Author’s Note: I started writing a short blog about a raccoon but soon discovered to get the full story meant laying the ground work with a few other stories.
Chapter 1 – The Yin and Yang of Forest Living
Sharon and I are fortunate enough to live on the edge of a forest in Mississauga in a concrete house with a mid-century modern design (think Falling Water only smaller). There is nothing traditional about the house or our garden. The garden is a wild garden (my neighbour really, really likes this as he has a manicured lawn he trims with toe nail clippers) and in the summer is wild and overgrown. Vines cover the walls on the house and when we look out the windows, all we see is trees and green. As a result of the wildness and the area that we will live, plus 4 birdfeeders, there is no shortage of birds and other critters. To date we have seen deer, fox, raccoons, coyote, opossum, endless wild cats and a large list of birds being eaten by the cats.
Raccoons have been a constant problem. The most common problem is raccoons having sex outside our bedroom window which sounds like cats fighting on a blackboard and is pretty much guaranteed to wake the dead. On more than one occasion, I have been roused from sleep scared fecal-less and in a sweat due to their howling screams of pleasure. Fortunately this appears to be constrained to the spring and, for a while, there are cute raccoon babies hiding in trees and digging for worms under the feeders.
Chapter 2 – Racoons 1, Jacques 0
The house has a separate garage that is not connected to the house. I store the garbage in the garage like most people and thought that the arrangement was quite good. Apparently, so did the local family of raccoons, who would climb into the garage through the overhang, into the rafters then into the garbage.
I’m sure many of you know the joy of finding overturned garbage cans when you are supposed to be going to work. Nothing like sloppy half rotten garbage with a fine bouquet first thing to really start Monday off right.
Being a live and let live kind of homeowner, I tolerated this for a while but the last straw came after I had my car detailed. I do this when I get the urge to buy a new car and it saves me about $50k per episode so I think it’s great value, highly recommended.
I drove back from the dealer who did the detailing with my car gleaming and polished and parked in the garage. Next morning, I went to drive to work and walked into the garage and was dumbstruck and pissed off by what I found.
Those f***** miserable excuses for natures’ garbage collectors had been into the garbage. They weren’t happy enough with pushing the cans over and foraging in the spillage. My bright, extremely clean, freshly detailed lovely to drive car, is parked with its hood very close the garbage cans. The raccoons must have held a council of garbage eating and decided that the best strategy for optimum enjoyment of the garbage du jour was to:
- Toss the lid off as far away as possible
- Rock the garbage can so that it falls onto the hood of my pristine and virginal car
- Climb into the can and dig like a Tasmanian devil shooting garbage all over the hood and windscreen
- Invite all their closest friends and relatives to dine on Chez Jacques car
- Eat then s***t all over the car and if possible walk around in it to ensure that the muck is evenly spread as much possible
- Repeat the following night
- For extra points, find something really fishy and stuff it down the air intake so that the owner of said car can truly appreciate their fine work
To put it mildly I was livid, furious, rabid. This meant war. Sharon frowned on my shooting things and besides my pellet gun wouldn’t even penetrate their goop covered fur and I would have to sit out and wait for the bastards and provide fresh food for the mosquitoes. Bad plan.
Attacking them with a large broom or spear was also very appealing but there was always the possibility they would fight back and I dislike running away like a girl from animals. They think they own you after that. Also a bad plan.
The logical but dull thing to do was to get the overhangs sealed so the little masked *(&(#*#(#!!@# couldn’t get in. This meant construction, which meant that Home Reno Girl (aka Sharon and her pink tool belt) would have to be engaged. Feeling pleased that I had a solution, I got into my car and drove off.
In regards to point 7 above, they managed over and above the call of duty. Not 2 minutes into my trip, I was blown over with a smell that almost defies description. Think of fishy decomp with just a hint of raccoon fecal material heated by a rapidly warming engine block being blasted on the wings of an AC system trying to cool the car and you start to get the merest sliver of what it was like.
I arrived at work smelling a little less fresh than I normally do. One pleasant side effect was that all my meetings in confined areas were short and to the point and the endless line of people that usually need to talk to me was conspicuously absent. Smell, ummm I mean, word travels fast.
Chapter 3 – The Solution
When Home Reno Girl (HRG) is called into service, the first order of business is to call her father. HRG’s idea of a fun day is working with a tool belt (pink), beating things with a hammer (really small, in fact so small it bounces off nails and gets it nailed done by a professional) and hanging with her dad. It works really well for me too, because I can then go off and pursue my idea of a perfect day which usually involves swamps or sewage lagoons.
Chapter 1 – The Original Encounter (if you don’t get the numbering, please watch more Star Wars)
Sharon’s father, Charles, is no stranger to raccoon problems of his own. When Sharon took me to meet the parents for the first time, we were sitting at the dining room table in the special occasion dining room with special occasion crystal and the once-in-a-lifetime china reserved for the potential father of their grand children making polite conversation.
Sharon’s parents were applying their axe murderer detection tests on me and I could feel that while the war wasn’t won, I was making steady progress in the right direction. Sharon had previously pointed out that her parents were heavily involved in the Roman Catholic church. As far as I could understand (as a good non-practicing Jewish agnostic), her father was some 9th dan Christian ninja, an honest-to-goodness Knight of Columbus.
My past experiences with very religious people hadn’t gone that well. Apparently my dripping sarcasm about organized religion set off their conversion reflex which meant I was endlessly harassed as they tried to save my soul.
So far, there was no mention that my soul was in any danger and I thought dinner was going rather well. I hadn’t swore, said anything really rude and Sharon still looked like she wanted to leave with me. I had managed to skip over the non-essential parts of our budding relationship such as living together in wonderful sin (it was still early in the relationship), divorced, and being somewhat Jewish and not religious at all. Sharon had drilled me relentlessly about what to say on the way over to the point that I felt like a NASA trained monkey. As long as I stayed sober, I was a shoe-in.
As I politely sipped tea from a very fine (and barely used) china tea cup with my little finger extended in exactly the right position for impressing parents, I couldn’t help notice a repeated sound which sounded like a bird call. I listened a little closer and lo and behold, it was a bird call that I had never heard before.
A small diversion is necessary to explain. I’m just a bit obsessive about things (ignore everything Sharon says on this subject, she’s biased and happens to benefit mightily as she is one of my obsessions) and bird watching happens to fall into this obsessive categories. Naturally it’s not enough to be able to identify the birds by seeing them through high-tech binoculars, made famous by George Bush who had the good fortune to look through them the wrong way, I also knew most of their songs.
There are very, very, very few birds that would be calling in Mississauga that I had never heard before. My problem was to how to extricate myself from the polite conversation so that I could track down said bird but still convince her parents I wasn’t a stark raving loon.
The sound was quite loud and it kept repeating. Sharon’s mother, Carmen, looked a bit perturbed about the sounds and asked if anybody knew what they were. I preened a bit and said that I was quite knowledgeable about bird calls and this wasn’t a bird that I heard before but perhaps if I saw it, I would be able to identify it.
As one, we rose from the table, and moved over the virginal living room rug to the spotless large plate glass window and gazed out into the perfect lawn and garden. I tried to identify where the sound was coming from and so stood dead still something akin to a pointer dog. My razor sharp hearing (at least it was then) said that the sound was actually come from behind and to the right of me. That would place it squarely in the living room ceiling. I rotated a bit to confirm that the sound was coming from inside the house and listened a little more closely.
Sure enough, the sound was coming from the edge of the ceiling and I could hear a faint scratching as well. Remember when I said, I hadn’t done or said anything stupid? Well that was about to change due to my sarcastic and occasionally flippant mouth.
Carmen was looking at the ceiling and looking a tad pale.
“Any idea about what it is?” she nervously ask.
As I mentioned, I can be flippant and so I piped up, “Must be rats with all that squeaking and scratching”.
Sharon gave me one of those stares that means no sex for the rest of my life or until I go and visit Michael, the savior of all things bad that men do in marriage, the jeweler. I was at a loss to understand what I had done wrong. I thought over my response and decided that rats was a reasonable possibility given the amount of scrabbling around and the calling.
“Rats??”, Sharon mother asked while the colour blanched from her face faster than a killer avalanche.
I still wasn’t clear what was causing the astonishing lack of colour. I was starting to worry that she might collapse.
Sharon, still giving me the look of death, behind her parents’ backs hissed at me, “My mother has a phobia about rodents. It’s really bad, shut up about the rats or else”.
I am fairly sure there were a few other choice words flung in my direction but thankfully time and much drinking have lightened my exact memory of the words and Sharon and I remain happily married.
“Charlie, we are going to a hotel. NOW. Until this gets resolved. You will cut a hole in the ceiling and deal with… with… those things”, Carmen said, the words forced out by sheer force of will.
Charles joined in with the look of death at me and I was wondering exactly what form of death a Christrian ninja would use in removing freshly introduced boyfriends from the picture.
“Maybe it’s not rats, it could be something else. Maybe a possum or a raccoon” I said trying to smooth over the situation. I felt safe with possum since they were very primitive mammals and definitely not of the rodent family.
It would seem the Carmen’s schooling on rodent family tree was a little more cloudy than mine and when in doubt, she used the old fallback, “if it looks like a rat, it’s a rat” and this did absolutely nothing to calm her down.
Sharon’s colour was darkening about the same pace as her mothers’ was lightening. I was wondering if this transfer of colour was a family thing, close to what chameleons are capable of doing. Carmen, determined to play the perfect host, returned to the table and we followed.
She put on a brave face but it was obvious she was deeply traumatized by the possibility of fauna of unknown provenance in her roof. We finished off our tea and made leaving noises. Her parents gracefully said their goodbyes and we got into the car.
Sharon’s colour had started to return to normal. As the door closed, Sharon said, “Don’t ever mention rats or mice in front of my mother. She will faint or worse. Never, ever again or else”.
Have you noticed that nothing good ever comes from “or else”?
“Right, no more rodents in front of your mother”, I committed to memory.
We stopped by a week later to find out that Charles had to take a chainsaw to the roof and cut a hole large enough for him to get in and look around. Turned it was a raccoon and several babies that had made a very cozy nest in the ceiling insulation. He then spent the next few days trying to get them out and putting chicken wire on all the gaps to ensure that they didn’t get back in.
Carmen was safely ensconced at a fine hotel and vowed to return only when there was an absolute guarantee of no rodents.
Chapter 4 – Back to the Original Story
So, having known Charles’ history with me, raccoons and rats, I was a little bit tentative about having him over to deal with this issue. In the intervening years, I had married his daughter and thought that we had a great relationship but one can never be sure.
Sharon made the call and Charles was over in a shot to help out and spend some time with Sharon. He arrived with bails of chicken wire, a staple gun and other instruments necessary to seal up the garage. I never had the pleasure of seeing a raccoon buffet on the hood of my car again thanks to Charles.
So what does all this have to do with Sharon vs. the raccoon? It helps set the stage for the main story. Way back at the beginning of the story, I mentioned we live in a modern concrete house. Said house, has 3 roofs and we had a problem with leaks for several years and so decided it was time to redo the roofs.
We contacted Tony, our contractor neighbor, who builds incredible houses and asked him to give us a quote. He showed up one evening and looked around, then said he would send over the sidewall guy and the roof guy to prepare estimates.
Chapter 5 – The Portal is Opened
The roof guy came over and pulled away some siding so he could see what was on a support wall for the main roof. For some reason, he left two planks off, just wide enough to provide an excellent entrance for a critter or two.
Tony came over and gave us an estimate of X. Having done renos before with HRG, I prepared myself for at least 2x because, well, something always happens. In this case, Sharon discovered vermin in the roof. Since the apple never falls far away from the tree, Sharon decided we had to rip up the two main roofs and totally redo them. Next time I spoke to her father and mentioned that we had to rip up two roofs due to vermin, I was sure that I could hear a smug smile in this voice but he has never ‘fessed up to anything.
A few days later, Sharon and I were eating dinner watching graphic forensic content on TV. In the CSI soundtrack, playing on my googlephonic stereo, I could hear an animal scratching which seemed a little incongruous to the morgue scene. I figured maybe there was going to do an Alien scene or the pathologist had bought his pet to work which was sharpening its claws on the autopsy table. I decided to ignore it having carefully identified the source, at least in my mind.
Sharon, for some reason, was staring at the ceiling. I started to have a flashback to her mother staring at the ceiling. She pulled the universal remote control (the same one she likes to point upwards) and hit the mute button much to my annoyance as the show was continuing to play. The pause button works really well and I’ve never understood why mute something if you want to continue watching it but that could just be me.
Chapter 6 – You Have A Lovely Ceiling
Silence settled in the living room. It was actually very peaceful once the distracting sound of a bone cutter was muted. Then it started again, the scratching sound from the TV show. This time it seemed to be coming from the roof above and to the left which was an excellent trick because the sound was muted. I was trying to figure out how Sharon had managed to get partial sound of the remote control and was drawing a blank.
Sharon said, “It sounds like there is something in the ceiling. What do you think it is?”
I was thinking rats in my mind but since that didn’t go over too well the last time I tried it, I figured I would plead ignorance. “Not sure”, I mumbled between a bite of food, since there was a pause in the forensic action.
“We should go up and look after dinner. Perhaps we can see what it is”, I said trying to put off critter discovery channel.
We resumed watching CSI and dinner was rapidly dispatched now that there was a hint of adventure in the air. Tony, the contractor, had left a ladder by the side of the house so we could get onto the roof. The front roof is about 3.5m high and so after staggering around with this huge ladder, nearly poking Sharon’s eye out, we got it placed against the wall and proceeded to scale up the wall. I’m not a big fan of ladders. I’m fine going up but coming down doesn’t sit well with me.
We arrived on the roof to find the hole that I had previously mentioned and the boards that used to belong to the wall. Also found a bunch of nails and other construction debris of the type that you don’t want to find on a rubber roof. I imagined engaging in cruel and unusual punishment to the roofing guy to better express the feelings I was having about his professionalism. My shrink says that I need to share my feelings more.
Chapter 7 – Into the Pit
The gap showed a dark and foreboding cavity. It was getting close to dusk and the light wasn’t great. Sharon, feeling the bravery that comes from getting me to the dirty work said, “Stick your head inside and see if you can see what it is”.
I have an extremely vivid imagination. The prospect of kneeling down and sticking my head into a dark cavity inhabited by something from Ontario wilds wasn’t appealing in the slightest. Given the height and location of the roof and access, I narrowed down the possibility of animals to exclude deer, fox and coyote. I felt that I could also safely say it wasn’t a bear as well.
That only left a variety of vermin, raccoons and a bunch of truly vicious critters like mink just waiting for a nice plump head to be stuck into its den.
“What are you waiting for?”, Sharon asked helpfully standing to the side of the hole.
I considered my options. I could say that I didn’t want to stick my head in the hole and face the wrath of and ridicule of Sharon or I could man-up and do it. If I got clawed, I could play up the sympathy aspect for all it was worth. It wouldn’t be that bad.
I knelt down, grabbed the flashlight and pointed it into the gap. The gap went back about 1m and formed a shelf which explained the architectural detail in the living room. The shelf ran the length of the roof about 3-4m. No red eyes gleamed back at me so the critter wasn’t waiting with slavering fangs at the entrance.
I banged on the boards loudly to try and scare whatever was inside and played the flashlight back and forth across the entrance. I stuck my head in and played the flashlight up and down the shelf. There was a variety of crap (literally) on the roofboards and on the shelf so this clearly wasn’t the first critter to be in this area over the years.
I looked to the left and then to the right. The beam of light faded into the distance but I couldn’t see any critter at all. Reasoning that it might have gone foraging at dusk, I pulled my head out and indicated that I couldn’t see anything and that it had likely gone out to forage for food. I also said this would be an excellent time to board up the entrance to stop the offending vermin from returning.
Sharon asked, “Are you sure?”, not quite in synch with my feeling that it had left to eat.
“Of course I am”, I snapped, the adrenaline rush from presenting my head as a vermin snack receding. “Let’s close up the gap and that should do it”.
We picked up hammers and using the conveniently discarded nails, reattached the boards to the wall to block the gap. In the back of my mind, I was playing through the scenarios if it was still inside. If it was inside, it would make a bunch of noise either chewing or trying to get out where we had boarded it up. This would be heard inside the house and we would come up, unboard the hole and the vermin would run for the hills. We made short work of nailing the boards back on and left, feeling quite pleased we had foiled the critter with our superior intelligence.
Chapter 8 – If at First You Don’t Succeed
I wobbled down the ladder and went back inside. Not 10 minutes later, I heard the sound of something throwing itself against the wall in the same place where the gap was. “Scratch, scratch, crump”, was repeated over and over again. I surmised that the scratch, scratch was it building up a head of steam and the crump was the head hitting the extremely well nailed in boards.
It was annoying and was interrupting more graphic forensic content. I was starting to warm to the idea of graphic forensic content and this animal and let me mind drift to the dissections I had done at school as a youth in the wilds of Africa.
Sharon, being the bleeding heart animal rights liberal, was distressed by all this noise not to mention the fact that the animal might bleed into her roof.
“We have to go take the nails off the board otherwise it will hurt itself”, she said.
“Let’s hope that it gives itself a cerebral hematoma and dies and we can just pick up the carcass”, I replied, extremely pleased that I had been able to use my vast CSI knowledge to good use.
“Then it will rot and stink up the whole house and we will have to rip down that roof too”, Sharon retorted, effortlessly slipping back into her HRG role and not appreciating my penetrating use of CSI language.
I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid any activity that can result in renos of any form and this sage piece of advice was spinning round and right into my left brain.
“Right”, I said, taking control of the situation. “Let’s go take the boards off”.
Off we went, up the ladder, Sharon with a beer in her hand. Not sure how beer improves hammering, I always used them in the “Let’s get hammered context” so was curious to see how it played out.
In short order, we pulled the nails out of the boards but left the boards in place. I decided that we needed a mechanism to know that the varmint had left so we could board up the gap again. I placed a broom over the gap figuring that it would push the boards out which would push the broom over which would make a crashing sound we could hear in the house. We could then rush up the ladder and board up the gap again. Problem solved.
“How are we going to get it to come out?” Sharon asked.
“It will come out when it’s hungry or when we have cleared out” I responded.
Chapter 9 – Patience is a Virtue
“Maybe we should encourage it to come out?” Sharon offered up.
Making a mental note that Sharon had come up with a good idea, I agreed. I started thinking what would attract a varmint out of a nice dark hole. In a blinding flash of insight, I figured a can of cat food would do it, especially if it was a little on the ripe side.
“We need a can of cat food, that should get it to come out of its hole”, I said
Sharon scampered down the ladder making me wonder if there was any simian in her ancestry while I pondered the missing link. A few moments later she arrived clutching a can of cat food.
I opened the cat food can and placed it about a metre away from the gap and moved towards the ladder.
“Aren’t we going to wait for it to come out so we can board up the hole again? It won’t take long for it to come out again right?” Sharon asked
“If we are really quiet and patient, we can likely wait” figuring we would have to sit deathly still for 15 minutes and the critter would come out.
It was a late summer night and quite muggy and overcast. I also discovered that there were still a few mosquitoes around and they were keen on lightening my blood levels.
Chapter 10 – Strike 1
About 5 minutes into the wait, Sharon, in a stage whisper heard by most of our neighbours, said “It hasn’t left yet and I’m bored. Make it come out.”
I ground my teeth in frustration knowing that we could add more time onto the clock as the critter wouldn’t go anywhere with all the noise “we” were making.
“Shhhh”, I said. “It can hear you and won’t come out unless we are totally quiet”
“Rubbish”, Sharon said. “I can’t hear it so how can it hear us?”
I ground my teeth in frustration. “Be quiet. It’s an animal, it has much better hearing than us and if it didn’t hear us the 1st time it most certainly has this time. Just wait patiently and don’t say a word.”
Silence prevailed and to my joy, a light drizzle started. Let me recap for those that aren’t paying attention:
- We are sitting on a roof waiting for a critter to bash down some boards, pushing a broom over in a mad rush to get to the can of cat food we had graciously provided as enticement.
- I was trying to get Sharon to sit quietly (and still) until the critter came out.
- It was drizzling.
- The mosquitoes were circling round me and I could swear that I heard the “Ride of the Valkyrie ” as wing after wing of mosquitoes broke formation to feast on my exposed flesh.
- Sharon is happily drinking a beer.
Chapter 11 – Strike 2
Another slow 5 minutes drizzled by. “You think it will work, what with the broom and the cat food?”, Sharon whispered again.
I could feel a simmering frustration starting to boil and turned sharply to Sharon eyeing the bottle of beer. I could whack her on the head with it…
“Do you not understand being quiet and sitting still?” I hissed sharply. “Every time you make a noise, it will get frightened and won’t come out and we have to wait longer. In the rain. With the mosquitoes.”
“Well you don’t need to get pissy about it. I’m bored and was just asking, Mr. Snotty Pants”, Sharon retorted back.
“Please try and be quiet and sit still for 15 minutes”, I pleaded.
Chapter 12 – You’re Out
Sharon settled again and I went back to waiting. The minutes dragged by. About 7 minutes later, Sharon started squirming and fidgeting and wagging her leg at such a rate I could feel the vibrations clear to the top of my head. Clearly trying to keep quiet for such a lengthy period was starting to take its toll and manifesting itself in nervous twitches and bouncing legs.
“It’s hopeless, let’s go back in” I said looking sharply at Sharon’s leg as it bounced up and down at at least 60hz.
“What? I’m being quiet, I haven’t said a word for at least half an hour” Sharon said, her voice modulated by the vibrating leg.
“Yes dear”, I said trying to avoid another fruitless conversation and getting just a bit frustrated by the rain and mosquitoes.
“I don’t think it’s coming out tonight, it’s probably a little rattled by banging its head against the boards. If it comes out it will make the broom fall over and we can come back out and close off the hole”, I added trying to get myself back inside where it was warm and dry.
I headed over to the ladder and once assured that Sharon was holding it and wasn’t angry with me, I headed back down hopefully for the last time that evening.
Stay tuned for the next chapter…