It was Mother’s Day and my wife had just finished her celebratory breakfast when our neighbor knocked on our door.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said, studiously oblivious to the fact I was in my bathrobe, “But there’s a big raccoon in your yard.”
“That’s weird,” I said. “You don’t normally see them during the day.”
“I don’t want your dog to run out there and get bit.”
After my neighbor left, I went to the dining room window and peered into the backyard. Sure enough, a huge racoon was sunbathing on our lawn. “Did Felix go outside already?” I asked my wife.
“He did. Why?”
“There’s a raccoon in our yard. Check him for bites.”
An examination of the dog revealed no injuries, so I went upstairs, changed into some clothes and went into the backyard. The racoon got up when he saw me and scuttled away, limping on one paw. Something was wrong with this critter. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called the police.
“Is it rabid?” my wife asked from the back porch.
“I don’t know.”
When the policeman arrived, he said the animal was either injured or sick and got a hook snare out of his cruiser to grab him and take him to animal control but, when he approached, the raccoon clambered up a tree.
“He can’t be that hurt if he can climb up a tree,” the cop, said.
“Maybe he’ll just go away if we leave him alone,” I said.
“Let me call Nancy,” he said, referring to our animal control officer. “She’ll know what to do.”
Talking to us on speakerphone, Nancy said the symptoms we described didn’t sound like rabies and concurred with my assessment to just leave it alone. “Let nature take its course,” she said. Then the cop left, and I told my wife not to let our dog or daughter into the backyard.
“He’s so cute,” my daughter cooed from the window. “Can we keep it?”
“It’s a wild animal,” I said. “Not a pet. Hopefully he’ll just go away.”
“I’m going to call it Bandit,” Natalie said. “He’s our friend now.” Just great.
After stowing the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher, we all took showers, got dressed and then went about our day. When we returned from a nice late lunch at three, I went to the backyard to check on our uninvited guest. He was still there, sleeping on our compost heap, his chest heaving rapidly. Sighing, I knew this was going to end badly.
“Is Bandit still there?” Natalie asked.
“He’s taking a nap,” I lied.
While I don’t live in the wilderness, I’m far enough into the countryside to have dealt with all manner of creatures great and small. Bears have traipsed down my street, deer have treated my wife’s flower bed life a buffet, my dog’s been sprayed by skunks, possum have knocked over my garbage cans, hawks have perched on the massive maple tree in my front yard and once, when I was on my porch writing late at night, I looked up to find a coyote staring straight at me. Seeing dead critters littering the road is an almost daily event. A few months earlier, a deer got hit by a car down the street from my house and the cops had to shoot it. When the shot rang out, I winced and remembered life’s very cruel sometimes.
I tried to ignore the raccoon, but my wife was obsessed with it, always looking out the window to check on him. Then, around five o’clock, Annie called out from the front porch. “There’s something really wrong with that raccoon.”
“Take a look.”
I joined my wife on the porch. The racoon had crawled to the side of my house and was lying on its back, its limbs contorted oddly and shaking violently. “It’s having a seizure,” I said.
“Is it rabies?”
“Probably.” So, I called the cops again.
“Yeah,” the same cop from earlier said, after he arrived. “I have to shoot it.”
“Oh dear,” I said.
“Can I shoot him on your front lawn? He’s on your footpath and the bullet could ricochet.”
“Do what you have to do.”
While the cop got his snare, I went into the house and told Annie what was going on. “Take Natalie upstairs to the back of the house and keep her distracted,” I said. “I don’t want her to see this.” Then I went back outside. By now, a small crowd of neighbors had gathered, and I joined them on the other side of the street. “What’s going on?” one of them asked.
“Cop has to shoot a raccoon.”
“In your front yard?”
“He told me that’s the safest place to do it.”
The cop dragged the racoon, who was by this time insensate, onto my front lawn. Then he put earplugs into his ears, drew his weapon, and took careful aim. I covered my ears and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to watch.
After the report faded, I walked on to my lawn and stood next to the cop, his gun still smoking. The racoon was trembling on the ground, a hole from a nine millimeter hollow point in his chest.
“He’ll go in a minute,” the cop said. “I had to shoot him in the chest because we need to send the head to the lab.”
“Ugh,” I said, watching the racoon gasp spasmodically as the smell of gunpowder filled the air. After a minute the creature finally lay still.
“That’s it,” the cop said, holstering his weapon. “I’ll bag him up and take him over to Nancy.” If killing this creature bothered him, he didn’t show it.
“You must have to do this a lot,” I said.
“This is the third racoon I’ve shot this week.”
“We dispatched about twenty this month,” the cop said. “Something’s going around.”
“The bullet is in the ground I guess.”
“Oh yeah. It went right through him.”
“Lot of paperwork for this?”
“No, just a form. One sheet of paper.” Then the cop bagged up the animal and left. When I went back into my house, my daughter was there to greet me.
“Did the policeman shoot Bandit?” she asked.
“He was suffering. It was best thing to do for him.”
“Yeah,” Natalie said. “A bear could have come along and ate him.” Then she went back to her dolls and seemed to forget about the whole thing. Then Nancy called me on my cell phone and told me to get my dog over to the vet for a rabies booster shot. “He was in the yard with it,” she said. “Can’t be too careful.” I told her we’d make an appointment the next day.
Back on the front lawn, my wife and I stood over the bloodstained spot where the raccoon met his fate. “That was very sad,” Annie said.
I shrugged. “Had to be done. It was a danger to everybody.”
“Did it suffer?”
“A little bit. He couldn’t shoot it in the head because they need to send it to the lab to test for rabies.”
“Well,” I said. “Look on the bright side. This will be a Mother’s Day you’ll never forget.”