Thursday, May 13, 2010

Raccoon Resurrection

It isn't every day that I get to take a baby raccoon to the animal ER.

I had just arrived for my volunteer shift at Greenwood Rehabilitation Center when the tech came in cradling a baby raccoon named Addie. She was in really bad shape, and she needed to go to the hospital immediately.

Yesterday was May 12, and it was snowing. Yes, snowing. (This could be another whole blog post, but I digress.) The animal hospital was 20 miles away in Boulder. I tucked Addie, who was wrapped in a hand towel, inside my jacket. Her body felt stiff, but she was still breathing. As I drove I could feel where her warmth met mine. Every once in a while she'd stir and trill weakly, but for the most part she was unnervingly still. So still, that at a stop light not far from the vet's office I was sure she had passed away.

"Never underestimate the will to live." An emergency room physician who is in my book group had made this point during our discussion earlier this week.

Addie may not have had much more than that going for her. By the time the vet took her temperature, it was 93 degrees, well below normal for a raccoon, and startling because she had been in an incubator all night long. Because she had been refusing food for the last couple of days, she was also severely dehydrated.

Before warming her, the vet gave her subcutaneous fluids. The entire time the needle was inserted in her ruff, she howled as only a baby raccoon can. Once we got her under the warming blanket, she spent most of the next ten minutes trying to escape, rooting and trilling. She was good to go.

On the way home, Addie wouldn't stay tucked inside my jacket. The last thing I needed was a sick baby raccoon crawling underneath one of the seats in the car, so I held her firmly against my heartbeat (what baby doesn't like that?) with one hand, and steered and shifted with the other. That was probably as unsafe as driving while cellphoning. (Note to self: Bring a carrier the next time I go to the animal ER.)

As I write this, I'm not sure if Addie made it. But with that kind of will to live, who knows? She may be one of those raccoon juvenile delinquents the center keeps on site until October, when they can be released to a wild food supply.

When I first told my husband Don I'd be feeding baby squirrels and raccoons, he snorted. "Why does the world need more squirrels? We've got too many of them in our back yard as it is."

Turns out he's far from alone in expressing squirro-cidal tendencies. When my friend Jo heard I was caring for raccoons, she shook her head in disgust. Raccoons are a scourge in the downtown Boulder neighborhood where she lives. They're like gangsters. "What? You don't like it when I eat your garbage and strew the rest on your lawn? What are you gonna do about it?"

I'm aware of how aggressive and destructive urban raccoons can be. But I don't think that means abandoned or orphaned litters of raccoons, squirrels, fox or bunnies should automatically be euthanized just because they may grow up to be nuisances. I wouldn't volunteer there if the center sorted animals by some arbitrary worthiness to live. There are all kinds of people who happen upon wildlife in a bad way and feel compelled to help. After all, a litter of newborn raccoons didn't ask to be abandoned in a chimney. You'd have to be the Grinch not to respond to the sound of baby raccoons crying for their mother.

I have a name for people who climb on the roof of a complete stranger's house to rescue live baby raccoons. Don and Jo might call them crazy. I call them Menschkins. Menschkins are the kind of people who drive around with the bumpersticker "God bless everyone. No exceptions." That goes for baby raccoons as well as people who come to eat at soup kitchens. And yes, even for those who have had bad experiences with raccoons and would rather see them all exterminated.

People who answer the cries of baby raccoons by calling wildlife rehabilitators are the hands of God, as surely as the rehabilitators themselves are. These are the same people who are at this very moment cleaning the oil from sea creatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

In case you think it was I who turned the nice turn of phrase about Menschkins being the hands of God, I'm here to tell you I totally ripped off the great St. Teresa of Avila. All props to her and her poem, "You Are Christ's Hands."

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which look out
Christ's compassion to the world.

Yours are the feet with which he is
to go about doing good.

Yours are the hands with which he is
to bless us now.

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