Cooner – The Story of a Raccoon

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Our first foster raccoon - Cooner
Our first foster raccoon – ‘Cooner’ in North Carolina

My first foster raccoon’s name was ‘Cooner’. He came to us as a 3 week old orphan bottle baby. Although I’ve fostered many orphaned raccoons since, Cooner holds a special place in my heart.

At the time, we had a place in Poplar, North Carolina we had intended to move to. It was 70 acres of gorgeous, peaceful mountain land in the middle of nowhere. We made the trip to NC every year to work on the cabin. Because Cooner had some heath issues and was on medication, I didn’t want to leave him home with the woman who cared for our other animals, so we packed up two boys, three dogs, one baby raccoon, and headed south.

About half way through Ohio, something started reeking. Bad. We blamed it on Cooner. We stopped at a rest area, check Cooner’s litter pan, and that wasn’t it. It was awful and we couldn’t figure it out, but it had to be Cooner! We aired out the Bronco a bit and loaded back up. About an hour later the smell was back in full force! We again blamed it on Cooner. It was a stink we were completely unfamiliar with. It turned out to be my son’s friend’s feet and every time he took his shoes off it about knocked us out! We stopped again for a bit of foot powder, and we were back on the road, Cooner off the hook.

The trip was about 750 miles and we usually drove straight through. It was a long trip and we were all relieved to get out of the Bronco when we arrived, but Cooner was amazed! Unlike our trees here, the poplar trees grew straight up for over 100’ with very few branches. Cooner headed for the first one and started to climb. Unfortunately his strength gave out and as I watched in horror, he fell from about 30′. I was sure he was dead. Little guy bounced, shook it off, and went right back to climbing trees!

There was a beautiful, fast moving, branch (a creek to us Northerners) below our cabin that was home to crayfish. Cooner was just learning to hunt. At home we would put some minnows and marsh mellow pieces in a kiddie pool so he could develop his skills. They weren’t very developed yet, but what he lacked in skill he made up for with determination! He was bound and determined to catch himself a crayfish. When Cooner got scared, he would climb me like I was a tree and perch at the highest point – my head. He came flying out of the branch, water flying, and scurried up my body with a crayfish clamped on his nose!

We were all having a great time when…… the in-laws came to visit. I loved my ex-mother-in-law, but she really had no business in a place like this. The place was rustic. It was an old one room hunting cabin, but we’d been working on it and felt it had all the comforts of home. A wood cook stove, a wood stove for heat, a propane water heater and refrigerator, a wonderful gravity spring fed water system complete with a shower, and an outhouse. We also had bugs, snakes, bats, bear, cougar, bob cats, wild boar AND, God forbid, a baby raccoon.

From the amount of luggage, the in-laws planned to stay awhile. The mom-in-law was putting her things in the cabin when I heard a blood curdling scream. Since we seldom saw wild cats, and never ever saw a wild boar, I’m thinking rattle snake, bear or ax murderer. She was in a fetal position on the bed sobbing and screaming “Get it away! Get it away!” I couldn’t figure out what “it” was! I saw nothing to set off this type of hysteria. Then she pointed at Cooner….

After that, things became a bit testy as I was expected to lock Cooner up while she was there. Well, that just wasn’t going to happen. Cooner and I figured if she had that much fear of baby raccoons, she needed to stay in a hotel. We spent a lot of time avoiding her, but as a concession, Cooner did sleep in his crate at night. They all finally went home and there was peace again. (The ex-sister-in-law also came awhile later, but that’s a completely different story)

You would think this was enough excitement for one baby raccoon, but there was more to come!

We all headed off for a hike up to the top of the mountain. It was a gorgeous day and Cooner was trotting along like the dogs, stopping to investigate along the way. All of a sudden we heard baying – coon hounds heading our way! It sounded like a pack of 100! Cooner scrambled up my body to perch on top of my head when the pack came barreling through the brush. I don’t know how many exactly, but when you have a coon treed on top of your head, it seems like an awful lot of dogs. The coon hunters broke through the woods and stared in disbelief. They seemed a bit upset that after following those dogs God knows how far they weren’t getting a coon after all.  Sometimes the language barrier was a little difficult, but I am sure I heard “Damn fool crazy Yankee woman” and a few other terms of endearment as the coon hunters gathered up their dogs shaking their heads. Cooner stayed very close after that.

New travels fast and far in such remote locations. Our closest town was Erin, TN; about 40 minutes away by the time you got down off the mountain. As I entered the hardware store I could hear a story being told at the front counter. Lots of laughter about some “Damn fool crazy Yankee woman” up there in Poplar. I quietly slipped out the back door.

As we were leaving for home, we stopped for a final visit at the branch on the way out. Cooner bounded into the creek and came back with a crayfish – this time in his mouth!

As he matured, Cooner began to spend more time away from us and on his own. He was becoming much less social around humans and more independent. Eventually he wanted little to do with us. The last time I saw Cooner, he brought a friend with him. I assumed she was his girlfriend. She stayed back while Cooner came up to me and climbed me like a tree one last time. It was almost like he came to tell me goodbye; he was fine, he had grown up and was o.k. on his own now. Although ever so bittersweet, that was always the goal.

Foster Raccoon Cooner
At the time this story took place, I was a commercial freelance animal photographer. One of Cooner’s photos from the trip to N.C. was published in a May 1998 issue of Readers Digest to illustrate a story about another foster raccoon, T65. Because Cooner was so dear to me, it is one of my favorite published photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Cooner – The Story of a Raccoon”

  1. I had a pet raccoon growing up. I don’t remember where we got it as a baby, but we had possums, a squirrel, and other animals as well. The raccoon was my favorite. They certainly have challenges as a pet, especially when they grow to be an adult. We kept ours, and though I don’t remember what happened to him, I know we had him for a long time after he matured. They are unlike any other pet reading this story brought back a lot of those memories. Thank you for sharing.

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