Higgins' Journal

The life and times of a young raccoon

copyright Alex Snow (1998)

Chapter Two: Higgins Honeybear: Tooth and Claw

Picture shows tiny raccoon on bed with pet mouse

8 May

After his middle-of-the-night snack, Higgins wanted to play with his toys on the floor, but I was too tired to play with him so I went to sleep. I awoke slightly during the night to feel him climbing over my shoulders and purring in my ear. Somehow he had figured out a way to climb up onto the bed by himself, probably by hauling himself up the bed linens with his arms. During the day, I put him in his little house, only to find him about an hour later on top of the bed. He spent most of the day in the bed; he seems to prefer it.

He refused food at his midday feeding today, but drank 3 1/2 oz. at breakfast, early evening, and late night (10.30 p.m.). He has solid bowel movements with this Esbilac formula. He was fairly quiet today, and did little exploring. The weather was rainy and cold all day, so I did not take him outside as is our wont.

He's such a gentle, hesitant, little creature, cautiously padding and pawing strange objects with his hands, but he can make a strong statement if he wants to. This evening he made a suitably damning comment on the quality of the television program we were watching by peeing an enormous amount on the couch in the den.

His fur grows apace, thicker and shinier each day. It is becoming more gingery on his shoulders, more white on the fronts of his legs and on his underside generally, and more black on his head. His tail is noticeably thicker, especially at the base. He chews things more than formerly; as I write he is chewing on my writing pad.

9 May

Linnaeus's original hunch about raccoons was not too far off the mark; they do look like little bears. (German: waschbar -- the bear who washes.) So, because of his wonderful scent and teddy bear appearance, I've decided to call him Higgins Honeybear -- a fitting and proper appellation.

May the Honeybear lineage be long and fruitful. After all, in just a few years this little bundle of fur could be Grandpa Higgins.

He was somewhat off his food again today. He took 3 oz. at breakfast, but no lunch, and only 1 oz. early evening, then 3 oz. late evening. He doesn't seem to have had a bowel movement in two days. The weather has been cold and rainy the last few days with temperatures in the 30s to 50s (Fahrenheit), and I've noticed that after Higgins has been running around the bedroom and hallway for a while his paws are cold and his nose drippy. I'm afraid he may indeed have caught my infection, cold, 'flu, or whatever. Perhaps that is why he has been off his food a bit.

After yesterday's discovery that Higgins can climb up onto the bed, today's discovery is that he can't climb down! This brings up the bedwetting possibility with a vengeance.

I tried to show him how to climb down by moving his hands and feet gently for him, so that he would get the feel of coming down rear end first, but to no avail. Every time I helped him down he climbed back up, and stood on the edge of the bed nervously chittering and pawing about, drawing back each time his head went over the edge.

Higgins spent most of the day sleeping in the bed. He used the litterbox when I lifted him down into it. He digs in the litterbox a fair bit, and enjoys tunneling under other things too, such as bed linens, cushions, clothes, and so forth.

His eyes are definitely able to focus on more distant objects than previously. He now carries things around in his mouth from time to time: toys, pen tops, anything small enough to fit. He bites my fingers with greater strength, his upper incisors seem longer and sharper now.

I find myself feeling very protective of him. (The mothering instinct goes overboard sometimes!) I wonder about his safety when I'm away from home.

Today while I was driving the car, I suddenly had a dreadful fear that he could pull down a towel rack in the bedroom by pulling on my workout suit, which I usually leave hanging loosely over the rack. The thought of him lying limp and crushed under the rack flashed into my mind.

When I arrived home he was fast asleep in the bed, of course. Just to be safe, I put the rack in the hall closet and closed the door firmly.

The soles of Higgins' feet and the palms of his hands have skin as soft as a human baby's. He reacts to touching so much that it is clear his skin is very sensitive. He's a real tenderfoot. On the backs of his hands and feet are hundreds of tiny fine black or dark brown hairs mixed with a few longer white ones. The first digit, while not an opposable thumb, is set lower on the hand than the other digits, and can grasp surprisingly well.

10 May

Higgins wet the bed this afternoon while I was out. I wish he would learn how to climb down out of the bed to get to his litterbox. He took three feedings of 4 oz. each, having apparently given up on lunch. He seems to have settled into an eight-hour feeding schedule.

When he goes into REM sleep his body twitches and his eyes open. His eyes flicker and roll, so that one can see the whites occasionally, but he apparently sees nothing even though his eyes are wide open. In this condition he does not respond to a finger waved in front of his face. During REM twitches he sometimes shudders, makes chomping movements with his mouth, occasionally growls, often puts his right hand over his nose, and sometimes gives a squeak or two as he wakes.

11 May

Today Higgins gets the Grand Prize for Inconvenience. It was cold last night, so I put a down-filled quilt on the bed. He wet it. The drycleaner is going to love this one! I really can't blame Higgins for making so many messes, he's just an infant, and one can't buy diapers small enough to fit!

This p.m. he went exploring, and after the house had been quiet for a suspiciously long time I went looking for him. There was no sign of him anywhere in the bedroom, bathroom, or hallway. Then I heard a squeak from the front bedroom, which to my knowledge he had never previously visited. I arrived just in time to see an avalanche of white satin comforter and sheets cascading down the end of the bed, emitting shrieks and yips.

Somehow he had climbed up the bed linens and they had slipped off with him wrapped up inside. Oh, was he glad to see me when I got him disentangled!!

I cleaned out his litterbox today, as I had done last Friday, and it occurred to me that maybe he has been using his litterbox so little and the bed so much these last few days because he likes a cleaner place than his litterbox has been. I'll clean it out more often and see what happens. I had a layer of ground clay covered by a layer of pine shavings in the box; now I have a little ground clay covered with a lot of paper towels which I can easily remove.

Higgins has learned to claw his way up the upholstered bedroom chair. If I put a pillow up against the chair he'll cautiously climb down, head first, on the pillow. This looks like progress, perhaps he'll learn to climb down off the bed soon. He has also learned to swing on the hem of a curtain on the north window. He hangs on by his claws.

Today he also climbed into my briefcase, and totally disappeared inside it. I hope he doesn't get in there and fall asleep, as I might accidentally carry him off to some business meeting.

He no longer spends any time in the little cardboard house beside the warm air vent. If I put him in it he jumps out again. He definitely prefers the bed. Perhaps he doesn't like being confined on the floor. He's always climbing up onto the tops of things: my head and shoulders, the back of the couch, up on the bed, and so forth. Maybe I should have mimicked the conditions of a tree den more precisely by putting his house up on top of a chest of drawers or in a cupboard.

Picture shows tiny raccoon face peeking out from inside top of trash can.

12 May

After taking two 4 oz. feedings today, Higgins didn't want to eat in the late evening, and took only one ounce of formula late at night. He was quite active this evening, climbing up AND DOWN things.

He discovered that he could slide head first down a cushion off the back of the couch onto the seat cushion and from there it was an easy slide down my legs to the floor. He seemed to enjoy this slide as he repeated it several times, hauling himself up the side of the couch to the top and whizzing down again.

He went exploring around the downstairs den while I was watching television there, but he only went short distances, and kept running back to my lap. While he explored, he chittered and purred softly in a nervous sort of way.

His big triumph of the day was climbing up the stairs from the basement den to the kitchen. He followed me. I went up the stairs slowly, and he pulled himself up one step at a time with his claws hooking on to the carpet.

13 May

Despite the fact that I am now keeping his litter pretty clean, Higgins has apparently decided that he prefers one corner of the bedroom carpet. I found a little pile of turds there. He still seems to be using the litterbox to urinate, though. He didn't want any food this a.m., but drank 4 oz. both early and late evening. He had diarrhea on the carpet late this p.m.

Tonight he repeated yesterday's jumping and sliding games on the basement den couch. He about drove Peter nuts by trying to haul himself up Peter's hairy legs while Peter was almost immobile with a soccer injury to his right thigh. Judy also came over to visit. Higgins not only failed to recognize her, he was afraid and growled at her. She has three dogs, and he may have smelled their scent on her.

He chews his catnip mouse and his piece of rawhide frequently, pushing them to the back of his mouth where his molars will be. I can feel his back teeth through the gum with my finger. On his left ear he has a slightly thickened ridge inside the earflap: a scar?

Several times today he stretched his body flat on the edge of the bed and peered downwards, but he turned chicken and would not climb down head first. The bed linens are too flappy to give him the sense of security a more solid couch can give. When he gets to the point that his back feet and claws have to let go, he hauls himself back up.

14 May

Higgins' measurements are now: tail 6", body 13", total length 19" nose to tail, rear feet 3", forefeet 2", between ears 2 1/2", head approx. 4 1/2" nose to neck. His facial coloring has become more distinct, the black on his face-mask blacker, the white above it whiter. His abdomen is much fatter, he looks quite rotund.

He drank four 1/2 oz. feedings today, and had a fair bit of exercise climbing around in the basement den. His habits have become fairly regular. He takes formula from his bottle three times daily, at approximately 7 a.m., 5 p.m., and 11 p.m. He urinates three times daily, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and mid-evening; and has one bowel movement per day, in the evening.

He still hiccups and then zonks out after every feeding, though now he doesn't snooze for so long: 45 minutes or so, whereas he used to sleep for several hours each time. When he wakes up he runs around the bedroom. He has now figured out how to slide down the side of the bed onto the floor, and how to climb in and out of the bedroom armchair, where he often spends the afternoons.

He is beginning to show the so-called mischievousness typical of raccoons. This evening he knocked over a lamp in the den and hid among the books on the bookshelf, peeking out to see what I'd do with the lamp. There was no damage, I just picked it up. He also lovingly snuggled up to Peter's chest and then bit him on the beard, taking Peter completely by surprise.

He still kisses me often on the nose and mouth, licking me and snuffling contentedly. His tongue is broad, flat, and soft, not rough like a cat's. When he climbs down things, e.g. a sofa cushion or pillow, he anchors himself with the claws of his back feet dug into the fabric, his legs all splayed out wide, and his body flat, like a squirrel descending a tree trunk.

15 May

I noticed today that Higgins' upper left premolars are through the gums now. This evening Higgins showed an intense interest in the macaroni and cheese I was eating. He dug into my dinner with his hands, eventually picking up a piece of macaroni and chomping on it. He stuck his nose into the food repeatedly, sniffing and snuffling and covering himself with cheese.

Perhaps it is time to begin weaning him off the bottle. He drank slightly less than usual today, but this was mainly my fault. I had so much to attend to this a.m. that he wasn't fed till later than his usual breakfast time, and then I went out of town from 3 p.m. 'til 9 p.m., so he missed his 5 p.m. feeding and didn't quite make up for it late at night. I hadn't planned on disrupting his schedule, but business is business.

He spent much time during the late evening exploring the basement den around the bar and laundry chute. He seems to favor small dark spaces, such as behind the books on the bookshelves, where he is protected by some sort of buttress small enough for him to climb over. If he has to cross open spaces on the floor, he runs in his little bunnyhop with both front feet then both hind feet landing together. He crosses the space as fast as possible to the safety of the nearest chair or coffee table.

16 May

Last night I paid the price of disrupting Higgins' rhythms. He was up much of the night "playbiting" all over my body, with the result that I now have bruises and scratches all over my arms, hands, and feet. I got out of bed twice and tried to sleep on the living-room couch because he was driving me crazy.

At lunchtime, I took Higgins out into the yard, as I try to do as often as it is not pouring with rain. Instead of just sniffing the trees, however, this time he did something different. I held him close to the trunk of the blue spruce in the front yard, a tall sturdy tree with widely spaced branches. He veritably leaped out of my arms and skedaddled up the trunk beyond my reach. He sat in the crotch of two branches for a while looking highly pleased with himself, then began to maneuver around.

He didn't seem at all afraid, but did give a chirp of irritation as he had difficulty coming down. Eventually he clung onto the trunk for dear life and edged down head first until he was within easy falling distance of me, and I caught him in my hands. He snuggled up to me and purred in a rather contented way.

All of a sudden Higgins' molars are through the gums today. He chewed on my shoes a fair bit, which may have helped. He took three 5 oz. feedings. Every so often I increase the amount in the bottle by 1/2 oz ., and after he has been drinking the increased amount for a while I increase it again. When he bites things now he really puts some energy into it. He's no longer just mouthing at things. He grabs things, holds them tight, then pulls them by nodding his head from side to side and tugging at them. As I write he is doing this to the hair on the back of my neck.

Picture shows baby raccoon on bathroom countertop chewing on toothbrush.

He still often lies on his back, biting and sucking his toes, but he's having a progressively harder time reaching them across his corpulent tummy. In the last few days he seems to have grown six half-inch long hairs above his eyes like multiple antennae on a butterfly. These might be useful for sensing objects which might otherwise get in the eyes.

He used to snuggle up on my shoulder after feedings, as if for me to "burp" him, which I often did. He'd hiccup a while, then lie back on my arm and go to sleep. Now he snuggles for only a couple of minutes, then waddles off, flops his fat heavy body on the bed, snoozes for a few moments, and then gets up and plays. He's awake more of the time now, and is much more independent.

In the evenings when I am in the basement den, he goes exploring with much more self-confidence than before. Initially he would venture only a short distance from me and come charging back to climb up and sit on my shoulder. Tonight he spent an hour or so running around without coming back to me. When he finally checked in with me, he merely peeked over the seat cushion on the couch to make sure that I was still sitting there, and then bounced off to rampage among the books and in the laundry chute.

There is such an honesty in loving an animal of another species. Language deceives. Where there is no language there are no lies. If Higgins does not want something, he turns away from it. Politeness does not constrain him. If he wants something he goes for it. When he wants a hug he hugs me.

In addition to the toys he had previously, Higgins now gathers his own ones. They include my pen top, shoes, and slippers; and lately he's been showing a lot of interest in the contents of my briefcase. He held a marathon digging session in his litterbox today, furiously chucking ground clay all over the room as though in an effort to dig a tunnel to Australia. His favorite pastime, however, is patting, gnawing, and pushing around his catnip mouse.

17 May

I was out most of the day, and either Higgins was lonely or his litterbox needs cleaning out: he had a field day in the bedroom soaking the bed sheets, pads, and coverlet; soaking the bedroom chair, and rubbing shit all over the chair and the eiderdown quilt. Poor soul, he obviously had a real bad day.

He ate well though, three 5 oz. feedings. When I tried photographing him today he persistently ran towards the camera, giving me problems with focusing. How does one get a wild animal to pose?

18 May

Just as I was getting into bed tonight, exhausted after a hectic day, Higgins climbed up under the covers with me, fell asleep, and passed enough water to sink a battleship. So now as I write I'm up till 1 a.m. or so while the sheets and mattress pads are washed and dried. I'm learning the meaning of the word forgiveness. He had drunk two 5 oz. and one 3 oz. bottles of formula today.

He climbs strongly now, practicing for hours on the now dirty bedroom chair. He no longer hauls himself up by his front legs, he positively bounces up on all fours. He still hasn't figured out how to climb down things head first.

He seems even more sensitive to nearby sounds than he was before. He'll stop in the middle of a feeding to turn and look if a car goes along the back alley behind the house, or a person walks along the hallway, or paper scritches in my hand.

His eyes are also much improved, as he seems able to see people moving about 20 feet or more away. Sometimes he seems attracted to movement on the television at about that distance.

His amusing and sometimes painful habit of snuggling down under the bedcovers and playbiting my toes reminds me of the far more devilish maneuvers of one Fanny Ferret, a former acquaintance of mine. Fanny, while she was longer and leaner of body, had a brown face with a mask similar to Higgins. She smelled a little more musky, and had a well-developed teasing nature.

At night she would hang around in the bedroom until she thought Peter and I were asleep. I think she knew when we were asleep because ones breathing changes to a slower rhythm as one sinks into slumber. I'd breathe slow and pretend I was asleep, while Peter really was. Fanny would sneak up inside the bed linens, hesitating at the edge of the mattress and waiting to see if we had noticed her. I'd lie very still.

Then, in a flash, she'd bolt down the side of my body and with ferocious glee chomp down on my toes. After I'd figured out her game, I'd catch her before she reached my feet. Then she switched to attacking Peter's feet. He would awaken from sleep with a jump and a yell.

This sudden response would send Fanny into ecstasies of predatory hilarity. I swear, her burblings were the putorian equivalent of laughter. As soon as Peter would lie down again she'd honk on his toes a second time, and would have continued this amusement indefinitely, had not Peter, now thoroughly awake and annoyed, picked her up and confined her in another room. After several nights of playing this game Fanny ended up in a cage at night.

Higgins' teeth are getting sharp. This morning, for example, Higgins and I were lying contentedly in bed, he on the pillow near my head casually sucking and biting his toes, when suddenly, without warning, he lunged across the pillow and chomped on my nose. I have a lot of nose to chomp on. It hurt. I guess a large, pointy, pink protuberance was just too inviting. I slapped him gently on the nose and said NO loudly. He's going to get used to that word!

I have seen raccoon mothers push their offspring roughly away from the nipple, when they have been feeding on my back porch at night. The young 'uns push their snouts up under the mother's abdomen to suckle while she's occupied at the food bowl. I saw one particular little fellow get a resounding kick. No doubt that's the result of too much biting on the nipples. Perhaps this is how infant 'coons learn that teeth hurt other critters. I had hoped that when Higgins reached this stage he would teethe on his rawhide playthings, but he prefers fingers and toes, and the catnip mouse, which he loves so much he has pulled its red wool tail completely off.

Higgins' eyes seem to be more prominent than before. I noticed today that they seemed wider open than originally. Now I can occasionally see the whites as he looks around. Previously all you could see was the pupil.

Being the foster mother to a baby raccoon has certainly rung in some changes in my life. Of course, I recognize that Higgins' natural mother did the hardest part for me in giving birth to him. Adoption is the easy way. But he has definitely changed my behavior.

The other day, for example, I was sitting in a business meeting with a couple of clients and found myself absentmindedly staring at a bunch of mysterious stains on my suit. I realized that they were milk stains, rubbed in by Higgins' nose. Later in the same meeting I found myself scratching an itchy right ear, and after peering at the scrapings on my nails realized that my ear also was covered in dried milk.

When the meeting was over, I took a good look in the mirror, and discovered that I had milk dried onto my hair as well. My clients must think I'm going to pot. Then too, the other evening I turned down a chance to go for a drink with a friend because it was time to "feed the baby". It takes some getting used to.

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