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Phynix Blog

Country Conundrum

Heather Neufeldt

So we have lived on our ‘farm’ for the last nine months now. And I have to say moving from a city of 25 million in China to a small rural area in Minnesota has been… challenging.  We brought two dogs with us (brother and sister) that are completely lovable mutts. So one of the first things that we decided to do was to install an invisible fence.  They have had run-ins with lots of nature since we moved but recently I have had a giant moral dilemma: baby raccoons. 

Normally the raccoons around here don’t come out during the day and if they do they are sick or injured. That’s an easy answer – put the poor thing out of its misery.  But in this case it’s two incredibly cute baby raccoons: about he size of a small kitten. First off, I should tell you that our house in China was a safe haven for all manner of animals. We saved kittens, injured birds, lost chipmunks and fish. Yup – the kittens were easy enough we put food and water out on our patio for them and when the mama disappeared we brought them in and bottle fed them. When Mama came back the kittens went back out to her. The feral cats in our compound seemed to love our back patio and sort of made it their birthing area, we hosted about six rounds of kittens.  My hubby thought that their use of our patio was my fault after having fed and nurtured the first batch of kittens.  Ok, ok, but nature was hard to come by in China and it was really nice to see baby animals so close. Well, except for our dog, the kittens drove our dog (a barker) completely nuts.  More than once I thought he’d have a stroke from all the barking. But I digress; the feral cats in our apartment compound had attacked the birds we saved. There ended up being two in total. I was kind of guilted into saving the birds since I was the one sort of taking care of the cats. So we just brought them inside fed them and let them heal.  Then, of course, released them back into the ‘wild’ hopefully to stay away from the cats. Chipmunk was a bit of a strange case; he followed my youngest daughter into our apartment.  He was just a baby so I scooped him up put him in a shoebox and got him some milk. There was great debate in the house as to whether or not the chipmunk could be kept as a pet.  My youngest assured me that really that was the only humane way to handle the situation. Whilst my husband went crazy after looking up all the diseases that they carry.  So the chipmunk as a pet thing didn’t really pan out; incidentally that’s how we ended up with our first guinea pig. We also had a pet cricket; but that’s a story for another day.  At any rate, it turned out that his family was living in a tree behind a friend’s apartment three buildings down. So out we went with the box and let his family find him again – job well done.  The fish, well, we had a pond in the central area of the compound and the management had put coy carp in it.  Turns out feral cats and large birds LOVE coy carp and not in a ‘wow they are so soothing to watch’ kind of way. So they were always running or flying away with the fish. This was a more difficult situation; so I put the kids in the compound onto it. We used my daughter’s nerf gun arsenal to shoot at the birds and cats.  This may sound cruel but I promise you it’s much much better than what the management was doing (ie killing anything that went near the pond). So there it is the history of our little animal hospital in China. And as a side note, the locals thought that I was completely insane and I’m pretty sure my husband did too (at least a couple of times).

The baby raccoons are a new predicament. My initial instinct would be to rescue them. Imagine a couple of dogs playing alongside two completely domesticated raccoons. Ah the fun we’d have, we would all laugh at the little monsters getting into the trash and recycling.  They’d run around the yard playing in the trees and be there to cuddle the children after school.  At least that’s how I’d imagine things. My husband on the other hand has a more apocalyptic view of the situation.  Poop and trash all over the house, several trips to the ER for random bites and scratches, and patches of raccoon and doggie fur along with constant growling and crying.  I have to admit that he MAY have been correct in predicting disaster a time or two in the past.  So this situation is clearly fraught.  The kids are desperate to get in there and save them. They lean more in the direction of my blissful delusions.  As for the dogs, well it’s been interesting.  I’ve definitely learned which dog will push the boundaries.  See they know where the invisible fence is and they know that if they cross it they will get zapped.  For the last week every time they spotted one of the baby raccoons they would start simultaneously barking, running to every window and jumping at the door.  I mostly go ahead and let them out.  That’s because I know that the baby raccoons know just how far the dogs can get and they stay well out of their range while still being in our yard.  This usually results in both dogs barking like mad and then MeiMei (our female) running into the fence range yelping jumping back and running in again.  Watching her you would think that she honestly believes that if she does this enough the fence will open and she will finally get her prey.  Nope just running, jumping, zapping, yelping, barking and backing up to try it all again.  DiDi our male dog had absolutely no interest in pursuing the raccoons. He barks but keeps well away from the edge of the fence. When MeiMei gets zapped for the first time he seems to bark in solidarity: “you tell ‘em MeiMei.”  But as time goes on he gets tired of watching his sister get zapped; so he comes up to the front porch and lays down. 

This is the difficult part. What the heck do I do? We live in the country now and in the country (well, to be honest, pretty much anywhere) raccoons aren’t welcome.  I can’t bear to see the babies become road kill or to find them starved to death at the end of my driveway.  I asked my husband if maybe a zoo or animal sanctuary would want them. His response: uninterrupted laughter.  Ok, perhaps that’s a bit over optimistic.  Maybe a circus could take them and train them like monkeys?  Maybe there is a crazy old raccoon lady (aside from myself) who has raccoons instead of cats?  What about using them to kill rats on a local farm (ok they may stray and eat a few chickens but we eat chicken so who could blame them)?  Every time I see them I want to jump out of my car or run down the driveway and scoop them up for a cuddle.  So far I have resisted the urge but I don’t know how long I’ll last.  For now I’m just going to pray and fantasize about a kindly raccoon mama coming along and adopting them.  Then they’ll move into a little burrow in the woods and live happily ever after.  And if I don’t see them again:  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAS HAPPENED!  I may live in the country and not the city but I have not lost the ability to completely delude myself.  That’s a talent that I seem to bring with me everywhere.