thirteen years of being convenient to people who cannot seem to find my number at the time I am willing and able to do my job properly, but can find me when the wilding window has closed for the year, and expect me to figure it out and deal with it for them. My job is to assist wildlife immediately after being discovered so that I may execute my knowledge and skills to rehabilitate them and provide their freedom before winter, and anything other than immediate care is costly, not only to them but to myself, my facility and my other patients. All the time and money spent undoing the damage that a non professional has caused, comes directly out of the time and money needed to care for legitimate cases, and any rest I may have had in the interim to prepare for the upcoming and ridiculously demanding orphan season of spring.

I am not willing to do this for nothing anymore. If you wish your raccoon to come and get the proper care at Wild Heart Ranch, let me know when you are ready to purchase the cage, and give me a few weeks to get it built, otherwise, good luck with that, and I sincerely hope that you find someone who hasn't learned to say "no" to this never ending problem.

To those who have a little guy who is still too young to hate you, give me a call. If I haven't yet released my brood, (usually in September) I most likely can integrate them into the band, but some situations will create hesitation for me. Raccoons allowed to come and go from a residence, who have no fear of dogs will definitely be cause for hesitation. Those cases will be dependant on how much time I have before release to turn them around.

Annette King-Tucker, Animal Rescuer
Wild Heart Ranch Wildlife Rescue
Claremore, Oklahoma
www.wildheartranch.org