WELCOME TO DANTE'S NINTH LEVEL OF HELL
As I returned to the side of the house with a handful of black plastic bags for the dead raccoon, the DFW agent was perched down examining the animal on the ground and I noticed my dad had a concerned look on his face. I'd seen that same look on my dad's face many times before. It was a confusing look that seemed to say either, "I have some really bad news for you" or "We're not dealing with an expert here." As it turns out, the look on his face was actually saying both things to me.
"We might have a little problem," the agent said looking up at me as he showed me the belly of the raccoon. "This isn't a male racoon. It's a really big female raccoon and it's possible she was hiding in your roof because she was protecting some kits."
"Are you telling me what I think you are telling me?" I asked and then continued, "Did you just kill a raccoon and her babies are still hiding up in my roof?" This is horrible on so many levels. Didn't he notice any tiny raccoon eyes or baby raccoon noises? I thought to myself as I felt the pit in my stomach grow.
"I don't know yet," the agent snapped, "We'll have to go back on the roof and see if there are any kits hidden in that roof space."
Did you catch that? Did you notice what happened right there? Did you recognize how he suddenly pluralized the necessary investigation. The agent was departing from the solo job he was asked to perform and declaring that this was going to require a corporate solution. We were needing to go back on the roof.
"Follow me. Let's go," he said and started climbing back up the ladder.
I just looked at my dad and shook my head in disbelief. Things were suddenly much worse than I expected. Speechless, I followed "Six Shooter McGee" back to the roof.
I watched as he flattened himself again on the shingles and grabbed his flashlight and peered deeply into the space.
"Damn it. Damn it. Damn it," I could hear him say. He really didn't need to say anything else. I knew already that we were going to burn in hell for what this agent had done in the blink of an eye with his jittery trigger finger.
"How many are in there?," I asked, wiping the sweat from my head and feeling sick to my stomach.
He pulled himself back out of the hole and sat on the roof. "At least four of them by my count. Do you want to have a look and see if you count the same?"
I didn't really want to look. I felt that if I grabbed his flashlight, it committed me to even more involvement in this massacre. Suddenly, I was thinking in fast-forward motion. What about fingerprints? Will they be able to get my fingerprints off the flashlight? Wait a minute, I thought. This is a state agent. He is employed by a govenment agency. He is licensed to do this. What did I have to worry about? He's the one that assasinated a raccoon. I was just an innocent home owner asking for help. I grabbed his flashlight and peered down into the hole. Sure enough. Four sets of tiny raccoon eyes lit up in the dark roof space. Not knowing what this guy had planned, I realized that I should probably do everything I could to help save these little guys.
"What are you going to do?," I asked.
"Well, here is what WE are going to do. First, YOU are going to go down and get my snare pole for me and then WE will pull them out one at a time," he said.
The last time I checked, I was not wearing a uniform or a badge. I'm not sure why it was necessary for him to continue to emphasize what WE were going to do. The afternoon sun was clearly affecting this guy. But, to prevent the unnecessary extermination of any more baby raccoons, I decided that I would help this crazy agent with his dilemma and headed back down the ladder to get his pole.
GET A CRATE
"Do you have an animal carrier?," he shouted, as I started down the side of my house.
"What do you mean, do I have an animal carrier?" I responded with a confused look on my face.
"Well," he said with an annoyed voice. "We are going to need to put these into a carrier or a crate or a heavy box or something so you can transport them to the wildlife rescue center."
I'm sorry. What was that he just said? Did he just say "I" was going to transport them to the wildlife rescue center? Me? Why am "I" involved with their transport? How am "I" responsible for their rescue? I must have had a very confused look on my face when I was done talking, because he interrupted my blank stare abruptly.
"Chop! Chop! We need to hurry up and get this going. You are going to want to get to the wildlife center before it closes for the weekend." he said as he clapped his hands and pointed back down to his snare pole on the ground.
I climbed down the ladder and explained the situation to my dad. He mentioned under his breath that this agent might not be the "sharpest tool in the shed." Nevertheless, he told me that he did have an animal crate that would work and sent me back on the roof to give the agent his snare pole.
I headed back onto the roof.
My dad returned with the animal crate and brought it up on the roof along with several pairs of leather gloves to protect us from any bites or scratches. Then, one at a time, the agent lassoed and lifted the baby raccoons out of the roof. He handed the scared little animals to me and I put them in the animal crate.
Once he was done, we each took turns looking in the hole and making sure there were no more animals trapped in the rafters. I sealed off the hole with roof paper and plastic and then we grabbed the tools and each made our way down the ladder.
When we got back down to the ground, I immediately began questioning how this entire procedure was going to play out.
"Remind me again why are you not taking the raccoons to the wildlife rescue center?," I questioned the agent.
"I don't need to do that," the agent responded. "It's the end of the day and you can drive down there right now and drop them off. It's not that big of a deal."
"Yeah, I know," I said, "But isn't this part of your job to take the animals with you? Like the wild animal in the back of your truck? Isn't that what you are supposed to do?," I asked, trying to push on his authority or appeal to the regulations involved with his job. Simultaneoulsy, I realized that I really didn't know what his actual responsibilities included.
"Look, I still have to head east to release the one animal I already have trapped. I don't have a second carrier and I won't have time to release that animal and get these to the wildlife rescue center. If you don't do this, these raccoons are going to die in the wild without their mother. You will need to do this. The rescue center is less than 2 miles from here and you need to get going." He was very matter of fact and very convincing. It felt like I was being deputized into the local DFW. I decided it wasn't worth asking him again. He clearly didn't think this required his "expertise" and as the afternoon pushed on, I didn't want to miss my opportunity. Besides, how could my involvement get any worse, right?
IT GETS WORSE
"So, just to be really clear. All I need to do is take these raccoons to the wildlife rescue center down by the river, right?" I asked. "They are prepared for this kind of thing? They are used to people showing up at random times with wild animals like these raccoons? There is a system in place? There are professionals who will take these raccoons?"
The agent had picked up the dead raccoon and was beginning to double-bag it in the black plastic bags I had given him. I don't think he liked all my questions.
"What do I do if there is no one there?," I continued, "What do I do if the wildlife center is closed? Do I call you to come back for the baby raccoons?"
"Yes. This is a very normal procedure," he assured me as he began to duct tape the neck of the plastic bags holding the giant dead raccoon.
"Yeah, sure, sure, normal procedure," I thought to myself. "They do this all the time." I've heard that before.
The agent finished his taping and looked up and said, "Just to be safe, why don't you call them and make sure they are still open and then get your butt in gear and get down there."
That seemed like the safest route to take. So, after a quick number search, I called the Wildlife Rescue center and listened to the recording which said the center was going to close at 5pm. I had less than 30 minutes to make this all happen. I gathered my keys and gloves.
"One more thing," the agent said, as I reached for the animal carrier. "Don't tell them you killed the mother."
"Don't tell them I killed the mother?," I thought to myself, "Yeah. No problem pal! You killed the mother, not me." Like those words would ever leave my mouth.
"Uh. I didn't kill the mother," I reminded him. "Technically you were the one that shot the raccoon. You are the only one with a gun here. Besides, what difference does it make? You are a licensed agent. Even you said it was necessary to exterminate this one. Why will they care if you had to kill the mother."
The agent chuckled. "Yeah, but the people at the rescue center are a little different. They won't see it that way. They don't like me or what I have to do. So, like I said, just don't tell them you killed their mother."
"I didn't kill the mother," I clarified again.
"Well you know what I mean," the agent said. "Just tell them you heard these raccoons crying in the chimney and found them alone and you were worried your dog would eat them or something like that...so you brought them down to be rescued at the center...make up a story. Just don't tell them you shot the mother."
This guy was as dumb as a bag of hammers. No matter how many times I clarified that he held the smoking gun that killed the raccoon, he still tried to implicate me in the murder. I asked if he was going to give me a copy of his report, because I wanted to make sure he didn't blame me for shooting the raccoon. He told me that it would take a few minutes to fill out and since time was running out, I decided to leave. He promised to leave a copy with my dad.
TO LIE OR NOT TO LIE
The rescue center was located adjacent to our local river access point. Fishermen, boaters and picnickers drive by this place daily on their way to the river. I assumed the staff would be excited to have a visitor actually stop in for once. I pulled into the gravel driveway and contemplated whether I should start by bringing the raccoons in with me or lead by telling the story first. I decided to bring the little critters along with me. As it turns out, I chose well.
The volunteers in the rescue center were exactly as I pictured them to be. They were clearly lovers of both rescue animals and the environment. Overall, they seemed like very kind-hearted people. As soon as the volunteers at the rescue facility saw the carrier, they asked,"Well, what do we have here?"
"I have a family of raccoons," I told them and quickly handed the animal carrier to the closest volunteer, while all thinking to myself over and over: Keep it simple. Don't share any more information than necessary,
"These are cute little guys," said the young woman as she reached in the carrier and began pulling out the baby raccoons. "Where did you find them?" she asked as she got a small bottle of milk.
I could feel the noose tightening around my neck. Keep it simple. Keep the story straight. I was worried that I'd say the wrong thing. "Funny enough, I found them in the roof of my house," I told her (choosing to omit the part about the chimney, the DFW agent, and the dead raccoon mother).
"That sounds like a story. How did they get in the roof of your house?" she asked with a puzzled look on her face that seemed to accuse me as a liar. She followed up with, "These animals are still babies. They are too young to crawl up on a roof."
I thought back to the murderous field agent I left back at my home. This is exactly why I didn't want to get involved. I am a horrible liar and I knew I would implicate myself with this stupid story.
"Well, it's actually a long story," I said and then proceeded to share my adventures from the week that involved house painting, power washing, chimney destruction and then chimney repair and animal rescue. I chose to leave out any discussion of the mother raccoon and the gun slinging agent. I hoped they would be satisfied and stop asking questions.
"Did you happen to see their mother? She wouldn't be too far away." she asked.
See. This is just what I didn't need. Tricky questions.
"No, I don't know where the mother has gone," I said, technically telling the truth.
Then, as she started returning the baby raccons back into the animal carrier, she said, "Well, we would recommend putting these babies back where you found them and letting the mother raccoon return, so she can take care of them and protect them."
Picturing myself driving back home with the raccoons, I had to think fast. How could I tell the truth and still accomplish my intended goal.
"Well that's not going to work out," I assured her as I pulled the raccoons back out of the carrier and placed them on the table. "You see, I already sealed up the hole in my roof." Yes, I realize it was only a paper seal, but she didn't need to know that.
"If I bring them back to my house, I will have to let them loose in the garden, but I don't think my dogs or my cats will take kindly to a roaming pack of small animals. They are going to think I brought them snacks." I began corralling each of the baby raccoons on the table in front of me. "We wouldn't want anything to happen to them. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye open for their mother," I suggested.
The volunteers looked at each other. I waited and hoped the deal would be done and there would be no more questions.
PLAYING POLITICS TO SOLVE A PROBLEM
Instead, they chose to tighten the noose a little more. "It might be helpful if we came out to your property and helped you search for the mother raccoon," one of them suggested. "We have done this before and we might be able to find where she is hiding."
All I could picture was the image of my chimney and the blood on the side of the house. What if they showed up and the DFW agent was still there? What if they saw the bagged carcass of the raccoon? What if my dad or kids got involved? There were too many variables to this story for me to contain. At the same time, I was feeling more and more personal guilt over the whole situation.
Think fast, Fletch.
Then in a stroke of brilliance it came to me.
I suggested the following: "You know what? I guess I misunderstood what you did here at the wildlife rescue center," and began slowly returning the raccoons back into my carrier. "I thought this was a drop off location. If it's easier on everyone, I'd be happy to personally help out with the rescue. I can just take these little guys back out to my property and see if their momma comes back to find them. I'll be able to keep my animals away and as long as the owls and hawks don't get involved, it should work out just fine."
I paused for effect.
"Then, if the momma raccoon doesn't show up in a day or so, I'll just bring them back down here. But if it's the weekend and you are closed, I guess I can call the Department of Fish and Wildlife. I'm sure they would help and pick them up for me. How does that sound?," I closed up the animal carrier and prepared to head out and waited to see if they would take the bait.
The volunteers glanced at each other quickly and it was clear to me that I had chosen the right tactic. "No. No. No. That's not necessary," she said as she reached for the animal carrier. "It's getting late. We will just keep them here for you. We have the food and milk they need. You do your best to look for the mother. If you spot her, we can set a trap. But, whatever you do, do not contact the department of fish and wildlife. They don't get involved in rescue. You call us if you are having anymore issues or need help. We can come out directly to help."
Politics to the rescue! It was a brilliant technique. Slightly sneaky, but brilliant. There is no way these volunteers would let me leave knowing that I might call the DFW and ask for help.
We quickly unloaded the raccoons and the volunteers began feeding them bottles of milk. I packed up my crate, filled out a comment card and wished them luck as I headed toward the door. At the last moment, I reached into my wallet and grabbed some cash and put it in the donation jar. It was the least I could do to appease my guilt and help out these volunteers.
By the time I got home, you could not even tell there had been a raccoon homicide. The agent, his truck, and all the evidence of the unfortunate event had been removed.
The chimney was eventually repaired, the house was eventually painted, and this chapter of the great raccoon massacre was brought to a close. I still receive a monthly email asking for donations to the wildlife rescue center and occasionally I'm coaxed and moved to donate by the picture of baby raccoons. Let me know if you ever my help with pest removal. I'm here for you.
Quietly making noise,