Raccoons. Need One Say More?

By Bruce Buschel
Our correspondent writes that a twofer like this one will get him a raccoon wrangler discount. So far, he has shelled out more than $275, plus gratuities. Bruce Buschel

Three in the morning. Deep sleep. Sensuous dream. Noise from the kitchen. Plates crashing. Silverware jangling. Adrenaline pumping. Grab weapon. Descend staircase. Clatter gets louder, more brazen. Men are in my house. Thieves like silverware. Easy to carry, easy to sell, hard to trace. Take a deep breath. Collect yourself. Race into the kitchen screaming like a banshee while flicking on the lights and six stunned raccoons stop to stare at the crazy intruder. Twelve eyes. Iridescent yellow and blue. As frightened of you as you are of them. 

Ransack interruptus.

There is one in the garbage, in the sink, in the cat food, in the coffee maker, on the counter, and one wedged between wall and ceiling. Stillness. A standoff. Having never hosted raccoons, I do what any logical man would do — slowly back out of the kitchen, locate my smartphone, and ask Google: “How do I get rid of raccoons?” 

Turn on all the lights, turn up the music, open all doors and windows so they can exit at their leisure, and, whatever you do, leave the critters alone. They can be dangerous and/or diseased. 

I follow instructions. Lights, music, sit. 

The marauders scatter cautiously: One tippy-toes into the laundry room, another ducks behind the piano, one sneaks into the woodpile. The others have already parked. I know not where.

We listen to the Doors and Sun Ra. The Lizard King and the Arkestra. They should frighten any creature. I throw tennis balls and scream every so often. The guests whimper and growl and eventually a solitary coon slowly exits through the side door, followed by another. It is not an exodus. Each raccoon picks his own time and place. Around 7 a.m., I watch the last Procyon lotor waddle out the front door. 

The kitchen is a royal mess. The raccoons had removed the window screen and climbed right in. I secure the premises. Hammer and nails. I scrub all nooks and crannies. With Bon Ami and malice. 

My wife wants to know why the kitchen is spotless and everything else is nailed down. She had spent the night in the city. She is happy to have missed the excitement. We spend the day locking up garbage cans, taking down bird feeders, and cleaning wild seed from the lawn. She retires at midnight. I go to work in the studio. 

I hear movement, odd noises, not squirrels scampering on the roof, not blinds blowing in a breeze. I go upstairs with a flashlight and trepidation. I find nothing in the bathroom, nothing in the second bedroom, nothing in . . . uh-oh . . . a beam of light catches a pair of shimmering ice-blue eyes in the high rafter of the barn’s ceiling; perched there, like the Cheshire cat, stone still, staring at me, is a fat, furry, frightened coon who must have been stuck since early this morning and has racked up 21 hours without food or water or making much of a stir.

Here we go again. Open doors and windows. Turn on the lights. Led Zeppelin would rattle the rafters but would also scare the hell out of my wife. I want to join her in sleep. I approach the raccoon cautiously. He climbs higher, into a distant corner of the cathedral ceiling, navigating the wooden joists as if they were his home all along, and not mine. It is now 2 a.m. I move a chair into the hallway, take a seat, and train the flashlight on his masked face. He is nocturnal by nature. I am old and tired. It’s an unfair fight.

At sunrise, I call the police. “I want to report a masked intruder who broke and entered, who is trespassing, who is menacing my family, who is . . .”

“Call an exterminator,” says the officer. I make phone calls. Too early. I make coffee. At 9, a woman on the phone says I should “shoo the coon with a broom.” 

“How much do you charge to shoo for me?” I inquire. 

“Starts at $75, depends on how long it takes and how difficult the critter is.” 

Two raccoon wranglers arrive at high noon. They approach the coon with a noose dangling at the end of a long pole. If they can get his head into the noose, the raccoon will capture himself and they will cart him away. I call him “him.” I can’t discern male or female, boar or sow. I hope the #MeCoon movement is kind. 

The wranglers tell me they have to exterminate the animal. It’s the law. I feel terrible. I feel relief. I am no Jain. What choice do I have? The drama unfolds. When the noose glances the raccoon’s ringtail, he jumps and runs, sprints across the slanted ceiling, moves faster than any raccoon is supposed to move, down a wall, down the hall, down the staircase, and takes refuge behind the upright piano. The two professionals are impressed. 

“This one is vicious,” says the senior wrangler. “Good thing you didn’t go after it on your own.” 

“Please tell that to the woman who answers your phone.” 

A wrangler stands on either side of the piano and pokes the raccoon. There is a commotion. There are squeaky sounds and guttural growls. There is urine. There is a capture. The raccoon is dropped into a cage and the cage into a truck and the truck into the distance.

It is illegal to transport a coon without a license. The authorities fear you may release it at the doorway of an ex-lover, the parking lot of your least favorite restaurant, at Alec Baldwin’s place. 

Two nights later, outside the bedroom window, a nursery of young raccoons frolic on the low roof, flouncing about, eating bunches of grapes from a nearby arbor, playing tag, and taunting me. The kits are adorable. The kits are detestable. They have returned for a reason. They think a relative is being held hostage. Do they want to negotiate? Their parents cannot be far away. And they want revenge. They know the truth. They know about the noose. I feel as if I am in a Stephen King novel even though I’ve never read nor have any desire to read a Stephen King novel.

Havahart. That’s the name and intention of the trap I purchase. I spring-load it with marshmallows and peanut butter, chunky style. Come the next morning, I have two caged raccoons. Two extremely agitated caged raccoons. They squeal and gnaw and try to escape, using 40 teeth and 4 five-digit paws. They are indefatigable. Running a nightly marathon will get you in good shape. There is the occasional plangent moan. I feel for them. I give them water. And then I give them away. To a licensed professional who will relocate them. I don’t know where. (I understand there are 100,000 acres of Pine Barrens near Manorville.) The professional vows compassion and a pardon. I believe him. He gets $40 per coon. He gives me a break when I catch two at a time. 

So far, I have paid him over $275. Plus gratuities. 

Fast-forward: It has been a while since the last visitors. I would say I am suffering from Post Raccoon Stress Disorder (PRSD) except that would suggest the war is over, the truce has been signed, and it is time to lick wounds and attend group therapy. But the enemy is still out there. And still wants to come inside here, into the dark, into the quiet, into the food, into the psyche. The enemy has no known pattern or timetable for attack, so a constant vigil is required. 

You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.

The enemy is sly and his army swells; nationwide, their number has grown 2,700 percent since 1955. (No typo — two thousand seven hundred percent.) Locally? Your guess is as good as mine. When you take away their natural habitat and provide generous garbage . . . best estimates say 100 raccoons per square mile, not to mention raccoon ghosts, raccoon visions, raccoon chimera, raccoon fantasies. I hear them everywhere. I see them everywhere. On the road. On the lawn. No, a rabbit. In the flowers. Just a cat. On the roof. A squirrel. Normal gurgles from the refrigerator cause midnight panic. I double-check windows and doors. I inspect the attic and chimney. I pace. I lie down. Raccoons run through my last conscious thoughts each night. And then I dream of them.

It has been a year since I caught my last raccoon. Or was it yesterday? It’s only a matter of time.

Bruce Buschel is a writer, director, and producer. He lives in Bridgehampton.