As the heat of the day began to soar, the kids and a few friends were enjoying an afternoon in the pool and I was wondering what a dead animal would smell like in the roof and rafters of my house.
Finally, near 2PM, the DFW Agent called me back. The first thing he asked over the phone was, "Is the animal still trapped in your chimney?"
"Yes," I said, wondering if he thought I tried to rescue it by myself, "I'm pretty sure he's still down there."
"He didn't want to use the ladder to climb out, huh?" The agent was referring to the makeshift ladder he encouraged me to build out of wood and chicken wire in an attempt to encourage the animal to climb out on his own.
I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had not even attempted his ladder idea, because first, I thought it was a stupid suggestion, and second, I was still doing everything I could to NOT BE INVOLVED in this entire project. So, I tried this response: "Uh no. He apparently isn't in the mood to leave the chimney space by climbing up a ladder to freedom." Then in order to quickly get this agent to commit to coming out to my house before the weekend started I said, "When do you think you will be here?"
"It will take me at least an hour or so to get there," he told me and with that, I lost any chance of avoiding the serious afternoon heat.
"It's only getting hotter," I said. Then, feeling the need to remind him of urgency, I added, "I really need to get this animal out of of my chimney today."
"Roger that, I'll be on location as soon as I tie up a few loose ends on my current project," and with that, he hung up the phone and I waited for my expert to arrive.
It was exactly 3:30 when I watched him pull into our driveway and his truck was everything I pictured. A forest green government truck with utility boxes mounted on the sides of the truck bed and a ladder roped on the top. It had several spot lights mounted to a bar over the truck cab and a tow winch on the front. On the doors were large government decals that said California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The driver door opened and out popped my expert/hero. Dark green pants, khaki shirt, and a wide brimmed hat. He was the exact picture of what I thought a DFW agent would look like, complete with a uniform that said: Stand back, I know exactly what I am doing. He scribbled some notes down on his clipboard as he began recording the details of this incident. This was official and I felt certain I had the right guy on the job. I did notice one small detail. Overall, he was extremely dirty and I remembered back to my earlier phone call with him where it sounded like he was in the midst of a struggle. I pictured him lassoing foxes or maybe even having to wrestle a mountain lion. Yup, this was clearly my guy. He was not afraid to get involved in animal rescue!
UP ON THE HOUSETOP
After a few quick introductions and details, the agent got to work immediately. I showed him the destroyed chimney and he climbed up on the roof. As he approached the hole, he turned on his flashlight and peered slowly down the massive rip in the side of the chimney and asked,"What did you do with the ladder?"
Busted! He was wondering where the makeshift ladder was that he had told me to build. The same ladder I did not build, but had earlier indicated to him that I had built and tried to use.
He was high enough on the roof, so I pretended that I did not hear his question and let him continue his investigation. He got down on his knees and stuck his head in the hole. As he shined his flashlight in the hole he let out a loud, "Aha! I see what we have here. You've got yourself a coon problem!"
Finally! My rooftop nemesis has been identified. A raccoon. I had assumed a possum, but a raccoon seemed just as easy to solve.
The agent surveyed my roof and then proceeded to describe just how this happened. The raccoon had probably climbed the lime tree next to my house and then on the night that my chimney facade was destroyed by the power washer, he jumped up on the roof and found a great place to burrow in the substructure of the rafters. I'm not sure I needed a play by play, but I agreed with him that this is probably what happened. I don't know if we needed to discuss these facts, but this guy was the expert and maybe this was important to his investigation. I wasn't so interested in how the animal got into the roof, I just wanted to know how the agent was going to get the animal out of the roof.
"Yup! This is your basic raccoon extraction. I'll take care of this in no time," he said and then added, "I don't think I'll even have to shoot this one."
Shoot this one? Why would he have to shoot anything? What was he talking about? We were just discussing lime trees and chimneys and now we are talking about shooting things. This situation seemed to escalate rather quickly. Gunfire seemed like the last option we should consider, especially since this guy looked like he had just been wrestling wild animals all morning. Did he shoot those too? I did find it necessary to remind the agent that this raccoon was wedged in the roof/chimney rafters directly above my living room ceiling, If his shot wasn't perfect, I'd probably have a ceiling repair to add to my list.
"True," he said, "that is what I prefer and I normally like to practice catch and release, but like I said, I don't think I'll need to shoot this one." I was super glad to hear that we were making it our primary goal not to shoot my roof. He then yelled down, "Hey I'm definitely going to need your help. Can you go to my truck and get the snare pole off my truck and bring it to me." Then he added, "Get me the long one. The 8 foot pole. It might be in the bed of the truck."
As a reader, can I remind you how I began this story? Remember how my involvement was supposed to end by simply writing a check to get my house painted. Then like a cosmic vortex I was slowly sucked in to this whole crazy animal situation. This is a pivotal moment in the story. Remember this point. By walking to this DFW agent's truck to get a snare pole, I was descending one more level into the pit of partnership. I should have stopped and questioned why the agent did not have a partner or an intern or anyone else with the basic training required for wild animal rescue. Disappointed at my inability to walk away, I headed toward his truck.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
When I reached the back of his truck, I realized that I had no idea what he wanted me to find (and no business searching the back of his truck). He clearly wasn't known for organization and there were all sorts of gadgets and contraptions in this truck. I saw a variety of traps and even a few large hooks (which I assume he used to pull dead animals that he had shot when they are trapped deep in a roof). I was focused so closely on what I thought a snare pole should look like, that I didn't even notice the large animal carrier in the back of the truck bed. I was alerted initially by a slight scratching noise, but as I began to move tools around the truck bed, all hell broke loose in that box!
I could not see inside the carrier, but based on the sounds I heard, I pictured a large Bengal tiger ripping apart a family of bunnies. There was thrashing, shaking, and snarling as this carrier bounced all over the truck bed. I really hated my involvement in this whole stupid plan and I didn't want to search anymore around this caged beast, but I finally found a large pole with a wire noose on the end. That had to be the snare pole the agent wanted.
As I returned to the side of my house and climbed the ladder to hand him the pole I asked, "Hey what's in the back of that animal crate in your truck?"
"Did she wake up?" he asked, "With the amount of tranquilizers I used, I didn't expect her to wake up until I released her later. I bet she's pissed!" With that he quickly moved on to the business at hand and I never got an answer to my question. It seemed sketchy to me.
"Alright, stay here," he said, "I'm going to try to snare this raccoon and I might need to hand you the pole so I can get down the ladder without killing myself in the process. Depending on how angry he is, things might get dicey. So get ready"
I stayed perched on the ladder and watched as the agent laid flat on the roof and bent deep into the roof hole. As he stretched down with the snare pole, he seemed to keep diving deeper into the hole and I almost thought he was going to fall in. All along he was having an out-loud conversation with the animal and struggled to manipulate the snare pole in the dark among the wooden substructure.
"Gotcha!" he finally yelled and then, suddenly, there was a thrashing and I watched him struggle to back out of the hole and get on his knees. I knew this was where I was supposed to be helping him, but I instinctively climbed down and backed away from the ladder. "Whew! Success!," I thought, as I watched the agent struggle to get to his feet and fight the snare pole while pulling a giant raccoon out of my torn apart chimney/roof hole.
As a nocturnal animal, this raccoon was clearly angry at being snared and dangled in the afternoon sun. Likewise the DFW agent was struggling to control this animal from his precarious position on the roof. It was also clear that I was going to offer no help to this agent. I can't believe he thought I would be any help to him by "holding the pole." This was one angry raccoon and I didn't want any part of it.
"I'm going to need to exterminate this one," he said as he unholstered his pistol. But, before I could say anything, the agent opened fire.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
He struggled to get an accurate shot at the very angry raccoon on the end of his pole. PIcture a fisherman trying to shoot a flopping fish on the end of his fishing pole while standing in a rocking boat. The whole thing was chaotic and I'm not sure he thought through his actions because accuracy was just not happening.
Bang! Bang! The final two rounds landed in the animal.
"Whew! Sorry about that! This one was a fighter. I couldn't trust handing you this bad boy. I should have warned you about that," he apologized as he untied the snare and dropped the raccoon carcass off the roof at my feet thudding like a bag of sand. I sat there stunned at everything that had transpired in the previous 5 seconds.
As if I didn't have enough to process, the popping of the gun alerted all six little kids out of the pool. As they came running around the side of the house to see what was happening, my elderly father also came out of his house from across the driveway to investigate the gunfire.
"What the hell is going on out here?" This is one of my dad's favorite questions. I have heard him ask me this same question too many times in my life to even count. But this time I was speechless. I had a large dead animal at my feet and a streak of blood on the side of my house. At the same time, I had six little kids asking me why I killed the raccoon. It was chaos. Much to their disappointment, I instructed six unwilling kids to get back in the pool and at the same time tried to explain to my dad about what happened with "Hopalong Cassidy" up on the roof.
After climbing down the ladder, the agent approached us and apologized for disturbing the kids, "I'm sorry, I didn't know there were kids here, I hope they weren't upset by the gunfire?"
"No," I said, "I'm pretty sure my kids were fine with the gunfire. I'm just not sure they were prepared to see a raccoon shot in midair and then watch as his bloody body flung off the roof like that." But then again, I am pretty sure that I wasn't prepared to see all of that.
Without skipping a beat, he turned and asked my dad, "Do you have some large heavy duty plastic bags that I can use for the remains?" The last thing I needed at this point was for my dad to get involved with the process. To be truthful, I was starting to feel weird about how this was being handled and wanted to limit any more evidence of our culpability in the murder of this raccoon, so I quickly intervened in the disposal process.
"I'll get you some bags," I said and then thought to myself as I walked away, "Why doesn't he have his own plastic bags? How does he normally transport animal remains? Why am I the one providing the plastic bags? Something didn't seem right about this whole process. Again, one more level of involvement, but little did I know that this was going to get a little bit worse.
(To Be Continued)
Quietly making noise,