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The ring-tailed devil

All God’s creatures are sacred — except one

By Trisha Elliott

Two raccoons perch smugly on my roof, staring down at me with their devious, mocking eyes, their dexterous fingers digging into my shingles. They can morph into frothy, snarling, maniacal beasts in a blink. Behind them gapes the black hole in my roof where they violated my soffit.

It’s 3 a.m. Raccoon claws scratching on the attic floor directly above the head of my bed have kept me up three nights in a row. I run down the stairs, careen onto the front lawn, sleep-deprived and barely conscious, and send a string of profanities up to my roof that would make Toronto Mayor Rob Ford blush. The neighbour’s lights flash on. His head pokes out. “Everything okay?” he yells. Busted. I wish the lawn could swallow me up — me and the hair pasted up against one side of my head, housecoat hanging embarrassingly open, potty mouth and especially the snow shovel I’m waving erratically in the air.

Those were the early days of raccoon hell, back about a year ago when I merely disliked the creatures. Back when I fed them cheese slices through the bars of the cage so they wouldn’t starve before being released.

Then I got the $10,000 estimate of the damages to my house. Now I hate them. If I saw one on the road, I might swerve to hit it.

Don’t judge me. Being tormented by raccoons can make even the most ardent animal lover murderous. It’s taken me a year and a half to lose faith in the inherent goodness of God’s Creation.

In the beginning, my 11-year-old son would exclaim, “There’s a raccoon outside my window!” and we’d rush into his bedroom to admire it through the glass, as if our home was some kind of utopic private zoo. The trapper would lift a raccoon from our attic, and we’d coo like new parents, guessing its height and weight and counting the rings on its tail. We had every confidence that we’d effortlessly solve the problem.

But raccoons aren’t as stupid as humans; they learn from their mistakes. Once they’ve been trapped, they won’t be lured in by the tastiest treats: not carrots, marshmallows, cookies, sardines, tuna, doughnuts or the fries we made a special fast-food run to purchase.

Raccoons are truly merciless. I’ve exhausted all tactics. I negotiated: “I’ll give you the shed if you give back my attic.” I sympathized: “The big-box stores destroyed your habitat two blocks away, but I had nothing to do with it. It’s Walmart you want.” I threatened: “Come back and I’ll blow your brains out.”

A raccoon fight two metres above my head at 2 a.m. sent me over the edge. The gloves were off.

I studied raccoon-speak, deciphering about a dozen of their 51 vocalizations the way some people learn bird calls. I slept with a broom beside my bed, jumping up in the wee hours to pound the ceiling beneath their feet — picture a midnight version of Whac-A-Mole. I begged my husband to get a gun, offering to pull an all-nighter in the attic, like Granny Moses of The Beverly Hillbillies, rifle at the ready. He starts to lecture. “Don’t go there, you insufferable pacifist,” I snarl. Raccoons are hard on a marriage.

We wired a radio in the attic and blasted it till our ears hurt. When the raccoons returned, we upped the ante: talk radio and bleach-soaked rags. We thought it did the trick.

When they came back, we dumped so many mothballs in the attic that our eyes watered when we walked into the house. To mask the mothball smell, we spent a fortune on plug-in air fresheners — one for every room. A couple of weeks later, I was asked to leave a seniors’ residence. “It’s very strong, dear,” the activities director told me. “I’m not wearing any perfume,” I replied. Then it hit me: Eau de Mothball et Air Freshener. Picking mothballs out of loose insulation in a pitch-black, 32 C attic is not fun.

We took extreme preventive measures and bought wolf urine. It’s easier to come by than you’d think and fairly cheap too. We dutifully drizzled it around the perimeter of our house. Friends joked that a bunch of old men got their jollies selling us their urine. Truthfully, I couldn’t have cared less whose pee it was so long as it worked. It didn’t.

We hired various people to block the offending hole in the roof. First we used wood, then wire, then barbed wire. Wood and wire are no match for the cunning, five-fingered raccoon, who can pick a pocket with two fingers and rotate its feet 180 degrees.

We pounded a quarter-inch-thick metal sheet into our shingles, spray-painting it to blend in. “They aren’t getting through that,” we bragged victoriously. Our celebrations were short-lived when we realized that we had accidentally trapped a raccoon inside the house. “Don’t worry,” said our most recently contracted raccoon expert. “It’ll go into the trap when it’s hungry. Just keep putting food in.”

There should have been an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not underestimate a raccoon.” After starving for four days, it clawed a new hole through our roof.

Now, my rac’dar is on high alert. I see the bloody things everywhere: on pencils, placemats and snow globes. When I turned the page of a high-end decorating magazine, a very expensive designer pillow with a raccoon portrait woven into it gave me such a start that I nearly fell off the toilet. Unbelievably, there was a taxidermy raccoon on auction at the Salvation Army store down the street. I bid $80 thinking I’d set it up in my garden — a rac’crow with a sign: “Get out or get stuffed!”

Sometimes I think I hear the raccoons even when they aren’t there. Last fall, a branch fell on the roof at 2 a.m. and I screeched onto the lawn in my jammies, water gun in hand (a friend told me she had successfully warded off raccoons by spraying them). That was the second time the neighbour across the street caught me cursing at the roof in the middle of the night. This time, there was no raccoon. And I was holding a Super Soaker. (I’ve avoided him since. Continually meeting him in the dead of night has made me wonder if there isn’t something a bit off about him.)

The worst part of the story is that my Christian do-good instinct probably caused all of this. There is a social housing community a couple of blocks away, and the summer before last, I decided to turn over our front yard for vegetables. I had visions of gliding over to the community, my apron brimming with ripe juicy tomatoes and robust yellow potatoes, and their eyes glistening with thanksgiving. In hindsight, the first raccoon I saw on my property was sitting in my garden eating a string bean.

As I write, contractors are removing all the insulation from the attic, the damaged drywall and the chewed wires. They came into my house wearing white hazmat suits. They have to take precautions. Microscopic organisms in raccoon feces can cause blindness — a hard-wired biological weapon, irrefutable proof of evil.

I hope the treachery ends here, but I’m realistic. There’s a reason raccoons come with a built-in mask: it’s a warning from the cosmos.

“I believe all animals have a purpose, Mom,” says my eight-year-old. “Not the ones that invade our house,” I fire back. “God put them here,” says my pint-sized animal rights activist.

I seriously doubt it. I bet they snuck their way onto the ark. Either that or they offed some unsuspecting, now-extinct species. I wouldn’t put it past them. All animals belong in God’s Creation. But not raccoons. They’re the devil.

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a writer in Ottawa.

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