If there was any blanket rule that Dad stressed on our farm, it was this – Every animal has its purpose. We all had our functions on the farm, the animals were no exception. The dog’s purpose was to bark when something was going on - basically serving as the fire bell when the cattle got out. The cats….they needed to keep the rodents down in the sheds and the barn. They had to earn their keep, and if they were not good hunters — well, I’ll just leave it at that. Dad kept the necessary animals to a minimum. It was the dog, the cats…and a couple hundred head of cattle. No exceptions.
Well, there was one exception.
Dad used to tell us stories about his youth – which of course, like most stories you might tell your kids – backfired. Dad told us that when he was young, the neighbor kid, Roger (dairy farmer), had captured a baby raccoon. Roger kept the raccoon for quite a while, and it turned into quite a pet. Dad always went on about the raccoon and how cool it was. After hearing those stories, my brother, sister and I were – on the mission of our lives. WE WERE GOING TO GET A BABY PET RACCOON! Dad would warn us - raccoons are wild. They are not meant to be pets. If you could catch one at just the right age, (baby) you could have it as a pet, but only for a while. Wild animals are wild – there will come a time when they will turn on you, and you have to let them go before this happens. These were the rules. Not an issue – we were up to the challenge and the responsibility. However – trying to find a baby raccoon, without a rabid mother that would tear your face off on a whim, was basically a chance of - one in a million. Dad told us to stay patient – not to go looking, but maybe we might run into one…someday.
That ‘someday’ finally came.
Dad was out in the field, and us kids were on summer vacation, at the wise ages 0f 7 to 9. Our brother, Allen, ran into the house screaming one afternoon. “You guys! A baby coon! It’s right in the yard! LET’S GO!” This was it. Finally. We were going to be parents. Allen kept it at bay, while Becky and I went into panic, trying to figure out how we were going to capture the thing. We were young, but our wits were still about us – we couldn’t just grab the thing. We needed to pen it with something. We looked around the house as fast as we could – and there it was. The laundry basket. Perfect. The clean clothes were immediately dumped on the floor.
Becky and I ran out there in a mad dash, throwing the basket over the best pet we were ever going to have. We did it! The long, lost pet we always wanted was finally OURS! We brought the cute little thing into the house, and basically just starred at it for an hour or so until Dad got in. He was going to be so excited about our catch!
Dad finally walked into the house and saw us huddled over the laundry basket. ”DAD! LOOK! We got one – a baby raccoon!”
Dad had one of those looks. ”Where did you find that thing?” We explained how the cute, precious thing was just casually walking through the yard, in the middle of the day.
“Get that thing out of here! NOW!” he said. ”Don’t touch anything. WASH your HANDS!”
Not quite the reaction we were expecting.
We caught a baby raccoon all right- one with distemper. For those of you that don’t know what distemper is … it’s a highly infectious disease that young animals catch. They basically get a horrible fever, nerve problems and are on the verge of death. Something that you might not want to handle, put in a laundry basket and bring into your house. Not contagious between animals and humans – but still. Not a good catch. Raccoons are nocturnal. They don’t wander around alone, in the middle of the day – should have been our first clue. The obliviousness of youth…what can I say??? Lessons from the farm 101 – Don’t pick up odd looking , wild animals wandering through the yard with a drunken gait, slightly frothing at the mouth.