It was 7:00 on a recent cold, snowy Friday morning and Richard had taken the day off to unwind and pack before he and I were to leave the following Monday for a week’s vacation in hot, un-snowy Florida. I watched our dogs, Phoebe and Ava, frolic in the snow through the window of the sunroom. All was calm, all was bright.
Phoebe trotted off to the left side of the yard towards the garden while Ava started to amble toward the wooded area in the back.
And that’s when I noticed something that looked like Phoebe walking toward Ava. But, as far as I knew, Phoebe was still licking snow off the plants in the garden. The Phoebe-colored thing was just strolling along next to the fence when Ava saw it and began barking. The Phoebe-colored thing lunged at Ava just as the real Phoebe-colored thing (Phoebe) hurdled her short self over the bushes by the garden to help Ava. I couldn’t tell what the thing was, but whatever it was wasn’t nice — at all.
So, Richard’s day off began with me screaming, “Richard! Oh my God! There’s something attacking the dogs!” Richard was downstairs in his office watching Fox News, therefore, ignoring me. So, I screamed a few more times until my voice was able to break the spell that Fox & Friends had on him.
Always ready with a sarcastic remark, but, more important, in an emergency, Richard leapt to his feet and ran outside. He immediately ran back inside. “It’s a raccoon! They’re vicious animals!” As if out of mid-air he assembled hiking boots, safety goggles, and leather gloves.
Because I’d only ever seen raccoons looking cute up in a tree, I had recently asked Richard how he knew raccoons were such vicious animals. He said, “Because I’m 50 years old and I have a (insert name of male-appendage-of-your-choice here, please.) That’s the same reason he gives to Veronica and me when explaining why he doesn’t let us drive his BMW. Lucas, on the other hand, has his very own memorized seat setting in it.
I looked outside and saw a tumbleweed of blood and fur rolling across the snow. It never occurred to me that the dogs could get hurt. I’ve seen them “catch and release” many small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. The fact that the aforementioned animals were always dead upon “release” made me feel confident that Ava and Phoebe could “catch” the raccoon.
Richard came running back in and grabbed the heavy wooden dowel we use to keep one of the sliding doors closed in the sunroom because Phoebe can open it. I found this out a few years ago when I was gardening. I watched as she used her paws and snout to slide the door open so she could do a few laps in the pool. If only she knew how to close it.
Richard instructed me to get the dogs’ leashes and come outside. I retrieved the leashes, put on my pink Isaac Mizrahi snow boots and ran outside. Richard and Phoebe had subdued the raccoon enough so that I could wrangle Ava into her leash. Getting Phoebe to release the thing was going to prove to be harder because she tends to be very goal-oriented, and, let’s just say, her “goal” was only disoriented. Using the dowel, Richard held the raccoon at bay while I managed to get her leash on and drag both dogs back into the house. Richard stayed behind. He had no choice but to put the mangled raccoon out of its misery.
The dogs were wet from the snow and covered with blood and fur. I cleaned them up with warm, damp towels so I could see where the blood was coming from.
Ava had small scratches above one eye and near her nose. Phoebe sustained a nasty gash across her nose, a pierced ear, and gouges way too close for comfort near both eyes. Richard walked in just as I was giving each of them “Composure Calming” chewies. Ava gets the chewies on a daily basis for her general anxiety. She has issues. Richard looked at the package and said, “Can I have one?”
I called our vet who told me to bring them right in. We brought the dogs to Dr. Ben’s office and the first thing he did was ask Richard if he had been bitten or scratched. “No,” he said, “but if I need rabies shots, I’m getting them at the Bellagio hotel in Vegas.”
Neither dog needed stitches but Dr. Ben prescribed antibiotics. He also told us not to worry about rabies because bats are the real rabies carriers in Illinois. Besides, they were up-to-date on their rabies shots. He also advised us to call the animal warden in case the city wanted to test the raccoon anyway, and said he’d fill out any forms that might be necessary.
We came home and Ava and Phoebe slept for about two days straight. But there was still a dead raccoon in our backyard. We roused the dogs for walks, and let them out in the dog run, but we couldn’t let them out in backyard while the raccoon was still there.
When I left to go to work at the park district around noon, Richard called the animal warden. He later texted me that no one answered so he had left a message and then used a shovel to put the raccoon “on ice” in the wheelbarrow by the side of the house until it could be picked up. He said in his text, “The dogs and I are visiting the somber battlefield. It’s like Gettysburg.”
When I got home from work Richard said he had left another message for the animal warden who still hadn’t returned his call. “I know what’s going to happen,” he said, “they’re going to do an autopsy on that thing and they’re going to say that the dogs didn’t kill it. They’re going to say that it died from blunt trauma to the head. I’m going to be thrown in jail, and the dogs are going to be sitting at my desk, going through my mail.”
The animal warden still hadn’t called back by Saturday so Richard called the police, knowing that even though he was being a good citizen, his life as a free man was at stake. He was somewhat relieved to reach the chief of police who he happened to know because they had worked on various city council commissions together. He explained the whole thing and even confessed to being the actual “killer.” The police chief told him there wouldn’t be an investigation into the death of the raccoon and that he’d call the animal warden himself.
Ten minutes later, the obviously harried animal warden arrived and apologized for not retuning any of Richard’s calls, “It’s my first week on the job,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m coming or going.” I wondered if it would be his last week after seeing why we had called.
As I peeked out from a window upstairs I saw Richard take the shovel and try to get the raccoon out of the wheelbarrow. But it had become, as he put it, “a raccoon-sicle” and was frozen to the inside of wheelbarrow. He and the animal warden worked to dig it out, even pulling on its tail, something I really wish I hadn’t seen, and finally popped the thing out. Then I saw Richard drop it into a Hefty bag before the animal warden heaved it up and over into the back of his paddy wagon.
I think the whole thing was very Darwinian because no raccoon in its right mind would want to tangle with 140 pounds of dog mutt on purpose. If it had a good old working raccoon brain it would have said to itself, “Holy crap! Enemy! Enemy! Must climb tree!” or whatever raccoon self-talk sounds like. The dogs had been in the yard for a few minutes before the raccoon even appeared. It could have easily climbed the wooden fence or found some way out of our yard. It just shouldn’t have been there in broad daylight in the first place. That’s what happens when you disobey raccoon curfew.
The ordeal was over. The raccoon had been removed, and the dogs were resting comfortably.
When Veronica and Lucas got home later, I told them what had happened and they promised to take extra special care of the dogs while we were away. As we were packing I said to Richard, “I’ll bet you’re looking forward to our trip.” Richard looked at me and said, “If my day off yesterday is any indication of how our vacation is going to go, then I’d have to say no.'”
But, we had a great trip. We flew in, rented a convertible (fun!), and then drove across the southern part of the state from Ft. Myers to Key Biscayne to visit family and friends.
The only tell-“tail”reminder of Richard’s day off was the occasional dream during which his legs appeared to be running and he made what could only be described as growling sounds. I’ll get more Composure.