Defenders of Wildlife


A raccoon came to visit, and pretended to be a cat.

We were living in our little glass home south of San Francisco, in the woods filled with Douglas fir and madrone, sharing the land with foxes and voles and hawks. We could look down from the ridge and see both the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, simultaneously. Sometimes there were clouds on the road, and way below us the smog of San Jose. Once a mountain lion and her cub were spotted as they moved through the area. We were caretaking for some wealthy lawyers, and got to live in what had been the pool house of a by-gone palatial estate. It was the early 1970's.

There was a lot of talk about the murder of an optometrist at his home in the nearby hills by "hippies" (this was soon after Charles Manson and his followers were arrested for the murder of several Hollywood people), and we had a new Jaguar, for there were times when we weren't desperately poor, and a few of those times we were rolling in money, at least for a few months. So one night we came up the driveway and the house seemed different. We couldn't lock a glass house, so there was a door-flap for the animals to come and go. The place was a mess. But as we entered, we saw the TV set, the tape recorder, and the FM all in their place. That was it, other than the car itself. But the floor was covered with upturned trash, mostly empty petfood cans. I went further into the house and saw all my clothes ripped from their rod and little broken bottles of cologne on top of the pile. And then he poked his head out. He was a half-grown raccoon with the robber's mask over his eyes, big with curiousity and some fear too. Tony went outside to calm down and restrain the dogs, who were anxious to get inside and get at their ancient enemy. And I offered Pancho (as Tony named him) a piece of kibble. He most delicately placed his whiskers on my hand and then took a careful bite of the kibble. Then I remembered that raccoons like to wash their food. So I filled a bowl of water and offered him a banana. Stupidly. Because he'd never seen such a fruit before, and he tried to mash the banana into the water.

Finally it all was worked out. He came to visit a few more times, usually there to greet us by the time we got home. One day my friend came up from the valley to introduce us to her baby. She drove up with the baby in a car cradle, and carried the baby into the house asleep and still inside his little bed. Pancho was there that evening and wanted to meet the baby too. I said that he could be trusted and that she could let him get close. He most gently removed the blanket, sniffed the baby and replaced the cover and went on to other business.

Later that night we decided to ask Pancho to leave, lest the 10 cats and 3 dogs started an argument with him in the sleeping dark and the baby get hurt. He jumped on my lap and started to wash his face -- but not like a raccoon, rather like a cat, one paw moistened and then rubbed across one cheek, instead of rubbing his paws together the way his species would. I figured that he thought if he behaved just so, he'd convince me he too was a cat.

I had to tell him to go with a little push, and he never came back. We later heard about a family of raccoons who visited some homes in the area. Maybe Pancho was the young male who struck off on his own. Maybe he found himself another family of humans who took delight in his nighttime raids. I hope so.


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