Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Night Visitor

Posted by Hello

How did we get a picture of a raccoon in our kitchen? It all started with a stray cat.
In 2001 we agreed to take care of a stray cat that my sister-in-law had found. It was supposed to be temporary caretaking until my brother and sister-in-law could find a permanent home for him. He was definitely a special-needs cat with obvious disabilities. He had major grand mal type seizures whenever he slept. If he fell asleep on the edge of the bed or on the back of a chair, a seizure could hurl him off with a thunderous thud-- unable to waken before he hit the ground. He could not retract the claws on his front paws, and could not extend his rear claws at all. He had hip dysplasia, and his front legs were stiff. In short, he was a mess and we fell in love with him. We kept him, named him Bonsai, and put in a magnetic cat door in our back door so he could roam freely. The magnetic cat door was set to let him exit whenever he wanted, but when he wanted to come back in his collar magnet de-activated the magnetic latch, allowing him back to into the house. He could come and go, and no other animals could get in the house. At least that was the plan.
About two months after Bonsai arrived, I started to notice unusual paw prints on the kitchen floor. First, they were muddy prints, and we were in a dry season; and second, the prints had very long claws, quite unlike any cat prints I'd ever seen. I also noticed that Bonsai was eating more food than usual, and his bowls were absolutely licked clean. I thought we might be having a night visitor, but couldn't imagine how a raccoon was getting into the house. We never heard a sound, and there was no other signs of raccoon entry. The garbage was not tipped over, the counters, drawers, table were left untouched. This went on for about two weeks, not every night, but often enough that we decided we had to "see" who was coming in. We devised a plan to photograph the night visitor by setting up a small motion-activated camera wired to our computer. We moved the cat's food bowls so the camera would capture the action. And sure enough, a raccoon was coming into our kitchen, quietly eating Bonsai's food, and quite politely leaving without making a mess at all. We were amazed and amused.
We later learned that many raccoons in Santa Cruz had figured out how to open magnetically locked cat doors by grabbing with their long dexterous claws and pulling them open (it could not be pushed in from the outside because it was locked). It's actually very clever learned behavior. But, needless to say no matter how impressed we were by their smarts, we could no longer keep the cat door open from the inside. From then on, Bonsai stayed in at night, and the raccoons stayed out.

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