Wild animals that have been in captivity are especially difficult to rehome, and in most cases, habituated animals cannot be returned to the wild, leaving zoos or educational facilities as the only option. A raccoon named Milly has Washington State University veterinarians reminding the public to call a wildlife rehabilitator before intervening with orphaned or injured wildlife. To make matters worse, it is illegal to transport raccoons across state lines, so the only options were limited to centers in Washington state.
Raccoon Facts – Procyon lotor
Members of the raccoon family are all medium-sized and short legged and have a flat-footed (plantigrade) bearlike gate. They commonly have a pointed snout, a relatively long body, a broad face, round or pointed ears, and fur color usually grizzled to gray-brown, but varies from cinnamon to near black. Raccoons have the characteristic dark mask with pale eyebrows, banded tail, and pale feet. All species have short claws and raccoons feature front paws developed into sensitive, mobile hands. Highly arboreal species, raccoons can rotate their ankle joints and hang by their feet when feeding or descending tree trunks.
There are almost no habitat raccoons cannot occupy, but it prefers edge habitats and areas associated with water. Lives in close association with humans, including in urban areas and large cities.
Raccoons are omnivorous, opportunistic, and their diet varies with location, season, and the availability of food sources. They will eat fruit, roots, shoots, and nuts, as well as insects and small vertebrates, such as birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Raccoons use their dexterous hands to reach into streams to feel for crustations, fish and other prey. Their unfussy palate also brings them into urban areas, where they raid garbage cans and fearlessly solicit food from householders.
Foraging is mainly nocturno-crepuscular, most food is found by the raccoon’s keen sense of smell and captured or handled with its very dextrous front feet; often ‘washes’ food in water, although as clean food is also submerged, the actual purpose is unclear. Raccoons do not hibernate, but northern populations may overwinter in dens for weeks or months, during which time they live off accumulated fat.
Most populations mate February-March, with a gestation of 54-78 days. Litter size 1-8, averaging 2-5 kittens that are largely independent by 17-18 weeks, but often rejoin the mother for winter denning; the family finally breaks up the following spring.
Meet our Raccoons
Milly was just a baby last summer when humans suspected she was orphaned and took her in. Rather than ensure Milly was truly orphaned and transfer her to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, the couple decided to illegally keep the raccoon as a pet.
“She grew up into a full-size raccoon, as raccoons do, and then she started to get into trouble, as raccoons do; so, they reached out to us to see if we could find her a different home,” said Marcie Logsdon, a veterinarian at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Fortunately, Milly has found a space at Cat Tales, Spokane’s nonprofit wildlife center. Milly was very lucky to find a home as an educational ambassador, placements such as this are few and far between.
“It’s getting warmer earlier this year and we are already getting reports of spring babies. We want to remind people who encounter wildlife they suspect to be injured or orphaned to find their nearest wildlife rehabilitator and call first before intervening,” Dr. Logsdon said. “And please, never try to keep wildlife, like Milly, as pets – it’s illegal in most states and often has a very sad ending.” She said it is easy to mistake a healthy baby for one that may be orphaned or injured.