Space Invaders (Part 1)

A discovery was made yesterday. I went to my garage searching for a flower pot and heard someone walking and bumping around in my garage attic. I froze.  Seconds later, I heard familiar squeaks, chirps, and growls. Though I hadn’t listened to these sounds for a very long time, I immediately recognized I was listening to baby raccoons.  I walked around trying to figure out how their mother had gotten into the garage. The only thing I could determine was that she had entered through the chimney. It’s unusual for a garage to have a chimney.  Still, at some point in history, the people who owned our house operated a baking business from the garage. The stove has been long gone. But the chimney remains and opens into the attic where a stovepipe hole was connected. 

I really love animals, and of course, baby animals are so much fun to observe. But this was going to be a tricky business. In the past, I lived on a farm where a family of raccoons took up residence in our chimney. It took several nights of trapping and climbing up on the roof with flashlights to capture surprisingly fierce little balls of fluff who wandered the rooftop while their mother was off hunting. I was not anxious to experience this again –especially now that I’m in my 60s and less sure-footed.  Tom and I have agreed that our local animal control expert will have to be involved. Also, a chimney topper will be installed to prevent the invaders from returning to their hidey-hole.

It’s important to relocate the raccoons, so they don’t damage things in the garage or leave feces all over the place.   But I will miss the excitement of being near to such entertaining wild creatures.  I also realize that they won’t understand why we will interfere with their comfort. After all, they’re just minding their own business. Why can’t we? It’s such an arbitrary and complicated dance, deciding where each of us belongs, negotiating boundaries, and learning with which animals we can live side by side.

Over the years, I have met many folks who have had pet skunks, raccoons, and even one who had a pet wolf. I enjoy hearing the stories of people’s insights and relationships with these animals. However, at the end of the day, I feel we should probably let wild things be wild and not encourage wild creatures to live too close to us.

Several years ago, I watched a program about the problem raccoons have become in Japan. When I was a child, in the 1960s author, Sterling North wrote a book called Rascal about having a pet raccoon when he was a child. The Walt Disney company eventually made a film about it, which I recall enjoying. The story grew popular with children across the world. In Japan, an animated series based on the book became a beloved program among children who desired to have their own pet raccoons.  Before long, North American raccoons were imported to Japan to satisfy peoples’ desires to own them as pets. But in short order, they learned that having raccoons as pets can get complicated. 

Soon raccoons were everywhere, either turned loose into the wild or escaping their captivity.  They became invasive species, leaving unhealthy messes and damage to the point that the Japanese government issued bans on importing them and keeping them as pets.  North American raccoons were not only a problem for Japan. In only 2 or 3 decades, raccoons made their way into parts of Europe and the Caucasus. As recently as 2012, Spain had a problem with raccoons carrying rabies. And in that same year, one German city reported having 100 (yes, 100) raccoons per square kilometer!

Other stories from the past teach us that keeping wild animals is not such a great idea. Marjorie Rawlings’ heartbreaking, coming-of-age classic, The Yearling, comes to mind. Joy Adamson’s Born Free, about a couple that raised a lion cub named Elsa, is another excellent story made into a film with the same message.  I know those who have kept wild animals as pets and loved them will take issue with me. But I would argue that it takes a special kind of person and environment to handle wild animals, and not everyone is cut out for it.  We have to ask ourselves what is best for the animal.

So, will I feel bad when animal control hauls away our little raccoon family? No. I know that they will be relocated to a more suitable habitat, away from human activity. Their habituation to humans can only lead to heartbreak or their early demise.

Stay tuned for Part II on this topic. I have more to share.


The Children’s Book That Caused Japan’s Raccoon Problem

By Laura Clark

March 16, 2015

Smithsonian Magazine


Published by littleseedsread

Hello, my name is Julie Lerczak. For over twenty-five years I worked as an educator in a variety of art, history, and anthropology museums in Illinois, Iowa, and Virginia. Then, for the last five years of my career, I was an environmental educator. I am now retired and am pursuing my dream of being a children's book author. I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I live in Illinois with my husband Tom and our rescued pet turtle "Tootles." When I'm not writing stories I enjoy gardening, painting, making pottery, beekeeping, photography, hiking, and traveling.

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