My dogs got me up at 3:00 this morning to tell me that the raccoon we have visiting the backyard was back. I stumbled downstairs in a waking-up-from-deep-sleep daze to let them out. I always turn the light on before I let them out, to give the raccoon fair warning that it is time to move on. But this time, when I flipped on the lights, there were four sets of eyes reflected back at me — a mama raccoon and three babies, or kits.
The lights were on, but the raccoons weren’t moving. The bird feeders were too much of an enticement. I banged on the window to tell them that we were here, and we were getting impatient. Mama raccoon finally began to amble over towards the fence. Her kits followed, darting here and there to investigate the yard as only curious youngsters can.
Finally, though, all four were perched on the top rail of the fence. I knew that they would jump into the next yard as soon as I let the dogs out, so I opened the door.
The dogs raced out to defend their territory. To my horror and confusion, though, mama raccoon launched herself back into our yard. The kits followed. Now the backyard was seething with six snarling snapping animals. I watched, helpless to do anything.
My corgi, Darwin, was the first to throw in the towel. He came back inside, casting resentful looks over his shoulder. Mom! Those guys didn’t play nice! They hurt me!
As I shooed Dawin back inside, I discovered why mama raccoon had come back and started a fight: clinging to one of the screen doors around the sun room was a fourth kit. Mama came back to protect her young.
This information didn’t immediately help, but it crystallized for me what had to happen next — I needed to break up the fight and get my 12-year-old Chow-Golden Retriever mix, Kurama, under control so that I could drag her back inside. The problem, of course, remained how. There was no way that I was going anywhere near those flashing teeth. I had just decided to get the hose out when I heard a yelp from mama raccoon, and she shot back over the fence. I think she finally got hurt. I grabbed Kurama, who had been having a great time and didn’t want to stop playing with the raccoons, dragged her back inside, and closed the door. As soon as we were inside, the last kit shot over the fence to mama. The whole fight probably lasted two to three minutes.
I cleaned up the dogs, both of whom were covered in slobber, and Darwin had a cut on his muzzle. Then I went to bed.
This morning, I gave both dogs baths and took them to the vet. He said a number of interesting things.
First of all, Darwin’s cut was minimal and didn’t need stitches. He was far more concerned with Kurama, who like most elderly who over-do it, was really stiff and sore this morning. She hurt.
Next he said that I was very clever to wash the dogs. Not only did it minimize the transmission of any saliva-borne diseases and fleas, it allowed me to check them over for cuts better. Thankfully, there were none besides Darwin’s lip. He also said that washing out the wound with plain water or saline solution (he recommended contact-lens solution) is now considered the best way to deal with cuts. Back in the day, we had been told to disinfect with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, but they have discovered that those two liquids kill the white blood cells that flood the area around the cut, taking away a secondary line of defense. Saline doesn’t do that.
Other than recommending extra arthritis pain pills for Kurama, he didn’t do anything more. If the dogs hadn’t been up on their vaccinations, he would have vaccinated them for rabies and leptospirosis, a bacteria that is common in my neighborhood, although not necessarily everywhere in the Denver metro area. But they were good.
Finally, he said that the dogs had been lucky. Raccoons have teeth as long as a dog’s and as sharp as a cat’s. One small cut was nothing. He agreed with me that, although it sounded and looked terrible, the fight was mostly just a way to get the dogs to back off so the kit could rejoin it’s family.
As a precaution, we are now taking down our bird-feeders every night. This is a major undertaking, but we would really like to discourage the raccoons from making us a regular stop.