Higgins' Journal

The life and times of a young raccoon

copyright Alex Snow (1998)

Chapter Three: Hideyholes and Pineapple Attacks

Picture shows baby raccoon on kitchen countertop with pineapple and food bowl.

19 May

I hardly saw Higgins all day, as I was out of town, except for his breakfast, 5 p.m., and 11 p.m. feedings. He ate about 4 oz. at each one, and wet the bed while I was out.

20 May

A frightful day. I was out of town during the day, so after not having spent much time with him yesterday, I didn't spend much with him today either, 'til late evening.

I tried to feed him puppy-dog weaning formula this morning, but he'd have none of it. At first the darn stuff clogged up the nipple on his bottle so he couldn't get anything out at all. So I made an x-shaped incision in the nipple and he began to get some, but apparently didn't like it. I was all out of Esbilac and had to leave town, so I left him without a feeding, figuring that I'd be back by noon. I wasn't.

When I returned at 3.30 p.m., I mixed some of the weaning formula gruel with lots of newly-purchased Esbilac and tried him again. He took about an ounce and ran off chittering. About an hour later he took 3 oz. straight Esbilac.

As I was working on some proposals at my desk in my basement office late in the evening, I suddenly became aware of the padding of tiny feet -- in the ceiling above my head. I recalled that I had last seen Higgins hauling himself up the stairs, so I looked around the stairs at the level of the basement ceiling and sure enough at the side and back of the top step was an opening I had never noticed before.

For hours Peter and I cajoled and coaxed, wielding flashlight and glove. Finally, much to our relief, as it was late and we were both tired, he squeezed back out of the hole onto the step. He was filthy dirty. I put him in the bathroom washbasin, where he paddled happily in a 3" deep bath of warm water, while Peter wedged the ends of two 2x4's across the hole to block it. Having dried him off with towels, I let him run around in the bathroom while I finished my work.

Just as I was finishing half an hour later, oh my goodness, the padding sound of tiny feet on the ceiling tiles reached my ears. Goodness knows how he got in there again, the 2x4's were undisturbed. Again we began the coaxing and cajoling. After what seemed like an eternity, we decided that however he had gotten in the second time, we'd better unplug the original hole to see if he would come out that way.

He eventually did. He took a 4 oz. feeding of Esbilac, and was extraordinarily affectionate towards me, kissing and licking my mouth, nose, and eyes. I got the distinct feeling that he'd been real lonely. The moral of this tale is: Neglect doesn't pay; and a hungry 'coon is an exploring 'coon.

21 May

Higgins ate very little today and explored much. He took 5 oz. at breakfast, 1 oz. at 5 p.m., and 2 1/2 oz. at 11.30 p.m. Now that the hole in his bottle nipple has been enlarged, he gets more formula at a time and he chokes a bit. After choking badly twice tonight he gave up after only 2 1/2 oz.

I discovered that he has been using one corner of the bedroom carpet to urinate on, the corner under the bedroom chair which he likes so much. I had been wondering why the litterbox had stayed so clean over the past few days since I cleaned it out on Friday. The corner has a mild ammoniacal smell. I put down paper towels to soak it up. I wonder if his antics during the past few days are related to my having been out of town a lot and not being there to look after him so much?

He slept well during the day, and for once kept the bed dry. In the evening he became very active exploring the basement den, bouncing around all over the floor and climbing the bar stools. When he runs he's oriented slightly sideways, as many quadrupeds are, his rear aligned slightly to the right of his head as viewed from behind.

At one point he decided to scale the heights of the sewer pipe which goes from basement to roof. I had visions of him squeezing into the attic and getting irretrievably stuck. However, his grasp failed him and he plopped down into a wastebasket.

To satisfy his urge to climb, I put a collar and leash on him, and he climbed trees as far as the leash would allow. On the green ash, he began to climb down rear feet first, a promising development. But on the spruce he became frightened and came down slowly head first. During our circumnavigation of the house, he dug in the soil and smelled the plants in several places that he had shown no interest in before.

This is the first time he has been keen on doing things outside by himself, other than the one time he jumped out of my arms into the blue spruce. Today he enjoyed being on his own feet on the ground. After his explorations he took a nap.

This evening he awoke to the sound of other raccoons on the back porch. I held him in the back bedroom window, which looks out on the porch. He stared at the raccoons and they stared at him. Of the one large male and two smaller females feeding there, not one made a sound for quite a while, then one female went back to eating the dog chow which I place in a bowl there every night. Higgins explored the window ledge, glancing at them from time to time. He found a winter-dehydrated insect of some sort and ate it.

He is now quite strong and lively. We play a game in which he lies on his back, flings his arms and legs around, and grabs my arm lengthwise with all fours. I lift him up, and he hangs like a monkey under a tree branch. When he's lively, I have to keep my eyes peeled lest he get underfoot. He darts about so much its hard to keep track of him. He really bites hard now too. I'm trying to have him chew on a rawhide strip instead of my toes.

Now that he's been exercising more he has no trouble getting his own toes into his mouth again. He still sometimes lies on his back with both feet in his mouth and his hands crossed over his nose. Raccoon yoga.

22 May

I restarted weaning Higgins again by mixing his Esbilac with baby food: pureed cereal with apple and banana. He likes it, though he chokes a bit because I made the hole in the nipple so big. He took four feedings: 5 oz., 3 oz., 4 oz., and 1 oz.. Today while I was eating lunch, he climbed up my chair and lunged from my lap onto the table, where he began paddling in my salad. Finally he licked a piece of lettuce clean of its creamy dressing and retired looking very satisfied.

He wet the bed again early this a.m., and I had a stroke of genius. Perhaps, I thought, his litterbox and bedwetting problems are due to his litterbox being in the wrong place. It is currently located alongside a bedroom wall between the main door and the closet door, with easy access on both sides. The spot he had chosen in the corner of the room behind the bedroom chair is hidden. Making sure the carpet was clean, I put the litterbox on his chosen spot.

When he is active, he is very, very active. By contrast to his whirlwind movements, I feel like a huge lumbering whale, slow and heavy. His little heart pitter-patters so fast, and his little legs pump away so daintily that I feel like a rhinoceros watching keystone cops. He bounces around on legs like bedsprings.

This a.m. while I was making his formula, I set him on the kitchen countertop so that I could keep an eye on him. I looked away for a moment and in the twinkling of an eye he was gone. I couldn't see him anywhere. A second or two later, I heard the pitty-patter of feet in the soffit above the kitchen cabinets. I figure he snuck up there via a space in the corner behind the microwave oven. He paddled about up there, taking his own sweet time to find a way down. He discovered an opening above the window, where I climbed up and hauled him out.

This evening some friends came to visit, whom Higgins had seen before. He stood on all fours on the bed and lowered his head in the gesture I have seen adult raccoons use when allowing other raccoons to take food first at the dog chow bowl. I interpret this head-bowing as a gesture of submission.

Later this p.m., he climbed up the bookshelves in the basement den, and unfortunately fell off the top all the way to the floor, about eight feet. He didn't seem badly hurt, but he was rather subdued afterwards, and ate only 1 oz. of formula at night.

As we were going to bed a storm broke, for which I was thankful. It has been 85 deg. F and very humid, the kind of day when everything sticks to one's clammy skin. I carried him to the back porch to watch the rain, but he was frightened, cowering on my shoulder under my hair. I put him beside the windscreen in the bedroom, but he ran back to his favorite sleeping place under the pillows and hid.

23 May

No bedwetting today, he used the litterbox. He drank 5 oz. at breakfast and 5 p.m., and only 1 oz. at 11 p.m. I had the feeling he was too excited to eat at the late feeding. He was very active all evening. Out in the yard, he clung to my shoulder at first, the way he usually does, then I persuaded him to walk on the grass with the leash. We explored the entire yard and he urinated under the blue spruce. Whether this was coincidence, that is he happened to need to urinate at that point, or whether he was scent marking, I don't know. Several cats routinely scent mark under that tree.

He sniffed excitedly at the wild cherry tree which other raccoons use to climb up to the roof, then he climbed up as far as the leash allowed, coming down sideways. He sniffed and climbed several pine trees, somehow managing to stick a pine needle up his nose. We walked around and around the house 'til after twilight. A couple of times he scrambled up my legs, charged up to my shoulder, and hid under my hair when a car went down the back alley.

Picture shows small raccoon sniffing trail under trees alongside house.

Back in the house, he was all psyched up and going a mile a minute. He made a wild lunge at the kitchen cabinets, and practically flew up the front of the drawers by grabbing the handles. Then he repeated yesterday's trick, climbing up to the soffit through the triangular space behind the microwave oven. He sat there paddling and playing for about three quarters of an hour. I hauled him out from the opening beside the light over the window.

As I was getting ready for bed, he rushed into the bathroom, shot up the front of the drawers onto the countertop, and dived into the washbasin. He was instantly soaked under the running water. He loved it. He played with the soap, ran in and out of the cascade of water, and slid all over the counter. As I write my notes, he is still hyperactive, buzzing around on my bed alternately attacking my notebook and my feet, like a demon.

His eyes have definitely grown larger during the last few days and his sensitivity to sounds is much greater. He stops, looks, and listens to the slightest sound, be it a bird call, people walking around, or whatever. This a.m. the bedroom window was open and out in the back yard a squirrel began to moan and sputter the way they do when they see a cat. Higgins heard this cawing noise and hid behind me in fright.

24 May

Estimates vary concerning the weaning age of raccoons. I consulted three standard references. One stated that it was between seven weeks and four months, another mentioned four months, and the third said two months. Not much practical help! Higgins is taking a mixture of two teaspoons of baby food (mixed cereal with apple and banana) per 5 oz. Esbilac feeding (i.e. 5 oz. total). He took three full 5 oz. feedings today, and used his litterbox consistently.

His external ears look huge compared to a couple of weeks ago. He wiggles them around all the time to listen to sounds both near and far away. The ridge I had felt in one ear a while back has gone. Perhaps it was a little scar that healed.

At lunchtime he leaped up the kitchen cabinets into the soffit again, and did not want to emerge when I went back to work in the afternoon. So I left him there. When I returned just after 5p.m., he appeared in the opening beside the window light, looking drowsy and yawning. I guess he just snoozed up there all afternoon.

Subsequently, after I took him for his afternoon walk, he clambered up there again and was only coaxed down by my shaking and waving his bottle at the opening. He has not yet learned to come down the same way he goes up. The opening by the light gives him no toeholds to climb down as the side of the cabinet is smooth. I have to grab him and drag him out, which is not comfortable for him. Finding this special place where I cannot go is a gesture of independence, but he will need to learn how to get down alone.

This evening he examined the back door threshold for some time, sniffing around the steps and door. Whenever I picked him up and set him down on the back patio he ran back to the steps. Then he ran across the patio to the gate at the east side of the house and spent a while exploring the fern patch behind the little fence there, then back to the steps.

I took him to the green ash tree on the southeast side of the house, allowing him to climb as high as the leash will reach. A couple of times he came down rear feet first, but twice tried to descend head first. Then, of his own accord he ran back to the fern patch and hid. He sniffed around a bit and then ran back to the doorstep and into the kitchen.

Picture shows raccoon heading down tree trunk, apparently smiling at camera.

He seems to like little hideyhole dark places. Perhaps he feels safe if he thinks nobody can see him. After his outdoor exploring he climbed up to his soffit hideaway and peered down from the window opening at me as if beaming with pride in his prowess.

He seems tired after these adventures. For once he is too tired to bite my toes or attack my notebook. Last night I could hardly calm him down. Then I remembered the old saying,"Music soothes the savage breast." I sang him a lullaby called "Over the Sea to Skye." At first he just stared at me in amazement, no doubt wondering what on earth the strange noise was. He seemed to relax as I hummed. Before I had completed the tune three times he had ambled off along the bed and lain down to sleep. Worked like a charm.

25 May

At his three meals, Higgins ate 3 oz., 1 oz., and 5 oz. respectively. He was quiet all day, spending most of it sleeping in his soffit. He did not want to go outside.

26 May

Today Higgins made up for yesterday's lethargy. He ate two 1 oz. and one 5 oz. feedings, and got into everything. He licked strawberries, ate macaroni, and attacked a pineapple. I had set a pineapple on the kitchen countertop, and when he climbed up the front of the drawers onto the counter and saw it, he froze.

Cautiously, he danced skittishly towards it in a threatening pose with his back arched. He backed off and lowered his head. He stared at it for a while, then ran worriedly around on the countertop. Suddenly he lunged, in a surprise attack. To his own apparent amazement, he brought it down in one swipe. He crawled all over it, biting and scratching until it was clearly rendered harmless. He was very excited at this victory.

To show off he then attacked and subdued a sponge, a box of tissues, and finally defeated two oven gloves. But this was not enough. He was on a roll. He wrestled manfully with a bottle of dishwashing liquid and rolled a jar of handcream furiously along the counter. Finally, ah the sweet rewards of battle, he found a honey jar. I unscrewed the top so he could smell the honey, and swoosh, in he dived. Such pleasure he took in licking the sweet stuff off his arms and feet. He adjourned to his soffit to contemplate his prowess and ferocity.

Out in the back yard he did not do so well. I attached his leash to a washing line stretched across the yard and let him wander. He dug in a moss patch, visited the fern patch, and tried hard to wriggle out of his collar. I offered him bread soaked in Esbilac, but he was not interested. When I brought him in to the house he showed more interest in a bowl of cat chow soaked in Esbilac. He slurped about half of it down and paddled about in the rest.

When two neighbors came over to see him, he growled and sputtered at them. This is the second time he has done so. Other friends do not seem to bother him. Eventually he calmed down, sat on my shoulder, and sniffed their clothes. My neighbor noticed how much bigger and fatter he is than he was a couple of weeks ago. His measurements now are: body 15", tail 7 1/2", total length 22 1/2", rear feet 3 1/2", forefeet 2 1/2", nose to neck 5", between ears 3". These are approximate measurements, as he was moving around and it was hard to hold him still.

27 May

Higgins had a quiet day today, spending most of it snoozing in his soffit. He seems to alternate a day of activity with a day of rest. Good idea. Wish I could do the same. His only mischief was climbing inside a kitchen drawer and peeing all over the paper and plastic products inside. This took a while to clean up. He ate two 5 oz. feedings of Esbilac and baby cereal, and is now balking at a third. He's been so quiet all day that his energy must have stored up. Now he's racing all over the bedroom like a fairgrounds dodgem car. Climbing the curtains is the favorite amusement this evening.

He came down from his soffit by himself this afternoon -- the quick way -- by falling down the way he had gotten up, via the triangular space in the corner behind the cabinets. He landed thunk on his rear end on the countertop behind the microwave oven, and did not look too pleased about it. Subsequently I pulled him out by the opening at the light fixture again.

Perhaps his late night activity is the beginning of being nocturnal. He moves so fast. I hear him rustling the plastic on his litterbox, then two seconds later he's in the diagonally opposite corner of the room scratching his way among the magazines in the night stand. Faster than a speeding bullet.

The days are gone when all he wanted to do was suck on his feeding bottle, then sleep on the towel-covered hot water bottle in his little house. All of his senses have become so much more acute. He now displays that characteristic behavior of raccoons, feeling an object with his hands while staring into space.

28 May

Higgins seems to have settled on a twice-a-day feeding routine. He refused a late p.m. feeding today too. He took 5 oz. at breakfast and 5 p.m., Esbilac mixed with cereal/apple/bananas. Last night I tried him on pureed sweet potatoes, but he did not fancy that at all.

He spent much of today in his soffit, coming down only for evening meal, and to see visitors. These included two children, the younger of whom, aged three or so, has a very high-pitched voice. It frightened him. Every time he heard it, he scurried behind my head to hide.

He carried some playthings up to the soffit. Many years from now, the next owners of this house will remodel the kitchen and find to their surprise, way up above the cabinets, one baby bottle nipple, one piece zwieback toast, and some dry cat chow. What will they make of that I wonder?

At present, Higgins is subduing the kitchen equipment again. He swipes the pineapple every time he passes it. He no longer sleeps after meals, but runs around. His biting has become serious, and his play is now energetic fighting, so I sleep with socks on to avoid severe toe bites. It must be time to get a cage.

I find that lullabies quieten him down. Tonight is the third time I have been able to soothe the savage breast with ancient airs and tunes. He automatically settles down under the bedcovers when I start to sing. Maybe he is just plugging his ears!

29 May

He ate two 5 oz. feedings, and refused one in the late evening. He showed an interest in playing with dog chow and cat chow today, but he just rolled them around on the counter and did not eat them. This evening I made him a sort of cream of chicken soup with Esbilac and a teaspoonful of pureed chicken baby food. One sniff, and he turned his head away.

Having an outdoor cage for Higgins would allow me to sleep at night. He wakes me every couple of hours, biting my ears and toes. He has a cheery way of waking me up at about 3 a.m. by digging in my ear canal with his claws and then looking brightly into my half-closed eyes as if to say "Wake up ! It's time to play!"

Also, an outdoor cage would accustom him to the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural environment. He is still afraid of the rain, for example. On several occasions I have taken him out on rainy evenings, and he burrows under my chin or hair to hide. He will not walk around on the ground by himself, or climb trees, when it rains. He needs to get used to the weather, and to the other animals out there too.

He peed in the soffit late this evening. It dripped through onto the kitchen countertop, where I caught it on a pile of paper towels. I had a hunch that sooner or later this was inevitable.

Raising a baby raccoon is not like raising a human baby. For one thing, you can not buy pampers small enough for raccoons. For another, human babies do not wake you in the night by digging their claws into your ear canal. But the biggest difference is that you are never likely to come home from work in the evening to find a human baby pattering about inside your basement ceiling with no visible means of getting down.

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