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PETS 

ADVENTURES WITH "MI GUSTO" & FAMILY

The night was warm; a perfect night to enjoy an open bedroom window and gaze at the star studded sky twinkling through the leaves of the surrounding forest.   

I drifted off to sleep, but was startled awake by the distinct sound of what sounded like someone rummaging through my jewelry box that was sitting on the vanity, under my bedroom window.  The commotion of my suddenly turning over in bed and sitting up did not deter the intruder. My greeting, “Well good evening, Senor Mi Gusto!” did nothing more than make Mi Gusto withdraw his paw out of my jewelry box and curiously gaze at me as I reached for the camera sitting on the table beside my bed.

 

Raccoons!  What wonderful little creatures! What fun!  So cute!  Oh so intelligent!  We are so fortunate to live in a wooded area where we’ve been able to make friends with our ‘wild’ little rascals.  Feeding wild raccoons in one’s backyard can be a highly rewarding experience indeed.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with raccoons, let me take a moment and tell you a little about these nocturnal animals.

 

The raccoon is often recognized by its black mask and tail covered by white rings.  The name "raccoon" come from the Indian word "arakum" which means" he scratches with his hands."  Adult raccoons may be up to 3 feet long and weigh up to 30 pounds, although some male raccoons can weigh up to 40 pounds!  Raccoons have a whitish gray coat, sometimes yellowish with black patches of fur.

This fur is long and dense, a grizzled brown and black color that has often been described as "salt and pepper." The tail can grow to be fifteen inches.  A tail can have five to seven black rings on it.  Raccoons look like they are wearing a bandits mask on their face. Although, raccoons are flesh eaters and have long canine teeth, their molar teeth are adapted for a varied diet which includes more than just meat.  They have sharp claws so they can climb trees and open shell fish such as clams and oysters.  Raccoons are also nocturnal animals.  The raccoon's closest relatives are ringtails and coatis from the Southwest.

I, personally, can watch raccoons for hours on end and never tire of their antics.  But feeding any wild animal is something one should take care to do properly, to avoid nasty situations later on.   Here are some helpful tips to get you started in the wonderful world of backyard wildlife appreciation. Remember, these are only guidlines -- a lot of people don't follow them, and a lot of people have different techniques.   I present these only as a "getting-started" guide for people who might be interested in attracting and feeding wild raccoons. 

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Most raccoons will eat just about anything.  Although this statement is generally true, raccoons do have definite preferences. Generally speaking, they like peanuts, sweets, fruits, bread, peanut butter, and especially cat and dog food.  Like feeding humans, though, don't give them a lot of treats.  Give them healthy food.  We buy, in bulk, the least expensive, large chunked dry dog food.  We buy the large chunks because we love to watch them hold the pieces in their sweet little hands, turning it over, from one side to the other as they feast with great delight.  As our picture shows, though we, ourselves, are “guilty,” I’d discourage anyone from feeding raccoons by hand.

 

A raccoon may bite you quite accidentally, mistaking your finger for food.  Or you just might get bitten on purpose, especially if it is believed that you are taking food away!!

If a raccoon has a “dry” nose, STAY FAR FROM IT.   A “dry” nose is a sure sign of a sick raccoon!   Note the “shiny” nose of the raccoon in this picture.   That’s a good sign!

 

No matter what the reason is, once bitten, you're both in trouble.  You'll have to be tested for rabies, and the local health authorities will want to capture the raccoon that bit you to test for rabies.  And what are the chances of them finding the one that actually bit you?  That is unless you know the individual distinguished marks of “your” raccoons well enough to tell them apart.  And how is a raccoon tested for rabies?   First of all, the raccoon’s head will be cut off!   Also, you will have to go through rabies treatment.   So, it’s not a good thing for either you or your little friend.   Be safe rather than sorry; just don’t feed raccoons by hand.

Don't let the raccoons get used to your handouts.  This tip is hardest to live by because you'll soon find you love the company of your little night visitors.   Initially, our “babies” came at night, however, they soon became so tame they’d peer in our windows long before dark.

Also, you shouldn't feed them “every” night. For their sake, and yours, you should try to stagger the nights you leave food out, so they're never sure when there will be food and when there won't.   Raccoons are incredibly good problem solvers, so try not to make feeding place and time a pattern.   Thus, when you're away on vacation, they won't tear into your house to find out why you forgot to leave food out for them.   Like our little friends did, as shown in these pictures.

 

Don't associate your house proper with the food you leave out.   When you put out food, it's tempting to put it out on your doorstop or veranda.   A lot of people do this, and in most cases that's fine.   But some raccoons are more adventurous than others.   If you're not careful, they may come to  recognize your house as the source of their food.   If you move out or go on vacation, the frustrated raccoons may very well invite themselves inside to look for food.   As you can see in these pictures, they leave no stone . . . or paper out of your computer table unturned.   They even went into our tool room and pulled nearly all of our construction tools off the shelves, looking for food.   It's just safer and “wiser” to put food a bit of distance away from your house.

If you have several raccoons around, I’d advise you to put out several plates of food to avoid territorial squabbles and fights.  However, generally speaking, raccoons are quite happy to share with each other (and other animals) if there enough to go around. 

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a rural setting deep in the woods as we do.   So if you live close to neighbors, be certain that you will be attracting raccoons to the area of your neighbors' yards too.   Remembering that everyone might not love wildlife as much as you do, it would be deeply considerate to ask your neighbors if they mind having these delightful little creatures around.   If your neighbors have tightly sealed garbage cans and they do not leave food out there should be no problems.

Do “you” have a raccoon story, or pictures, that you’d like to share?  To send them to us: info@cici-online.com  

 

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