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Atticus Finch and the Rabid Raccoon

It’s a sunny morning in July and I’m washing dishes and singing along with the music

from Les Misérables. The roar of the tractor-mower that’s cutting the grass in our front yard provides an odd backbeat. My two dogs, Peri the black lab and Libby, a disobedient beagle, are sleeping under the kitchen table. The mower stops and there’s a loud urgent knock on the kitchen door. I rush to open it; it’s Tom, our lawnmower guy and he looks terrified.

“Keep your dogs inside! There’s a raccoon out there acting strange. I think he might have rabies.”

“Really? You sure?” A raccoon with rabies on our front lawn seems unlikely. We live in a woodland but the only animals I’ve ever seen here are squirrels, deer and chipmunk. “What makes you think it has rabies?”

“He was chasing my tractor,” Tom tells me. “Come see for yourself.”

We step out onto the driveway. The tractor is standing idle on the lawn and the raccoon is wobbling around it, stumbling, drooling, obviously in very bad shape. It has rabies for sure.

Tom asks if I have a gun.

“No. But right now I wish one of us did.”

“You should call 911,” Tom says.

I go inside and call 911.

“You have a what? You sure?” the 911 operator is dubious.

“Did you ever see that old movie, To Kill a Mockingbird?” I ask him. “Remember the scene when Atticus Finch shoots the rabid dog that is lurching down the street towards his kids?”

“Oh yeah!” the 911 guy says. “Cool!”

Where is Atticus Finch now when I need him. I think to myself but don’t say. Instead I say, “No. Not cool. Very not cool. We need a deputy with a gun to come help us.”

The 911 guy takes my address and promises that help is on its way. He can’t resist one more comment, “Awesome.”

It takes the deputy and his gun a very long time to arrive. Tom and I stand in the driveway watching our loony coon laboriously climb up a tree and wobble on a branch, barely able to hold on. We keep our eyes on him while we wait because we don't want him to come down and attack us or go hide in the bushes where the gunman can’t find him.

As we wait, I learn a lot more about Tom. He tells me that he used to race and do stunts on Motocross, has a whole lot of hardware in his body (his wrist, his back and more), broke his back twice, had twelve concussions, was a bouncer at a strip club for four years, and loves his little miniature pincer dogs who have pink leashes and pink collars (wife's purchase). Big strong Tom, in his sleeveless white t-shirt, huge shoulders and arms, close-cut dark hair, sweet smile, looks like he’d never be afraid of anything, anywhere. He is afraid now.

The coon tries to come down from the tree. I take several steps back toward the garage door, saying, "I am not brave enough for this."

"Neither am I,” Tom says, “I seem tough but right now I’m terrified. Do you have a baseball bat?"

“No. You think you can climb up and club him with a bat?” I get him a spade from the garage instead.

"If that thing comes down, Tom says, holding onto the handle of the spade. "I promise you I will kill it. But I don't want to. I hate killing things. To tell the truth, I'm praying he stays up there."

The raccoon never comes all the way out of the tree. He descends a couple inches but stops every time Tom claps his hands and yells.

Tom and I have a talk about the dangers of living out here in the country without a gun. "Bad idea," Tom says, looking very worried about me.

Finally, the deputy arrives. He steps out of his car, looks up the drooling animal and says, “Whoa! You got a situation here.” Then he notices Tom and says, “Hey! Tom! I remember you.” It turns out that the deputy was the one to arrive on the scene when Tom, years before, crashed and broke both arms in many places. The two are clearly happy to meet again under less grim circumstances.

I interrupt their reminiscing. “Can you shoot that thing, please”.

The deputy looks up at the raccoon and down at his gun. “Nope,” he says. “That coon is about twenty feet up. If I miss, mam, that bullet could go anywhere. It isn't safe."

So, we try to encourage the raccoon to come down. We try throwing tennis balls at him but, of course, he is totally out of his mind and has no natural self-protective instincts left. The balls hit him a few times but he doesn’t even flinch.

The deputy announces, "End of my shift,” gets in his car and drives away.

Tom calls several of his gun-slinging friends but no one answers. There is a gun club a half mile from our house. I drive over but the club is closed. Tom wanders the neighborhood and finds someone available, with a rifle.

A black pickup truck pulls in our driveway and out pops Dennis, mid-thirties, thin, short, a nearby neighbor that I haven't met before.

"You got a rabid animal here, huh?" Dennis says, unwrapping his rifle and peering up into the tree.

"Here's where I go inside," I say. But I don't go. I just back far enough away that I can't actually see the cute faced, but insane, animal get killed. The rifle shot cracks. The men murmur about the result. Then an unearthly high-pitched screaming begins. My heart lurches. I try to remind myself we aren't shooting something cuddly like Libby my beagle.

“Shoot it again, quick, please!” I shout.

Dennis shoots it again and there is sudden silence. The raccoon, totally limp now, droops, head down, twenty feet up in the tree, stuck there. Dennis, the intrepid little Dennis, tries to shinny up the blood-soaked tree to knock the raccoon down but the tree is so slippery with rabies blood that even brave Dennis has to give up, come inside, and let me help him sanitize his hands.

Later that night, my husband borrows a tall Christmas light grabber thing from Dennis and knocks the coon to the ground. We double bag him and put him in the trash bin. As the internet instructed us to do.

I now have a much more realistic idea about how different it is to live in the country. We’ve only ever lived in the city. Seems like it would be wise to own a gun here in this isolated place. I’d like to own a gun again. I was in the rifle club in high school; I learned to shoot a bb rifle when I was 7, a pistol when I was 9. My husband and I agree we will buy a gun asap and have someone at the gun club teach us to use it. Since Atticus Finch isn’t going to show up to protect us, we’ll learn to protect ourselves.

This blog also appeared in Psychology Today blogs, Close Calls and Narrow Escapes


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