It all started the month before Christmas with the first indications of a break-in to our house.
I'm a pretty light sleeper, especially after having kids. One night, some noises downstairs woke me. It sounded like someone was opening the pantry.
Persistence, I thought, annoyed, on another midnight food raid. As I worked to open my burning, exhausted eyes, and convince my body It Had to Get Up and Go Save the Baby, I spared one irritated moment to wonder whether we had properly closed and latched the pantry before bed.
When I got downstairs, the utility room and kitchen were trashed. And Persistence was upstairs asleep in her bed.
I called my husband down. After much investigation, we decided our hyperthyroid cat Bubba must have lost his last noodle and gone on a bender.
This theory held up in that every single morning that we got up, the cat bowl (filled completely the night before) was totally empty, and someone had been biting his way into the dog food bag and cat food container.
"Damn cat," we snapped every morning at Bubba, "Eating us out of house and home!" The cat just stared at us, guiltily? balefully? and tore out another chunk of fur, dropping it at our feet with a pitiful squeak. We felt terrible. Poor old man. We patted his head. I promised to be better about putting out wet food for dinner.
As the weeks wore on, I stared getting really suspicious. The clues and evidence weren't holding up. I set aside my investigation during Christmas, but in early January, the invasions got more frequent and bold. The good news was that this left more evidence.
"I think we fit the evidence to our theory of the crime rather than the other way around," I told my husband a couple of weeks in to January.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well, on CSI, Grissom always says..."
"No no no not CSI...I mean, what evidence and what theory, how is it not holding up?" he interrupted.
"Oh," I said, pausing dramatically, "I think something other than the cat is coming in and eating the cat food. I don't think our cats, even Bubba, can eat this much all the time."
"What're you thinking? You thinking he's inviting other cats home again?" (Cue brief memory of the time when Bubba ran with a street gang of orange tabby cats and we worried daily about his welfare…luckily we were supportive and trusting parents, and, as generous hosts to him and his friends, could keep a close eye on them…and then he grew out of it.)
"Maybe," I said slowly, "Maybe other cats. Or maybe it's one of the woodland creatures."
"One of the woodland creatures? What? What are you talking about?"
"Well, the dog has been going nutty in the back, in the tree section, and something is smart enough to get in our house. Maybe it's a raccoon."
My husband rolled his eyes at me.
"No, really," I protested, "Raccoons are really smart! It explains how something is opening up the dog canister. Cats can't do that! It would also explain the dirt in the dog water dish. They wash their hands before eating. Think about it. This house is like a raccoon's dream come true."
He rolled his eyes again, but I could tell he was giving it some thought.
The next night it misted, leaving a fine film of moist out. I paid attention to the footprints on the grill, and on my kitchen tile.
I used packing tape and took a sample track, just like the Crocodile Hunter version of Sarah Sidle. I surfed the Internet, seeking a photo of a raccoon print.
Sure enough, the computer came back with huge message POSITIVE MATCH.
I high-fived the two year old, who was cheering sympathetically.
"We've got our culprit," I told her.
"I know what culprit means, Mom," said the five year old, "That was on Pinky Dinky Doo. And the culprit was this purple troll guy who was stealing all the cheese and it all started when they were at this fair in the park and the trees were green and round like I like to draw and then the..."
"That's great," I cut her off, "Now we all know what culprit means, and better, we know who it is."
That night, my husband grimly agreed that evidence does not lie. Clearly, a raccoon was breaking in. True to his profession, he scoped out the back of the house, identifying the most likely areas of vulnerability, and designed a raccoon security system.
We slept easy for a couple of weeks. The security system worked. No raccoon.
At this point, though, he must have been getting desperate. Hungry and desperate.
Around ten o'clock one night, my husband and I were in the living room watching TV.
All of the sudden...
WAPONG! WAPONG! WAPONG!
AHHHHHROOOOOOOFFFFFF WOOOF WOOF WOOOF WOOF WOOF
"What the?!?!?!" we gasped, running to the utility room.
In this corner of the ring: The Raccoon
On one side of the cat door (not yet locked for the night) a raccoon head was butting against the flap, trying to get in.
And in the other corner: The Cat
On the other side, my intrepid hunter cat Francie would wait for the raccoon to push against the door. Once the raccoon did, she'd use her paw and the door to whap the raccoon upside the head, throwing in a ferocious feline yowl and hiss. Attracted by the commotion, the dog was first on the scene and added in his "despite my floppy ears and wagging tail my bark is low and deep and makes grown plumbers pee their pants in fear" woof bark.
We both slapped hands over our mouths and tried really, really hard to stifle our hysterical laughter. We failed. We clutched our sides, wiped tears from our eyes, and laughed loud enough to wake small sleeping children.
If only you could have seen how unbelievably funny it was. Just imagine, a cat, licking her paw in between whaps, smacking an intruding raccoon upside the head with a cat door flap, accompanied by a symphony of yowls and woofs from the other cat and dog.
My husband gasped for breath between gales of laughter, "Let....dog....out..."
I nodded, still laughing too hard to speak. We ran, dog between us, to the back door, and opened it. Can you believe that at the exact instant we opened the door and the dog ran out, the raccoon decided to Abandon Mission and the two of them ran smack into one another?
When they recovered, the raccoon streaked towards the tree, the dog hot on his tail, literally. The dog might have had him, too, except he opened his mouth to bark and thus lost the grip on the five hairs of the raccoon's tail.
He did tree it though. And did bark madly, trying to jump or climb the tree for a good while, until we decided the neighborhood had heard enough woofing and surely the raccoon was scared enough to Move Far, Far Away.
Or, suffer another fate entirely.
Never underestimate the fortitude of a woodland creature.
The next night, he was back, trying to finagle his way through our security system.
"What is this," I asked my husband two nights ago, "The Ocean's Eleven of Raccoons?"
More like the Knights of Prosperity raccoon, my sister would say.
Except, he succeeded, and he broke in, once again.
We called Wild Animal Control. Who told us it's illegal to catch and relocate raccoons. "Even to the nature preserve up the road?" we asked, all innocently, not at all imagining the hungry alligators. "Each bit of territory is claimed by a raccoon. You move him," the animal expert told us, "And there will have to be a fight, to the death."
So it's back to this: Us. Our house. The raccoon, a home invader. Stuck in this plot of land, not even a full acre.
We kept him out last night, but I think he might be altering his schedule. I think he snuck in this morning.
Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen...odds for man or beast?
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Tags: raccoon,raccoon invading home,,raccoon fighting with dog and cat, raccoon livetrp capture, raccoon yard house