The Babyhood of Wild Beasts/Chapter 4

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HAVE you ever seen a little Raccoon washing each morsel of his food before he eats it? His hygienic methods are amusing indeed. The Germans call him "Waschbär," meaning "wash bear."

As soon as the babies are weaned and begin taking solid food they wash or soak each bit of food in water. They use their very human looking hands quite nimbly while performing this task. This little fellow can chip an egg with his teeth and drink the contents without spilling a drop. He can remove covers from jars and stoppers from bottles with such ease that one would fancy he had been taught.

Mr. Coon is a most remarkable feeder. Anything from a live rabbit steak to green corn and raspberries makes a strong appeal to his palate. They are especially fond of sweets, candy, molasses, sugar, and even butter and lard tempt them.

The babies are born in a hollow tree, which is the favourite home of the Raccoon. There are five or six in a litter. The little chaps grow rapidly and are soon able to join the nocturnal rambles with father and mother, for Mr. and Mrs. Coon are night prowlers. Most of their fun and their hunting is carried on a night. They sleep during the day and therefore escape many dangers from hunters who eagerly seek their pelts and from larger animals who hunt them for food.

I was the happiest girl in the world the day I was presented with a baby raccoon. He was a round, squirming ball of grey fur beautifully striped with black markings, two black eyes as bright as new shoe buttons, and a little, pointed, black nose. But the most beautiful thing about him was his bushy grey tail striped with black. He sniffed at me inquiringly, hardly daring to make friends on so short acquaintance. I reassured him as best I could and waited for him to make the first advances.

I turned him loose in our big country home and he began house-hunting. He found a loose brick at the base of the old chimney and made himself a little home by extracting the brick and crawling into the base of the chimney. Here he slept during the day and at night started out on a ramble. He explored the old house from cellar to garret, carrying mischief in his wake.

"Coonie" learned to lap milk as nimbly as a kitten. Our two fat tabby cats breakfasted on warm milk, and "Coonie" was greedy. He soon discovered that he was the "boss" of the ranch and used his power to deadly advantage. As soon as the tabby cats began breakfast, "Coonie" would leap suddenly from behind the old woodbox and, with an ear-splitting bark, rush at the cats. A flash of tails and the cats had disappeared and "Mr. Coonie" would greedily eat up their hastily abandoned milk.

He would climb up beside me as I sewed and amuse himself with spools and strings. He loved playthings. I gave him a pretty ball and he became an adept ball roller. He would cuff it vigorously for an hour or so at a time.

He would curl up on the foot of my bed; but he didn’t sleep much. The darkness was too stimulating for him, so he would quietly drop to the floor and start prowling. He was full of mischief at night. One of his favourite stunts was to pull the stopper out of the ink bottle and pour the contents over the white table cloth. He could unlatch the door and also turn a door-knob.

An irate member of the family was looking for our pet with a shot-gun. We saw if his life was to be spared we must hide him at once. I put a leash on him and tied him to the rear of the stable.

One bright, moonlight night, when the stars burned white against the midnight blue of the heavens, I heard a short, sharp bark from the woods. "Coonie" became restless and tugged at his leash. I could hear him moving about until the dawn broke. The next night the call was repeated; louder and nearer it came. "Coonie" became very restless and whined dismally. The following day be scarcely touched his food and fell into a feverish sleep as night approached. He grew very anxious and worried and made an examination of the doors and windows, sniffing eagerly at the half-open window in the kitchen.
The Raccoon babies are taking their first peep at the beautiful, green world. Mother ’Coon is holding her precious child back so that in the excitement of the moment he won't walk too fast and get out of breath.
Baby Raccoons look like little foxes with tortoise shell spectacles on, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that they can see twice as far as any other baby can.
I could read his thoughts, poor dear. He longed to go back to his own kin. He loved me, but the call of freedom and home outweighed the affection he felt for me.

I love him and I was selfish, so I determined to keep him. I wanted the pleasure of his presence, the touch of his soft, furry little body against my breast, the joy of feeding and caring for him. One day I suddenly realised how selfish I was. I loved him, yet I had deliberately resolved to prevent him from going back to the life he loved and yearned for. With a wrench I tore that unworthy resolve out by the very roots.

After my mental battle I dragged myself wearily to bed; but I did not close the kitchen window. When all was quiet and the soft stillness was broken only by the singing of wind through the maple trees, I heard the scratch of his little feet on the window sill. A pause. Then the soft thud of his little body striking the ground. In the quiet of the night I turned on my pillow and cried my heart out. But somehow, out of somewhere, I found peace, the great, comforting peace that comes when love breaks loose from the toils of selfishness and stands ready to give, and give, and give some more, without return, reward or recompense. I never saw him again, but I feel he is happy with his own kind.

Raccoons are darling pets. They are intelligent, loving and very playful when not confined too closely and have plenty of sunshiny playground with a nice, big tree to climb. I know if you ever have one you’ll love him as I loved my little pet.

The common Raccoon is about thirty-five inches long, of which eleven or twelve inches represent tail. When in prime condition it will weigh twenty-five pounds. The usual colour is grey, slightly rusty across the shoulders. The back is decorated with black-tipped hairs, while the under parts are a similar grey without the black tips.

The upper part of the feet are lightish. The tail is big and bush, trimmed with five distinct black rings and a smart black tip.

His face is decorated with black patches arranged in such a manner that he looks like he wore a pair of spectacles.

Albino specimens are not infrequent.

A crab-eating Raccoon is found on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.

The Raccoon is found throughout North America to the northern limit of trees and south into the very edge of the tropics.

His fur is warm, durable and handsome, hence fashion demands his coat. We hope he will be protected, for how barren the woods would be without him!