When I was a child, my cousins and their family had a raccoon named Ringo. It wasn’t a fully-grown raccoon, just a juvenile that they had found while hunting, perhaps recently orphaned. Regardless of how it came about exactly, they brought this young raccoon home and raised it for a time. They lived out in the country so there was lots of room to run around and play with little Ringo, and no one else around to ask questions. I have a particular memory of Ringo, of me and my cousins running around in their front yard while this little raccoon chased after us, much like a dog would, as the sun set.
I won’t deny, I have very fond memories of this little raccoon and the times we had with it. I more than understand the appeal to want to keep these animals close, especially the little ones, as they are just so stinking cute. But what my cousins did, probably should not have happened, and here’s why.
First of all, baby raccoons that may appear abandoned, probably aren’t. Unlike other animals that co-parent offspring, care of these baby raccoons falls solely on the mother. In fact, male raccoons will have no qualms in killing baby raccoons if they find them, as this will send the mother raccoon back into heat and the male can, therefore, mate with her. As such, sometimes the mother raccoons just need a break from the constant demand of the babies, much as human mothers sometimes just need a moment to themselves when dealing with children. In addition, this also means that the mother raccoon must sometimes leave the babies to go out and forage, as she is the sole creature that must sustain not only herself, but her babies as well.
Secondly, raccoons can play host to a variety of diseases. From rabies and distemper to raccoon roundworm and diseases in their feces, these diseases can cause serious harm to humans or household pets. While my cousins and I were lucky and never harmed, this isn’t always the case. Accidents can happen, especially when dealing with wild animals, and the consequences aren’t always obvious until it’s too late.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, wild animals are not meant to be pets. They are, by definition, wild. While they may be cute, and they may be fun and playful for a while, they aren’t like dogs or cats, whose more aggressive behavior has been bred out of them over many years of domestication. Their behavior may switch from fun to aggressive without warning and it could lead to serious injury, especially when children are involved.
I don’t know what ended up happening to Ringo. To the best of my knowledge, I think they eventually released it when it reached an age where it could fend for itself. That little raccoon has been on my mind a lot lately, though, as we are now in the middle of the raccoon baby season. But, in reality, that isn’t an experience that my cousins and I should have had. While our technicians may take cute selfies with teeny-tiny raccoons, they are trained wildlife control professionals, and are properly equipped to avoid injury and illness when dealing with these animals. And while it may be hard to resist the temptation to befriend a baby raccoon, and trust me, I know how strong that temptation can be from personal experience, try to remember that nature is best when left untouched by human hands.