Masked Marauders

Jyl Gaskin

I did something yesterday that I try never to do. I admit that it was a weak moment and maybe the pain pills had something to do with it, but abashedly, I have no real excuse. Even though my DNR listing and my phone , both firmly state that I DO NOT TAKE RACOONS…I did. I stopped taking them several years ago. Occasionally though, one will come attached to a little child with big eyes and I give in. A few years ago, people took to leaving them on my porch as soon as I pulled out of the drive way. (I think they were hiding around the corner,) waiting. I finally put up a sign at the front steps “Please do not leave raccoons on my porch. The freezer is full”. It worked They blessedly stopped.

Not that I don’t get dozens of calls from frantic people. I just firmly and gently turn them away….Until yesterday.

My friend Phill showed up with something in the back of his truck he wanted me to look at. I did. It was a snarly little ball of poop covered meanness. “No coons” I said. Phill put his hand to his chest where his “waiting to be replaced heart resides”. His eyes were downcast and he shuffled his feet. “Ok” he said, I guess I can dump him in the woods.

By now I was already cleaning out a cage and filling it with clean straw. I too the coon. God help me, I took the coon.

You might not think this is such a crisis. I can just refuse any more that come in, but it’s like this…Once you accept one coon it is like giving up your virginity. You got screwed already, why keep saying no? I feel a cloud of doom descending already.

Masked Marauders

The only thing that prevents the world from being taken over by raccoons is an opposable thumb. The present raccoon paw lacks them, thank God. If by some future quirk of evolution they someday develop them…. Mankind is doomed to be slaves to those cute little terrorists.

Cute as they may be, a raccoon in any location other than the deep forest is a pain in the neck I know, I know, they are such fun to watch rummaging through the garbage can at the park. Its true entertainment to observe them washing marshmallows in imaginary water on the deck. I have good friends who are enchanted by the family groups of raccoons that come to their back door to be fed on a nightly basis. All this, I agree is a wonder of nature, but let me tell you the other side. There is some poor underpaid and under appreciated park ranger picking up all that trash the can raiders sort through every evening. The sliding door on that deck is permanently smeared with marshmallow goo and the adorable family group will not only multiply exponentially, but also will also pick the putty from your window glass and peel the trim off your car.

Everyone knows the saying about giving someone an inch and they will take a mile. Give a raccoon a bowl of kibble on the porch and he will take over the garage, the attic, the crawl space and if he can get the door open without those darned opposable thumbs, he’ll have your bedroom too. (Don’t forget to leave a mint on the pillow, please) Invite one raccoon over for drinks and a snack and he will bring along ten beer swilling buddies and their large unruly families. Pretty soon their good neighbors, the Possum Family and the in-law skunk will be marching up the drive. “We’re here! What yall got to eat?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love Coons. Really. I love the round black eyes peeking out of the bandit’s mask. I adore the shiny pointed nose poking into everything. If I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet chirring and purring sound of a contented coon. Oh, and the paws! There is no feeling in the world like the velvet soft paws running across your hand as though they were reading Braille in your palms. A clean, well fed, happy baby raccoon is an absolute joy to snuggle and hold. Therein, lies the rub.

A clean, well-fed, happy baby raccoon lasts about five minutes. At six, they return to their natural state, a hungry, screaming, poop covered ball of squirming fur. Do you know why so many mother raccoons get hit by cars on the highway? They are trying to escape their children.

Like nearly all rehabilitators, I started out with taking orphaned raccoons. Like most rehabbers, I got sick of it. I gave up taking them in after my third heart attack. I wasn’t smart enough to give anything up after my first attack, thus my second. After the second, my doctor asked me what I did for a living. I told him I rehabilitated wildlife and coached high school cheerleaders. He looked me in the eye and said “For heavens sake, ditch the cheerleaders”” During my third heart attack, my husband stood by my bed and said “NO MORE COONS!” The nurses must have thought we were crazy. There may have been something to it though; I haven’t had a heart attack since. Maybe I could have kept the cheerleaders….

Once I started telling people I wasn’t taking in raccoons any longer, they reacted rather negatively. The typical conversation goes something like this….


“I’ve got these coons here”

“I’m sorry, I no longer take raccoons”

“But they’re babies”

“They’re still raccoons”

“But they’re real cute”

“I’m sure they are, but they are still raccoons”

“But they have no mother.” Here the stories vary a bit, a car hit the mother, the tree they were in blew down, they dug them out of their attic, garage or chimney. Sometimes they try to tell me that their dog brought them home.

“That makes them orphans, but still raccoons. I no longer take raccoons”

“How come you don’t take raccoons any more?”

“Well, baby raccoons do three things. They eat. The poop and they scream. If they aren’t doing one thing they are doing another. Frequently they do all three at once. I’ve taken raccoons in the past. Hundreds of them. I’ve paid my dues. I no longer take raccoons.”

“But you have to take these”

“No, I don’t, they are raccoons. I no longer take raccoons.”

Well, what am I supposed to do with these damn things? They’ve pooped all over, they won’t stop shrieking and they’re driving us nuts!”

“Now, you understand why I don’t take raccoons any more.”

By now they are pretty belligerent and frequently threaten to have my job taken away. (Oh please? If it’s a JOB that means I should get PAID for it. Then if you take it away, I should get unemployment compensation. Yes…. Take it away. I could use the money) I try to make suggestions, such as calling critter control, or some of the others numbers listed under rehabilitators or with the DNR. If it is a matter of a family of coons living in an inconvenient place, I suggest that they allow them to remain where they are until the babies are old enough to leave the nest with their mother at night. Then quickly board up any access points before they return. Most people usually have a laundry list of reasons why these suggestions are as practical as vacationing on the moon. Inevitably, they get angry and make the statement I just wait for…

“Well, just what the hell do you think I SHOULD do with these raccoons?”

“I could make a suggestion sir, but it may be phsicaly uncomfortable”

They usually hang up at that point.

Raccoons are great animals for the beginning rehabber. They’re cute; they interact well with humans. Their teeth are very small and kind of dull when they are little and they are pretty hard to kill. That’s good for the ego in this business. You can make a lot of mistakes with baby raccoons and they come through it like cockroaches in a flood. You certainly can’t forget to feed them. They let you know …loudly.

As far as rehabilitation goes, give it up. They are like teenage rock stars. They have no desire to change. All they really learn in rehab is where you keep the marshmallows. They will be back for them….with 20 of their wildass friends.. Lock your door. Lock the cupboards. Seal them up in Tupperware. Remember? No opposable thumbs.

Perhaps the hardest part of rehabilitating raccoons is getting rid of them. Someone once told me in the early years that if you release a raccoon, make sure it’s five miles away. “FIVE” he emphatically stated. “FIVE MILES!” We nodded politely and thought he had been exposed to too much coon poo. I had a pet coon as a

child and when she was ready to return to the wild, she simply waddled off into the nearby woods. True, she came back and raided the garbage on a regular basis and stole all the change out of our unlocked cars (must have needed the money for pills and booze), but she did move out of the house. (well, as long as no windows were open anyway.). Five miles? That seemed a bit extreme.

Our first coon babies in Traverse City were Bud and Blossom. Two wonderfully fat babies who we raised in a box in the living room and lavished attention to make up for their tragic early life. (Mom and three others were squished by a semi) They moved to a large outdoor cage and we spent time playing in the stream and climbing trees to prepare them for life in the wild. A friend on the other side of the county, had ideal coon habitat on his land. We eventually released them there.

We made an entire day of it. We packed a picnic lunch for us and brought along a five-pound bag of kibble and a large package of marshmallows. We got to the small lake in the woods and all ate fried chicken (a raccoon’s preferred natural diet) and potato salad (another natural food according to coons). Then we went for a walk in the woods and played “hide and seek the marshmallow”. We hid them in trees, under rocks, near the water and in rotten logs. We had to split up, as they could find them just as fast as one single person could hide them. After we had hidden about 5 pounds of marshmallows and poured the kibble in a pile, we encouraged Bud and Blossom to go look for more marshmallows. While they were happily pawing through the leaf litter on the forest floor, we snuck away. My last sight of Bud was him sifting sand through sticky little fingers while he pretended not to watch what he was doing. We never saw them again.

After Bud and Blossom, the coons were on to us. I swear that mother raccoons scratched my phone number in the pavement with their dying breaths. “Call this number, choke…gasp…My children will be safe. Arrrg.” Not only that, they told all their friends. “Hey, sick of those little brats? Want to be free again? Here’s a card. Just drop them off at this address after dark” I had coons coming out my ears. We even came out one morning to see little orphan coons; their eyes barely open crawling across the road towards our front door.

The typical day would be, get up…. Feed the screaming coons…Wash the screaming coons…Clean the screaming coons cage…Go to the next cage…Repeat…go to the next cage…do it again. By the time you have gotten the fourth batch of coons fed, washed and cleaned, it’s time to start all over again with the first. If you are lucky, you may get five minutes or so of peace when everybody is asleep or at least gnawing on each other in silence.

You can forget going any place. I was still doing doll shows at the time and in the spring I nearly always carried a large picnic basket full of baby coons. We used to hide them under the table at the shows and I would crawl under there to feed them. Hotels were a real problem. We always tried to find ones that had direct access to the room form the parking lot. People look at you funny when you are running through the lobby to your room having a loud conversation with yourself to cover the coon-sounds coming out of your picnic basket.

Once, my husband and I got the chance to attend a food show at a very fancy and grand hotel. A food show! The cheesecake samples alone are worth going for. Well, it so happened that I had an early batch of preemie coons that I absolutely could not leave with a sitter so we brought them along. One died on the way and I didn’t think the other would make it through the night. Despite my best cheesecake fueled efforts, it did not survive. Now we faced a dilemma. There was yet another day of the show to go and we were in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids. Where do I get rid of a dead raccoon? It was a bit too big to flush and I certainly didn’t want to leave it in our room trash for some poor maid to find and track us down for. So I carried it, carefully rapped up in a room service napkin, in my pocket. Our plan was to sneak it outside and dispose of it there. My husband’s boss met us in the hallway. “Hey, guys, How about dinner?” he asks with a hand on our shoulders.

“Um, not right now, sir. We were headed down for more samples” stuttered my husband as he stared at my bulging pocket.

“Great!” the boss says, “I’ll go with you, just give me a minute to get my phone.” And he steped into his room.

I am franticly eyeing the drawer of an antique dresser in the hallway near the elevator and my husband is shooting me “Don’t you even think about it” looks. The boss come back and puts an arm around each of us to guide us to the elevator. The corps in my pocket is now stiff and cold. I really wanted to get rid of it.

From the moment we left our room, till we were in the middle of the food show, we were never left alone. We walked around the vendors tables, tasting prime rib, crab puffs and Osettra caviar with a dead raccoon in my jacket. One particularly persistent sales rep tried to slip his business card in my pocket and I nearly shrieked. My husband thought he must have said or done something inappropriate and headed our way with a look of outrage. I grabbed his arm and said “Oh honey, you look mad as a wet raccoon” and did the eye-shift-thing towards my side. Now he grabbed my arm and hissed in my ear “Get rid of the coon or I swear to God, I’ll find a lawyer in this very room” This was a hoard of people eating free food. I had no doubt there were lawyers by the dozen in there.

I excused myself from the group to go to the bathroom and prayed that it would not cause a femmine stampede in that direction. Luckily we were at a ‘triple fudge delight’ booth and I got away alone. It was quiet and peaceful in that marble and porcelain sanctuary. The lighting was soft and there was a cozy upholstered chaise with flowers on a side table. I splashed some water on my face and fluffed my hair. Looking discreetly for possible witnesses, I slipped the poor little coon out of my pocket, into the gold rimmed trash receptacle and covered it with a few crumpled paper towels. Needing a moment to myself, I sat down of the red velvet chaise. AHHHHH. Inhale…..exhale….inhale….exhale….

“Scouse me ma’am? Jou OK? I come clean later, if jou want.” There in front of me was One of the housekeeping staff! She wanted to clean the bathrooms. I’m sure she thought I was just another crazy American as I backed out of the bathroom and ran down the hall. Just as I got to the doors of the exhibit center I could hear a richly accented voice exclaim. “EEEEK! MADRE! Iss dead ratton in batroom!”

I jut kept walking. Maybe someone was serving alcohol samples.

Over the years we raised and released many, many raccoons. Some stand out more than others do in that long line of poo-filled years. I think foremost was the big light colored male that taught us the reason behind the “five mile” rule. It was early April when I go the call for two baby raccoons whose mother and siblings were killed on the highway. They were what we call “field coons” and had the characteristic light golden coloring and broad faces with big mouths. (As opposed to “swamp coons”, who are dark with very narrow pointed faces and a rather seedy expression.)

The brothers were cold and wet when I picked them up and immediately latched on the warm baby bottles I had prepared. They took up their place in the big wooden box between the TV and the woodstove. Of course they thrived and were soon happily accepting every tidbit that came their way. It was a cold spring and the roly-poly kits probably weighed about 5 pounds each when they finally went outside to the big cage. Several others (I think we had a total of 15 that summer) soon joined them. The “Boys” as we called them were family favorites by now, were afforded extra liberties loose in the yard with supervision and lots of treats. They basically lived the life of Riley. They knew a good thing when they saw it.

Late that summer, we needed to make room for more raccoons in the big cage so we decided to release the more mature ones. This meant three rather wild ones and the “Boys” After much struggle, swearing and bloodletting (ours, not the coons), we managed to get the five chosen sorted out and in the back of the truck. It was getting dark and we didn’t want to drive too far out into the woods. We knew of a small muddy lake about four and a half miles away and did the customary dog food dump near the trees. When we left all five were playing pat a cake in the mud. We blew them kisses and drove home.

Summer passed, coons grew and we released them accordingly to our favorite spots several miles away. I have to admit that I hardly gave my “boys” much thought and by early November we settled down for the winter. It must have been about then that one of the boys started thinking about that woodstove and all the nice treats.

Every night before I go to bed, I check to make sure that the house is properly closed up and the dogs have food in their bowl. At the time we had two small dogs, a Jack Russell and the Beagle, Jenny. Their bowls were always filled with kibble and they ate whenever they were hungry. By mid November, I began

thinking that we were going through a lot of dog food. A few nights I even thought I saw something scoot out the doggy door as I made my nightly rounds. Not one to ponder too deeply about anything, I went to bed. One night, about 2:30 in the morning, I awoke to the sound of Jenny grumbling under the bed. There would be a bit of growling, maybe a half bark and then silence for a time. It wasn’t quite enough to wake me completely, but enough to annoy the pajamas off me. Finally I couldn’t take it any longer and threw back the covers. I put my bare foot down on the floor and a tiny cold hand gripped my ankle.

I did not know that I could shoot straight up in the air and land perfectly in the middle of the bed, still on my feet. Neither did my husband. He was a bit confused by the activity and sat up groggily. “What’s going on?” he mumbled.

Now absolutely, undeniably, fully wide-awake, I was on my hands and knees peering over the side of the queen sized bed. “I think there’s a coon under our bed,” I said as calmly as I could.

“That’s nice,” he said as he rolled back over and pulled the blanket over his head.

I nudged him hard, “No dear, I really think there is a coon in the bedroom and I need your help”


I was getting exasperated and the dog was now threatening to find a quieter, saner home. “We need to Catch the coon dear” I managed to squeeze through gritted teeth.

Finally the man sat up and dangled his feet over the side of the mattress. That’s when I found out that the ever-present patience of my darling husband does have limits. He let out a blood-curdling scream as the coon now tested his ankle with his clammy little paws. He too, I found, was capable of making the single effort elevation to the middle of the bed. I cannot, in all responsibility repeat the actual language that was heard in the room that night, but it went something like this.

“*#%* #@**%$! There is a &#$%@ COON in our %#@*!!!

“I know, we need to catch him”

“WHY the #*&%* would I want to catch him?

“Stop shouting. The neighbors will think were nuts. Now help me catch this stinking coon!”

“They’ll THINK we’re nuts? Oh, it’s gone waaaaaay beyond thinking around here”

The lights blinked on next door. It was time to take action. I got off the bed and the coon snarled at me. He had a lot of teeth. A lot of BIG teeth. I recognized his right away as one of the boys. His recognition of me was in serious doubt. He snarled again. I climbed back up on the bed and counted my fingers just to make sure they were all still there. “Ok, I said I’ve got a plan.”

“A plan. How great” he said as sarcasm dripped from his lips.

“You go get the dog out of the bedroom and then close the door”

Can I be on the outside of the closed door?”

“No silly, I need you to hold the laundry basket”

“Oh boy. A laundry basket. At least I can defend myself against a raging rabid coon, if I have a laundry basket.”

The sarcasm was getting on my nerves and I was loosing patience. “He’s not rabid and the laundry basket is to drop over him when I chase him your way.”

“Oh boy. I can hardly wait.”

I couldn’t tell is this was more sarcasm or a truly hopeful statement. In our house it’s kind of hard to tell.

Actually it all went fairly smoothly. The dog ran shaking out of the room and hid behind the closed door. I poked a coat hanger under the bed at the coon and he scooted straight for my husband and the laundry basket. Then there was a lot of girl like screaming (which he still denies came from him) and he threw the laundry basket over the coon. Now, the coon was mad.

When a coon gets really mad he does two things, he bites or poops. This one did both at the same time… On the rug. I went over to try and calm it as James went off in search of something we could slide under the laundry basket so we could pick up the coon without loosing body parts. By the time he got back. The coon was calm and poking his fingers through the holes to caress my fingers. He even called out the familiar “WOOOOOT” sound that they use as babies to call me. He’d come home. He had his Mamma. He didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

By 4 AM the neighbor’s lights were back out, the dog was calm and I was feeding warm cereal and scrambled eggs to the coon now contained in a large pet carrier. Jimmy was back in bed, but I could still hear his grumbling. Our son had slept through it all.

The next day we made sure that we drove him more than five miles away. In fact we drove around for about a half-hour before we got there, so he would be really confused. We dumped the 30-pound coon out of the carrier and drove home. Just before we got there, Jimmy asked how many coons we let go with the boys.

“Five, Why?”

“We’d better get a lock for that doggy door for at least the rest of the winter.”

I did and locked it every night. Our dogs would just have to cross their legs till morning. They managed, bless their furry little hearts and no more coons came back…that winter.

Every once in a while, I get in animals, especially raccoons people tried to make pets of and discovered the hard way that it rarely works. Frequently they will lie and try to give me a song and dance about how they “found” this really friendly raccoon and were hoping I could take it. It’s a dead give away when the raccoon rides in the front seat on someone’s lap and has a personalized pacifier and collar. Sometimes, they are right up front and truthful. Usually they are downright desperate. I like that kind. They are grateful when I say yes. Such was Pumukli’s story.


I got the call about Pumukli in late July. The caller explained that she was calling on behalf of a Hungarian exchange student of some sort. Evidently the student was late college age and had been living with other exchange students in an apartment for several months. It was nearing the time when she would return to Hungary and she had a small problem. (Nobody even calls me unless they have a problem; it’s my lot in life.) The problem turned out to be a raccoon.

It seems that it isn’t illegal to keep wild animals in Hungary. Not even in apartments. These young people had found a baby raccoon on the road one night and decided that they would raise it as a pet. They had no idea that it was against the law, or otherwise not a great idea. They brought the coon back to their apartment and named him after a popular European cartoon character. I guess they don’t have raccoons in Hungary. These kids had no clue what they were getting into.

The raccoon, while cute and cuddly in infancy, was now 2/3 grown and systematically destroying the apartment and everything that these kids owned. Taking the coon back to Hungary was out of the question and they knew it probably could not survive if returned to the wild in its present state. They were hoping that I would take on the task of rehabilitating this animal. Oh, oh. This one was going to be Lindsey Lohan, Brittany Spears and every other rehab drop out rolled into one. I knew that this raccoon was not about to willingly give up a life of hotdogs, marshmallows and Pepsi, no matter how much group therapy I put it

through. This was going to be a tough case, especially the first time he started Jonesing for some jellybeans.

Pumukli arrived on the lap of a beautiful young woman with a sexy voice and a heavy accent. I was not nearly as impressed as my son and husband. However the driver of the car was nothing at all like your average American college student. He was in his mid to late 20’s, tall, dark and very handsome. He spoke almost no English, but that was ok. He dressed up the place just by sitting there in the driveway. He wouldn’t get out. I think he was hoping for a quick get away.

The young lady climbed out of the car and tugged down the front of her already low, black sweater. My son forgot his name. She sashayed up the porch steps in tight skinny jeans and my husband forgot how to breathe. Before he got too blue, I jabbed him in the ribs and sent him in for iced tea and my notebook full of animal records. Miss Hungary adjusted herself again and sat down. There, at her stiletto clad feet was a very chubby adolescent raccoon on the end of a leopard-printed leash. He looked at me like he was wondering if there would be any caviar and cookies with that tea.

She took her time telling the story of how they had found Pumukli on the road in the middle of the night. His mother and several siblings were dead on the pavement and this little guy was crying piteously. Her boyfriend, (the handsome thing I was still hoping would get out of the darn car) didn’t want her to touch it, but she just COULDN’T leave it there. So they brought it back to their apartment and fed it formula and gourmet cat food. Cat food wasn’t the only thing it had been eating, one of the students worked at an upscale deli in town and this little rascal had been eating better that ME!

The name Pumukli came from a mischievous little character that the students had grown up watching in Hungary. I’m not sure if it was human or animal, but must have been beloved by the entire country from what I gathered. The raccoon had a cage in the beginning, but quickly outgrew it and spent most of its time loose in the apartment. At first, it was only getting into little things around the place, like sock drawers and cookies left on the counter. Then it graduated to raiding the cupboards, disassembling the telephone and peeling the wallpaper of the kitchen wall. (It probably was printed with pictures of food). After that, Pumukli was restricted to the bathroom when no one was home and that is where he learned how to make water come out of the little spigots in the sink and bath tub. Lots of water…A basement apartment can hold several inches of water for a long time. This was when the landlord discovered that he had an unexpected tenant living in the apartment.

The landlord was a Michigan farmer. He knew coons. He knew what they could do. He knew that he didn’t want a raccoon living in his apartment, whether it caused an international incident or not. He told the students very plainly. “Get that Damn coon OUTTA here or you will be going back to Hungary in a hurry!”

Pumukli seemed to be taking the entire episode in stride. He probably figured that he was some kind of precious, exotic lap dog and all this would be worked out by his handlers. He was already eyeing my house like “Where’s the Jacuzzi?”

Mr. Tall-Dark-and Terrific, finally got out of the car and opened the trunk. I watched as he bent over to retrieve something from inside. I was wishing that the trunk were a bit lower, when he stood up and carried a large box to the porch. “This Pumukli, belong. You take him, pleze?” There was such hope in his eyes; there was such whiteness to his perfect straight teeth, there were so many buttons undone on his shirt… How could I say no, when he gave me his best “puppy-in-the-porn-store-window” look?

“Of course”, I said, “This is what I do” The puppy look left his gray eyes and darkness came over his expression.

“GOOD”, he said “Iss awful animal. Iss EVIL! Screaming all time. Poop all over. Destroy everytin. You take. I glad.”

Then he walked back to the car LAUGHING. I couldn’t tell if it was sinister, maniacal laughter, or if it bordered on hysteria, such as a man laughs after going through Hell and seeing a way out. I was starting to worry as Pumukli rummaged through his box of possessions looking for his fuzzy blankie.

As Tall-Dark-and-a-little-Scary started the car, Miss Hungary got to her feet and brushed a tear from her heavily mascarraed eye. Both my men searched pockets for nonexistent handkerchiefs. I’m sure they would have let her blow her nose on their shirt fronts, if she so desired. My husband told her not to worry, his wife (he probably forgot MY name there) was very good at these kinds of things and her adorable raccoon would be perfectly safe and gamboling in the forest very soon. (I’m surprised that he knew the word was gambol as opposed to gamble.) Then she said the words that put a high intensity beacon of light in both their eyes.

“Do you suppose,” She drawled like a Gabore sister, “Could I…would it trouble you, not…if I came see Pumukli again?”

I could feel the wind from her batting eyelashes across the porch. My husband and son fell over themselves trying to stay in her line of vision.

“No, No trouble. You come anytime” they babbled. “She will be glad to let you see Pumukli. Won’t you dear?”

At this point my husband happened to look up at me holding a raccoon that had just piddled on my sneaker. There must have been some slight indication in my expression that he might just possibly be taking his last breath. He quickly grabbed Levi’s arm and said, “Um, We’d better get that cage ready for the coon now….”

The car roared to life and pulled out of the driveway. It was not quite around the corner when the raccoon looked me in the eye and sized up the situation. He started to scream. When a coon screams it is usually accompanied by a lot of clawing and maybe a few bites. We hadn’t gotten to the biting yet, but I got a close up view of his painted, yes PAINTED claws. I tried to comfort him. That’s when I discovered that Pumukli only knew HUNGARIAN. Nothing I said comforted or even fazed him (Not that coons are big in the language arts, but they normally respond to a few simple phrases, especially if they deal with food.

I rummaged through his box and found his pillow bed, his personalized dishes, hairbrush (natural bristle, of course) lots of dog and cat ymmy treats and a pretty stinky stuffed dog. Pumukli grabbed the dog with one paw and my hand with the other. He was franticly trying to somehow manipulate my fingers; so I let him. Suddenly, he grabbed my thumb and stuffed it in his mouth. I steeled myself waiting for the inevitable bite, but it didn’t come. Instead, he was SUCKING MY THUMB! Pumukli was a thumb sucker. Ohhhh boy!

The first few days were a bit rough for the POOK (as I started calling him). He hated the cage, no matter how big it may be and when I fed him dog food and leftovers for dinner, he was appalled. I brought in another coon to acclimate him to the idea that he was in reality, a raccoon, but he didn’t believe it. He spent the afternoon hanging from the side of the cage making disparaging remarks about the other coon’s looks, hygiene and education. It was time to take action.

I went in the pen and held out my thumb. “Pookie Bear”, I sing-songed” Do you want to suck mommy’s thumb? I waggled it in his direction and he scurried up my leg and grabbed it with both paws. Soon he was purring happily in my arms and my thumb was getting soggy. We were going for a walk.

In my front yard, I have a small goldfish pond. It is artesian water, clean and very cold . This constant flow requires a runoff to accept the endless volume of water that runs through it. This is accomplished by a small muddy drainage ditch that we keep stocked with freshwater shrimp, crawdads, and lake clams. Throw in some hotdog bits, float a few marshmallows and you have raccoon paradise. I got on my knees and lowered Pumukli to the ground. I poked about a bit in the mud to find him something tasty. He took it in his paws and felt the mud and gagged. Oh boy, this was harder than I thought.

We started sifting through the mud again, it was going better. He found a marshmallow and thought that this might not be so bad after all. He waded in up to his armpits. Mud was squishing through his toes and water was tickling his ears. I started to back away. Just then a crow I’d raised flew over and shouted out a raucous greeting. Pumukli panicked. He ran straight up my leg and climbed to the back of my head. One
muddy paw was in my eye and they other was shoved in the corner of my mouth. I had to offer him my thumb, just so I could see.

About that time, a neighbor pulled in with his truck. “Nice hat” He drolly stated, “you might want to get the mud cleaned out before you put it on again though.”

He was right; I was muddy handprints from my ankles to the top of my head. Most of them, of course, were up the front. It looked like I had been ravished by a midget with dirty hands. I offered no comment to the neighbor as Pook and I headed for the shower. As I was dressing and Pook was rolling around my husband’s side of the bed drying off on the sheets, I noticed another car in the driveway. It was the Hungarian delegation. They had come to visit Pumukli.

Whatever delusions I had instilled in that fuzzy little head, pertaining to him being a wild animal, vanished as soon as he saw his Hungarian Princess. He was full of kisses and lay like a baby in her arms. She brought him treats and spoke rapid Hungarian to him as he gazed in rapt attention at her face. I sighed. What man wouldn’t?

I leaned on the car and nodded to Tall-Dark-and-obviously-Smirking. “Beer or cola” I asked.

“Budweiser!” he shot back. I was beginning to suspect that his English was better than I thought.

Coon and ex-mistress rolled around and played for about a half-hour and then she tidied herself and announced it was time to leave. The Pook tried to go with her, but she closed the car door before he got there. As they pulled out, the tantrum started. It continued till I surrendered my thumb.

I worked with Pumukli for several more days; I actually had him convinced that dog food was not coon poison and that grass and mud actually felt good on his tummy and paws. We had our first foray into the trees and he was beginning to tolerate the other coons, even though he still slept in his little pink bed instead of the “coon pile” in the hammock. Things were progressing, but each time his Hungarian Princess would visit, he would be a hysterical lump for at least a day. I was going to have to use some of that “tough Love”.

The next time their car pulled into the drive, I stopped her before she opened the door. I explained that while I knew she loved Pumukli and wanted the best for him, I need her to realize that she was not helping him by coming to visit. It confused him and he seemed to be trying to hang on to his old life whenever he saw her. I would be happy to keep her posted on his progress, but she could not come back again. The smile on Tall-Dark-And-Relieved face could not have been any wider.

“Tank you, so very most. I so am happy.” He turned to his pouting girlfriend and beamed. “Now! Now ve go home!”

A few weeks later I heard through the grapevine that they had returned to Hungary… petless.

It was time to release the last of the summer’s raccoons. I was not sure if Pumukli was ready go or not, but I would allow him to come along. If he went off into the woods with the others, he was ready. If he ran screaming back to the car before we left…. Well, he wasn’t quite ready. We loaded up coons, dog food and marshmallows. I let Pook ride up front, in case he got frightened. He sat on my lap absentmindedly working my wedding rings and buttons with his paws. We got to our favorite place to release raccoons by the river and got every one out. We played hide the marshmallows; we waded in the river, we checked out all the trees to climb. We even rolled over rotted logs to find tasty bugs and grubs. (I passed on eating any, the coons understood). Eventually the coons started wandering off and we slowly walked back to the truck.

There was a bloodcurdling scream like someone had thrown a coon in a woodchipper. I braced myself as 20 odd pounds of frantic coon landed in the middle of my back. It was the Pook. He wasn’t ready yet. All the way home he whimpered and sucked my thumb till it hurt. We’d try again in a few weeks.

I put him back in his big pen. He seemed lonely without the others. I tried to keep away from him as much as possible. He needed to break the bond with humans. It was a good sign that he no longer wandered up to non-family members to be picked up. I didn’t think he’s approach a stranger like some poor camper who could be scared out of his wits by an overly friendly coon. I also knew he could find his own food now and a secure place to sleep. He would be fine…as soon as he decided he was ready.

Twice more we took him on a trip to the woods. The second time was much like the first. He explored, he played. He was at home in the forest, but as soon as we headed back to the truck, he’d come crashing after us and climb up my leg. He really needed to go. My thumb couldn’t take much more.

Then the third time we took him to the river, the weather had turned cool. There was a crisp breeze in the air and the leaves had begun to turn. Pumukli seemed more anxious to get out of the truck this time and ran ahead of us to the water. He paced up and down the riverbank, peering at the far shore. I looked carefully and could see two young raccoons on the other bank, I suspected they were from our earlier release and Pook recognized them. Finally he climbed onto one of the many logs lying across the water from bank to bank and scampered over.

There was a lot of back arching and circling each other with ears flattened. We could hear the grunts, snorts and hisses. Butts were sniffed and noses touched. Then as easily as it began, it was over and the three coons headed up the hill. I was amazed and just to make sure; I called out “Pookie! Mommy’s leaving now.” He didn’t even turn. That fat striped behind was steadily disappearing from my sight. I started to leave and heard the leaves rustle. Pumukli had turned for one last look. We stared at each other for a moment and he turned away again. I watched and whispered “VISZONTLÁTÁSRA” The only thing I knew in Hungarian and I know I probably mispronounced it, but said it anyway. “Goodbye Pumukli, goodbye.”

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