Man, this past Sunday sure was a difficult day! Around noon I noticed a small raccoon in the backyard. "Oh cool!" I said to myself. I don't see raccoons out during the day very often, but to me it isn't that unusual either because it does happen every now and then. He was a bit of a mess, sporting an injury to his left eye, his tail looked almost like it had been broken at some point, and overall his fur was quite a mess too. I felt bad for the little guy and assumed he was looking for food, so I threw his some shelled peanuts (no salt of course).
He took his time to eat them all up. I like watching them feel around everything as they eat. Their paws are extremely sensitive. It is said that they have four to five times more sensory cells compared to other animals.
I took a few photos and then went back in the house.
He'd disappear for a while, then come back, and this repeated over the next few hours. A couple times I went out to check on him and he was no where to be seen; but then suddenly he's behind me and tugging on my pant leg. It startled me each time. Then I'd turn and look down at him, looking into his eyes, well the one good eye and silently go "awwwwwww".
The pant leg tug, what's that all about? Was he tamed by someone in the area? Or was he unwell? Signs of distemper include a loss of fear of humans and wandering about aimlessly. He showed no fear of me and he was seemingly wandering about aimlessly. Other signs include a rough coat of fur and an emaciated appearance. Two more check marks.
While I was in the basement with Angie having lunch, as our kitchen is under renovation, we saw him going back and forth along the walkway up the side of the house as he passed the basement windows. Then he went up on the porch of the house next door.
After lunch I sought him out again. He wasn't in the backyard. I went out front and I found him like this at our front door.
Oh, those runny eyes. Another sign of distemper. I'm glad that I went out the back door when I decided to go look for him as opening the front door may have had him accidentally enter our house.
I started contacting "wildlife friends" who work with the Toronto Wildlife Centre seeking their opinion on this raccoon. I suspected distemper, perhaps an early stage; but I wanted other opinions with more experience in this. I sent photos and videos of him. There was a lot of humming and hawing about it. Nobody wanted to say it was distemper without being very certain. So there was more monitoring of the animal and his behaviour.
Sadly as the day progressed he seemed to get worse; but with small moments of clarity in between. I'd have another interaction with him and he'd be killing me as I was pulled into him emotionally through these "unique moments".
It was looking like I needed to trap him. <insert sad face> I have a live trap but it was at a friend's place who has been trying to catch a mange squirrel. The trap may have been too small for this raccoon anyway; even though it has caught raccoons when I was trying to catch a sickly squirrel. I ended up borrowing a larger live trap from TWC. The drive there and back, being only 22 km in total, still took me an hour to do. Gotta love traffic in Toronto! I was getting antsy as with the daylight soon to be disappearing, it would be more challenging to catch him when the other animals may awaken and start to roam in search of something to eat.
I set the trap with a chicken leg inside. The raccoon went for it. He was pushing the trap around, and he triggered the door to shut. I went out to reset the trap and the raccoon returned while I was doing this. He was at my side for a moment before going around to the other side of the trap. He put his front paws on the cage, like he was helping me move it. Here we are almost face to face. Yes, a good hard pull on my heart strings. I reset the trap as he was sniffing around it. He poked his head inside and I gave him a tap on his backside with my foot. He ran into the trap, triggering the door, and that didn't seem to bother him at all as he ate the chicken. I put a sheet over the cage and brought him out to the porch. Then I made some phone calls. I won't drag this last bit out but someone came for him within the hour. I'm glad his time in this trap was quite short.
I'm no veterinarian; but this really did look like an early stage of distemper. The disease is not treatable and I have seen it in it's later stages with raccoons and skunks. It is horrible. Euthanasia may seem cruel but it is the humane thing to do for them. Canine distemper is highly transmissible to other animals including family pets like dogs and ferrets (not that I can see anyone letting their ferret outside).
I assume there will be some different emotions from people who read this tale. I wasn't out to make anyone feel sad. I just hope there's not too many saying "good, one less raccoon out there". They're living creatures and just trying to live out their lives like the rest of us. We can coexist with these very clever animals. I'm always willing to talk with someone seeking advice on how to share our backyards with raccoons and the rest of the local wildlife. My one line gets most... "I'd rather look out to our yard and see a raccoon wandering around than seeing some stranger (human)."
Enjoy a few of my backyard raccoon photos here from the last number of years.
Raccoons, what's not to love?