All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Can I keep a Raccoon as a Pet?



Dear Marie,
There are a lot of raccoons in the condo complex where I live. A lot of people put food out for them and they seem pretty healthy and playful. Some of them are even pretty tame, to the point of letting people pet them. Last night I found a baby raccoon in the common area. I didn’t see his family around so I worried he got separated from them somehow and would be in danger. I brought him home and have been feeding him canned cat food. He seems to really like it but I need to know what else to give him so that he has a balanced, healthy diet. Also, do raccoons need vaccinations like dogs and cats? And how long do they live? Can they be litter box trained? Are they good with kids? I can use all the advice I can get.
Thanks.
Sandra,

Dear Sandra,
I've had to rewrite my response to you about 15 times because each time I reread what I've written, I realize I am sounding pretty harsh, and you are obviously a very compassionate person who doesn't deserve that kind of reaction.

First, let me say that it was very sweet, but very inappropriate to bring this kit into your home. Chances were that his mom and family were close by; but living in the type of environment that you describe, mom was probably a little more lax in her watchfulness than she should have been.Tonight, take him back to the spot where you found him; it’s probably not too late. His family will be out and about after dark and will most likely find him again.

It is completely illegal to keep a raccoon as a pet and for very good reasons. I won’t go into the potential health risks you may encounter because that would take up my entire column space. Instead, let me explain what you would be in for if you choose to keep this kit.

As tiny babies, like most wild animal babies, raccoons are absolutely adorable. In fact, the little guy you found will love you like his own mom. He’ll curl up and sleep with you. He’ll play with you and act as if you were the very sunshine of his life. You’ll think he is the most wonderful pet you've ever had…until he reaches about 3-4 months of age.

At this point, he will begin to discover the joy of making holes in drywall, finding and eating all of your stored food, stealing and hiding keys, remotes, makeup, money, credit cards, jewelry, and anything else that’s precious to you. (They don’t wear robber’s masks full-time for nothing!)

What he doesn't hide, he’ll decide to wash, and generally, the toilet is a good place for that. Closing the lid won’t solve this problem. Raccoons are strong and coordinated and can pop a toilet lid open in about two seconds. Of course, once he starts washing his treasures, he’ll discover that he’s not interested in some of them and they will quickly accumulate—unbeknownst to you—and clog up your pipes, resulting in some hefty repair bills.

If you think your things are safe behind baby-proofed cabinets and drawers, think again. Human babies don’t have chainsaw teeth that can make body-sized holes in your cabinet doors. You’ll soon notice that anything with electrical wires in your home becomes nonfunctional. For an adolescent raccoon, wires are a lot of fun to chew or collect. Refrigerators, computers, TVs, stereos…you don’t really need these things anyway. Right?

Some people decide that this is the age when a pet raccoon gets to live the remainder of its life in a cage. Aside from being cruel and inhumane, this really makes raccoons mad. When it comes time to clean the cage and feed and water your pet, be prepared to be slashed and bitten on a regular basis. And once your little kit reaches sexual maturity and senses there are beautiful female raccoons around that he can’t get to, all bets are off. He won’t love you anymore. He won’t even like you. He’ll despise you with a passion—and given the first opportunity, he will inflict some pretty serious injuries.

I completely understand how you feel. You want to protect this innocent creature. But he’s a wild animal, in spite of living a relatively tame existence in your condo complex. Let him stay wild. Enjoy him from a distance.

It sounds like there is plenty of food available to him courtesy of your wildlife-friendly neighborhood, and if he was old enough to be out exploring, even if he doesn't find his mom and family, he’ll be fine on his own. So please do the right thing and put him back tonight.

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