The Night The Neighbors Became Big Game Hunters

I am afraid of raccoons.

I realize they are, as my friend Lauren would say, just trash cats. But when one was banging around on our rooftop porch the other night, I almost lost my mind. Raccoons are utterly unafraid of humans, or at least, this raccoon was unafraid of me. I was shining flashlights and yelling and it was just walking toward me; sniffing at my screen door; scratching to come in.

I doubt that I ever liked raccoons, but my fear is rooted in one terrible evening when I was a kid.

We lived near the top of a small mountain in Woodstock, New York. We had one dog, two outdoor cats, and about a dozen chickens in a coop with an enclosed run. We also had a yard full of garter snakes and small rodents, and woods full of deer, black bears, skunks, et cetera. Once I saw a red fox in our driveway, dead, its neck broken by our dog, Blossom, who was frankly not any bigger than the dead fox. 

Once, though. Once a raccoon took on Blossom and all of the chickens. And it almost won. (Aside for anyone who might be getting nervous: Blossom lived many more years and died an old lady after surviving fights with far worse, including a motorcycle.)

There were two or three houses behind ours, on a level with it and hidden completely by the woods, and three up the hill, sort of overlooking us. In the dead of winter you could almost see two of them through the bare tree branches. The middle of those three houses was the Jagerbergers' house. My mom didn't like them, and I was about to find out why.

I was probably twelve, which makes it 1990. My parents were out--my mother thinks possibly at a movie. Remember, in 1990 it was nearly impossible to reach someone when they were not at home. We had a yellow wall phone in our kitchen by the side door, which had a view of the chicken coop.

Blossom started barking around dusk. Incessant barking, nothing like her usual warning barks if a car dared to drive past or a deer to peer out of the woods. Not to put too fine a point on it, she was losing her damn mind. And the phone started to ring.

I answered the phone and dragged Blossom inside, in which order I couldn't possibly tell you, and I discovered the source of her distress: a raccoon had somehow gotten under the chicken wire into the chicken run. The girls were huddled inside the coop proper, terrified and squawking. The small door between the run and the coop was open and that raccoon wanted in.

Now. I am nearly 38 years old, and were this to somehow happen to me today, under the same circumstances, I would unwind the hose and spray that fucker down until he ran away with his coon tail between his coon legs. But I was, you'll remember, a kid. I didn't know water would drive off a raccoon. It was one of the first times I'd been left in charge, and I prioritized getting Blossom inside away from the potentially rabid wild animal; I hoped to save the chickens. 

(I can't honestly remember, but I want so badly to have gone in and closed that door. I might have; I know the raccoon was backed into the opposite corner. I want to believe.)

Back to the telephone. It was Bill Jagerberger, calling about the barking and wondering if everything was okay, and were my parents home? I told him we had a raccoon in the chicken coop, and I would deal with it. He said he'd be right over. I told him that wasn't necessary, but I was a kid and a girl at that, so there was never any chance of him listening.

He arrived with a .22 rifle and a gleam in his eye. 

He was going to shoot that raccoon no matter what I said, and he did it.

Raccoons, it turns out, are difficult to kill. My jackass neighbor was joined by another jackass, from one of the houses behind ours, and they stood around as it got dark, behaving for all the world like it was Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show while the poor raccoon fought against death. Eventually they realized it was not working. 

The order of things is fuzzy twenty-five years on, but I know the police were called--not for the reason that seems right to me (arrest these assholes on my property shooting their firearms willy-nilly), but to finish off the animal.

A .45 to the head also did not do the trick. (It could have been a 9mm. I don't care.)

At some point in the horrible proceedings, my parents arrived home to a scene that was chaotic at best. My mother, who is still just as traumatized by that night as I am, told me that the officer acted like we were hosting a kegger and he was the guest of honor. What a good old time those horrible men had, killing a raccoon that I told them to leave alone. The coup de grace was delivered with a shovel, horribly. 

The raccoon was, eventually, put out of its misery, but mine is forever.

This story originally appeared at Anne Underground.