In 2004 I had raccoon troubles. I wrote about them in a series of stories. Mind you, I didn’t put a lot of effort into these, so I have no idea if they proceed in logical ways or how the writing sounds. I have not read them again and won’t, lest I get sucked into editing them.
Someone requested them to be reprinted. So I’m doing that. Here you go:
I am currently engaged in an epic struggle with a raccoon, and I am determined to emerge from this fight as the victor.
The nature of the conflict is simple enough. The raccoon thinks my chimney is its home. I, on the other hand, am determined to evict this little S.O.B. as soon as possible.
It all began a few weeks ago when we noticed sounds in our bedroom wall. I assumed we had a rat in the attic and contacted a pest control expert in our town, who also happens to be a fascinating person in his own right. But that’s another story.
Anyway, L. advised me to check the exterior of the home for openings and put poison in the attic. I know that many of you are going to write and tell me that poisoning is no good because the rats die in the wall. I know about that, but L. assured me that the only way to be rid of a rat infestation is to close up the house and kill them all. “Trapping is an endless task,” he said. “You end up harvesting the dumb ones. Hopefully they will die in the attic. If they die in the wall, they just die in the wall. It will smell bad for two weeks and then you’re done.”
L. sealed up all the weep holes in the masonry and inspected the house. It’s a tight house so there really weren’t many ways in. Then he dropped the poison in the attic, and we were done.
After L. left, I went up on the roof to inspect the area around my chimney. A lot of the noises were coming from the wall around the chimney, so I thought I’d just see what I could see. Most chimneys around here are made of metal and covered with a wooden skin that sits about 6-inches away from the metal. There’s a lot of wall space between the outer skin and the actual chimney, especially down at the bottom.
I found a football-sized hole on the back of the chimney, right where the wooden skin meets the shingles.
“That ain’t no rat hole,” I said.
I was right. That evening my wife and daughters saw the raccoon on the roof just before he disappeared into the hole. They said he was adorable.
Yeah, well he’s not so adorable three days later.
The first night
On the advice of L., I waited until after midnight, when this little guy was out foraging, then I sealed up his hole by nailing short lengths of boards over it. The plan was that he would come back to his hole, find it sealed and move on to some other, more convenient, location.
About 4:30 am, I was awakened by what sounded like a grown man pounding on my chimney. The sheer force and rage behind this sound was unbelievable and frightening. I heard wood splitting and then the unmistakable sound of a large animal crawling down the inside of my bedroom wall.
I went up to the roof when the sun came up and found that the cute little raccoon had ripped the boards off the hole with his cute little raccoon paws. It was like The Incredible Hulk had been on my roof.
Boards were gnawed and split and laying all over the place. My irritation and respect doubled in an instant.
The second night and the first part of the third night.
I arose again after midnight and resealed the hole. This time I used my drill and anchored the boards with 3-inch woodscrews. I liked the way it felt when the drill drove them home.
“Take that, you little bastard,” I said, chuckling. My wife asked if I had taken care of it.
“Absolutely,” I said. “When he comes back after foraging tonight, he’s going to find that he’s no longer welcome.”
We heard nothing more that night or during the next day, and I thought the matter was solved until about 9 pm on the third night. Suddenly the chimney exploded with the now familiar sound of raccoon violence.
I rushed to the roof and found that the boards held, but I had sealed him IN the chimney. This lazy-ass raccoon had taken a night off and slept in.
Cursing, I got my drill, took the boards off, and ran for my life. You see, everything I know about wild animals I learned from “The Simpsons.” And what I know is that every time Homer gets close to a raccoon, he ends up with a snarling ball of fur on his head. This raccoon sounded mad as hell, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near that opening when he came out.
I hid on the other side of the pitch of the roof. After about 15 minutes, he came out, looked around a bit, then shimmied neatly down a tree and went out for his usual night on the town. Snickering, I slipped over to the hole and screwed the boards back on. Tight. Real tight. I screwed another board across all the others, just to make sure.
“I got you, you sonuvabitch. I know you’re out, and you can’t get back in. Time to find a new place to live.”
Coming next: The unbelievable nightmare of the third night and what the “Wild Animal Rescue” people told me.
Okay, I’m back. We’ve been through nights three, four, and five of what we are now calling, “The Great Raccoon Incident of 2004.”
Let’s recap, shall we?
As I described in the first part of this story, we discovered that a raccoon had taken up residence in one of our chimneys. This chimney is a rectangular wooden covering over a round metal exhaust pipe. I have now discovered that about half of this chimney is empty space, presumably to keep the exhaust pipe away from the wood.
We consulted L., an expert, who told us to wait until the raccoon was out foraging at night, then shut him out by sealing the opening. The idea was that the raccoon would simply find another den. The first night I did a poor job of sealing the hole, assuming that planks nailed over it would be enough. The second night I secured the hole well enough, but accidentally sealed the raccoon inside the chimney, which I did not discover until about 9 pm on the third night when I had to let him out.
Our story continues. The third night.
I came inside about 9:30 pm on the third night, very confident that I had solved the problem. I had seen the raccoon leave the chimney before I sealed it by screwing boards over the opening. I went to bed that night feeling sure there was no way this raccoon could pull these boards off. I felt certain of this.
Pretty certain. I HAD been impressed with this raccoon’s surprising strength and determination.
About 2:30 am I awoke to the sound of the raccoon scratching around the roof over our bedroom. I smiled to myself and listened to his efforts. “Sorry buddy, time for you to move on.”
But he didn’t move on. The scratching got louder and more persistent. I sat up in bed. I heard something splinter and the sound of gnawing. “What is he doing?” I wondered if he had found a loose board on another part of the chimney. Then I wondered what would happen if he started ripping up the shingles.
One thing was for sure, he was tearing up something.
Furious, I got dressed and went outside. I had left my ladder by the roof, so I went up and shined my flashlight on the chimney, startling the raccoon who took off running. I ran after him, shouting and waving the flashlight. “Get outa here! Go on, GET!” The raccoon leapt off the roof like a base jumper, landing in a small tree that swayed dangerously with his weight. I heard claws scratching on bark and got a glimpse of a dark shape moving silently across the lawn.
This raccoon went from the chimney on the backside of my roof to the yard across the street in about ten seconds. It was an amazing thing to see, and once again I was impressed by this little creature.
I stood on my roof watching him disappear into the darkness.
“Damn, the little sonuvabitch is quick, I’ll give him that. Oh well, maybe that scared him off.”
I went to bed, but was wide awake. That didn’t really matter though, because at 3:00 am I heard him again, ripping at the chimney. I went up the ladder again, only this time I got there just in time to see him disappear into a different tree. I didn’t even have time to yell at him.
He was learning. Sadly, I was not.
Now at this point in the story I am presented with a quandary. I take my storytelling seriously, so I want to think carefully about how I should proceed. Should I continue with a straight narrative and describe my further trips to the roof at 3:45, 4:15, 5:00, and 5:45? That wouldn’t be bad, but it might be a bit tedious.
Or should I present you with a montage of images? Images to delight and amaze you. For you see, I became obsessed with the raccoon. Knowing that sleep was impossible, I gave myself body and soul to guarding my homestead from this raccoon and preventing him from doing further damage to our roof and chimney.
Call me not Ishmael, but rather Ahab, standing firm on the deck of my suburban ship, eyes ever watchful for the appearance of my great nemesis.
I say we go with the montage. No need to labor over tedious details.
Picture if you will, an insane man, a crazed and silly man, running all over his roof in the wee hours of the morning. Can you see him with his flashlight and a wild look in his eyes?
Can you imagine him hiding over the pitch of the roof, wanting to surprise the raccoon? Can you see him getting bored and laying down, banging the back of his head on the shingles? Of course the raccoon comes when has just about fallen asleep. Startled awake, he drops the flashlight and makes so much noise that the raccoon is long gone by the time he gets to the chimney?
Can you see him?
Can you see him crouching behind one chimney, carefully watching the other chimney, swearing that he won’t fall asleep this time? Can you see the raccoon coming up a Juniper tree on the other side of the house, creeping up behind the man, but not seeing him? Can you see the man hear a scratch and turn around to find himself facing a huge raccoon, startling the both of them so that they ran in opposite directions.
Can you see this man keeping his lonely vigil until daybreak, protecting his home and family at all costs. And finally, with the coming of the sun, can you see them each retiring from this epic struggle, the raccoon disappearing to find shelter from the sun and the man, exhausted, going inside to get his children ready for school?
Can you see it? Can you see the insanity? I see it now, but on that night I saw nothing but the raccoon and my chimney. I was living in a more primitive state, where reason and sanity meant nothing to me.
Okay, montage over. Back to the narrative.
That morning I kept listening for the raccoon as I got my kids ready for school. I heard nothing. I felt it was likely that the raccoon had gone somewhere to hide during the day, but would probably be back the next night. I wondered how many nights he would keep this up before he finally gave up and admitted that he no longer lives in my chimney.
I went to the church at 9:00 am, returning to the house at 3:00 pm to meet my two youngest daughters when they got home from school. I went up on the roof to make sure that everything was okay.
To my horror, I found that the raccoon had come back in broad daylight – very unusual for a nocturnal creature – and chewed a brand new hole in the side of my chimney. Unable to budge the boards I attached so firmly to his first hole, this little animal ate his way right through the chimney wall and was back in his “den,” snug and secure.
I stared at the hole for at least five minutes without thinking or feeling anything. I wasn’t angry. I gave up. It was time to get help. I looked through our yellow pages and found an organization called, “Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Inc.”
I gave them a call and talked at length to a woman named Amanda. She knew exactly what the problem was.
“Your friend L., was right in normal circumstances. Usually if you seal up a raccoon’s hole, he’ll just move on to another place. In your case, however, you’re dealing with a mother raccoon, and her babies are in your chimney. I’ll stake my reputation on it. It’s the only reasonable explanation for how determined she is to get back in. Raccoons are ferocious mothers. They will stop at nothing to get their babies. She will tear your house to pieces if that’s what she has to do.”
“What do we do?”
“Well, what is normally the right thing to do is now the wrong thing to do. If you keep stopping up her holes, she’ll keep making new ones. Quit trying to force her to leave. You’ll never win that battle. Instead, we’re going to convince her to leave. And I know how to do it.”
Coming Next: We try a new tactic, and I make peace with the raccoon.
The Fourth Night
From the very beginning, the main problem with the raccoon was the noise. It’s impossible to sleep when a large animal is living inside your bedroom wall, bumping, chewing, scratching, and, in this case, having babies. Raccoons being nocturnal, I was being awakened at all times of the night by this critter.
In fact, I want to claim that sleep deprivation had something to do with the crazed night on the roof that I described in part two. My wife doesn’t buy that, but perhaps you will.
What I’m trying to say is this raccoon had been a thorn in my side for a solid week. So I was very happy to hear what the Wildlife Rescue woman had to say.
“You can’t force her out, but you can convince her to leave by making your chimney a very unpleasant place for her to live. Raccoons frequently move their young to another den if they don’t feel safe.”
This idea was beginning to interest me.
“What I want you to do is get a couple of sheets and tie them together. Soak the whole thing in ammonia and dangle it down the chimney. Raccoons HATE the smell of ammonia. Then I want you to get a radio, put it in your fireplace, and blast her with loud, irritating music all day long while she’s trying to sleep. You could also toss in some mothballs and dangle a flashlight in there. They like their dens to be dark.”
“Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me to irritate the hell out of this raccoon when she’s trying to sleep?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Raccoons like a quiet, peaceful den. I want you to make your chimney the last place on the earth she would want to be.”
“Hopefully, after a few days, she’ll decide this den isn’t what she wants, and she’ll move the babies to another location. After she’s gone, you can seal up the holes. She won’t come back. She won’t be motivated to go to this much trouble to get in your chimney when she doesn’t have babies.”
“How long will this take?”
“Well, it’s not a sure thing. It might take 3 or 4 days before she finally leaves. If the babies are very young, she won’t be able to move them right away. The good news is, raccoons always vacate the den with their babies after two or three weeks anyway. So even if this doesn’t work, she’ll be gone pretty soon. Seal up the hole with paper. When the paper remains undisturbed for 4 or 5 days in a row, you’ll know they’re gone.”
This changed everything. First, I wasn’t as irritated at the raccoon since I found out she had babies.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted her out, but at least I’m wasn’t talking about buying a rifle.
And it was going to be my turn to make HER life a living hell. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I ripped a sheet in half and made a long rope out of it, like the kind of thing they use in the movies to escape from prisons. I soaked the whole thing in ammonia and lowered it down the hollow space in the wooden chimney, just like she told me to. I tied the top end to a large stick to prevent it from falling down the hole.
Then I borrowed my oldest daughter’s jam box and considered what music would be most appropriate. Being from Texas, I thought a little ZZ Top might be just the thing, so I put “La Grange” on and cranked it up till the chimney was shaking.
Then I set the radio for our local classic rock station. When I left that morning the raccoon family was getting a heavy dose of “The Who.”
That night I heard momma raccoon creeping down the chimney after a long night of foraging. But something was different. It didn’t bother me that much. I just smiled and went back to sleep.
The next day I decided to take it up a notch, so I turned the station to “K-Milk,” or whatever they call the local contemporary Christian music station.
“All sweet, all Jesus, all the time.”
I could hardly stay in the room myself. I figured the raccoon would be gone by noon. Let me give you a hint. If it has the word “Christian” in it, it probably sucks.
Christian music – Christian t-shirts – Christian theme parks – Christian movies – Christian fiction.
With very few exceptions, I hate all that crap.
The Present Situation
So here’s where we stand. The raccoon is still there as of tonight. I taped paper over her hole, and when I checked it this evening, it was broken. So I’m going to keep the ammonia and the Jesus music going strong. I dumped an entire box of mothballs in there today, and tomorrow I’m going to dangle a flashlight in there with a rope.
But the funny thing is, after all this, I don’t care as much. I really don’t mind the raccoon being in there. The raccoon expert says she has to leave eventually to teach her young to hunt and fish, so I know she’ll be gone pretty soon.
But I would like her to remember that my chimney was the worst place she ever called home.
I’ll keep you posted.
Fox Urine and Rush Limbaugh
I couldn’t resist giving you the latest Raccoon news. First, the young raccoons are getting very feisty. They start making a chirpy, hissing kind of noise around 2:30 am. Mom comes in about 4:30 or 5:00. After that they calm down and stay quiet all day, except for occasional exceptions like yesterday morning when one of the young raccoons had a conniption about 8:30 am. It sounded like a fight. I thought, “Great, we’re getting sibling rivalry in the walls now.”
I called the Wildlife Rescue people again, and they had nothing helpful to say, which was irritating since I’ve been following their “mothballs and music” plan of action all along. What the woman said was something like, “Oh well, it really doesn’t work that often. They’ll probably leave on their own in a month or two anyway.”
“Doesn’t work that often?”
“PROBABLY leave in a month or two?”
The first time I spoke with them they didn’t say things like that. They sounded very sure of themselves. There’s nothing I hate more than people who sound like experts, but then start backpeddling and singing a different tune.
So yesterday I called these people who specialize in “critter problems,” as they call them. They said they would trap the mother and spray her with “predator scent” which, they admitted, is nothing more than fox urine.
I guess this means there’s a whole fox urine harvesting, packaging, and retailing industry. I did not know that.
Anyway, they would also spray the hole in the chimney with fox urine before releasing the mother back into the den. She then gets the smell all over the inside of her den, eventually becoming so frightened that she will abandon the den and move the cubs elsewhere.
Or so they say. I’m rapidly losing faith in wacko schemes involving music, mothballs, bed sheets, or urine.
The “critter problem” woman says this approach works about 50% of the time. If it doesn’t work, they wait until she is taking the cubs out at night and then trap them one at a time over a series of nights. It sometimes takes a week or so to get this done.
Total cost: About $500.
She made her big mistake by telling me everything they do. I have a humane trap. I’ve already caught an opossum and relocated it. I’m wondering why I can’t do all of this myself. Of course, I’ll need a bottle of fox urine. At this point, I’m at a loss for how one obtains such an unusual item.
By the way, I can promise you that Pepe is laughing his ass off at the very idea of me collecting urine and engaging in a complex trapping scheme. He’s loving every minute of this, I can promise you.
I haven’t given up all hope that the mothballs and music might be wearing her down. I must tell you that the smell of mothballs is overpowering in the chimney. It’s not bad in the house – very faint – but if you put your head near the raccoon hole in the chimney, yikes!
Today I decided to take the irritation factor up a notch. Talk radio. I blasted the raccoons with Rush Limbaugh. We’ll see what happens. From what I’ve read, there is still a chance she might leave just from the noise and mothballs. She may be waiting until the cubs are old enough to be moved.
I hope so. I would like to avoid getting involved with fox urine and the people who sell it.
I’ll keep you posted.
I hear they’re taking nominations for “The Strangest Blog Entry of 2004.” Anyone want to nominate me?
Ladies and Gentlemen, the raccoon ordeal is over, and I didn’t even have to buy any fox urine. On Friday I tuned the radio in our fireplace to Rush Limbaugh, and the raccoons were gone that very night.
Around sundown on Friday I put duct tape over the hole in my chimney so I could see if any raccoons entered or exited that night. There were no sounds in the wall on Friday night. Saturday morning I found the tape undisturbed. Saturday passed with nothing but blessed silence. Sunday morning was the same.
Nothing has been in our chimney since we played Limbaugh on Friday.
My best guess is that the mothballs and noise finally drove the mother raccoon away, just as we hoped. I think she must have been waiting until they were old enough to move them.
Facts are meaningless without interpretation, and I’m not going to interpret these facts for you, but I played Limbaugh on Friday, and the raccoons left immediately. Make of that what you will.
As for me, I’m going to enjoy a quiet night’s sleep. If the hole is still undisturbed on Monday morning, I will seal it with metal flashing material, and this saga will be over.
I’m sure Pepe is a little disappointed. He wanted to see me buying fox urine by the gallon and trapping raccoons on my roof. He even asked me if I thought preacher piss might be a more powerful deterrent. Here is his idea for the very first Real Live Preacher spin-off product.
Alas, it was not meant to be. I’ll not be marketing my piss as a raccoon deterrent.
And thanks to Rush Limbaugh, I don’t need no stinking fox urine.
Goodbye Mrs. Raccoon. Take care of the little ones!