Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Saga of the Urban Critters

This is going to be a fairly long story so make yourself comfortable. I think I should provide a warning about not drinking or eating anything while you're reading. I don't want anyone to choke.

I'm a country girl transplanted into a big city. Sometimes I wonder just exactly how I got here in the first place. I mean, I grew up in tiny little hamlets that weren't even on most maps. In most cases, the "town" had been built around a cross roads and had a tiny post office and a school. The closest grocery store was sometimes 45 miles away. Now I'm not a big fan of towns *that* small, but I'm most comfortable living in places where the population is around 20,000. How the hell did I end up in Denver?

Anyway, as a child of rural areas, I'm not unfamiliar with critters. All those years of 4-H, FFA and FHA ensured that I'm well acquainted with all kinds of animals. And may the gods continue to bless 4-H which is undoubtably one of the best things in the world for children. The gift of self-assurance, confidence, the ability to speak in public and learn how to reach logical conclusions based on independent thought..........these are all things that 4-H gives to kids and they help develop leadership skills that are carried into adult careers. The world would be a better place if every child in it were able to be a member of 4-H.

So in addition to all those things, I also learned how to do things like judge livestock. It's been awhile but I'm pretty sure I can still tell you the best breeding stock characteristics for charlet bulls. I've spent time hanging out on ranches and farms watching cattle being branded, dehorned and de-other things. I like to talk to chickens (they're exceptionally good listeners) and I know how to ride a horse. I can get a mule to take a bit in his mouth and I've helped birth barn cats. I raised rabbits one year till a hungry mountain lion came into the back yard and ate them. I didn't really hold it against the mountain lion since it had been a hard winter and she was hungry. I'm just glad she had a taste for rabbit and ignored me sleeping on the back porch that night.

I've seen some odd animal behavior including calves that will play fetch. But nothing..........nothing............prepared me for the behavior of urban critters.

I didn't even know that the big city had critters! I expected rats and pigeons but the first time I saw a deer crossing sign in the city I was totally blown away. I thought it was a joke till I saw the deer.

Denver may be unique in it's urban wild life since there's actually a national park in the midst of the city. Seriously! There's a big reservoir about a mile from where we live and that's where all the critters come from. We see deer grazing on the medians between 6 lane streets not far from our house! We also have fox and raccoons in our yard. More about them later.

Before I go any further, I should 'splain about the attitude of these critters. In rural areas, the critters still have their own space so they can ignore the humans and go on about their business. We don't see much wild life because of that. But in the city, the critters are forced to share their space with the humans who have intruded upon it and believe me, they're still pretty pissed about it. That's why they have so much attitude.

Those deer in the median? They don't even flinch when semi-trucks go high balling down the street and they'll stare you down at traffic lights. The city is full of canadian geese who regularly stop traffic when they decide to take a stroll across a busy street during rush hour. If you honk your horn at them, they honk back. I don't speak goose, but I'm pretty sure that they're making reference to the driver's mother. Some cities have problems with road rage, we have problems with goose rage. We came out of a mall one day to see a goose parked on top of an SUV. It appears that he had figured out that the things with wheels will take you places without having to use wing power and was just waiting for a ride. I wouldn't have wanted to be the one to tell him to get his feathered ass off my truck either coz those things get aggressive if they're challenged!

The fox in our neighborhood isn't a problem at all. It's a vixen and about the only time we see her is when she's out on midnight forages. We see her more in the spring which is normal since that's the time they whelp and she's looking for food for her kits. The owls aren't a problem either and I kinda like listening to them at night especially when they sing in duet with the nightingales. The woodpeckers are a different matter. We have woodpeckers from hell who prefer siding to pine trees. Putting up a plastic owl doesn't do any good to scare them away since they're wise to that trick. On the other hand, at least one real owl hasn't figured out that the girl by the window is plastic. He regularly sits in the tree and sings to her, trying to woo her affection. Either he's not real bright or he thinks that she's just playing hard to get.

Raccoons are some of the smartest animals in the world no matter where they live. In the city, they have a totally different kind of smart. Yep, around here the raccoons are street smart. I'm not sure how one of them figured out how to get the cap off our chimney, but she did. Then she moved in and I'm pretty sure that she brought along some furniture, a few pictures for the walls, some nice curtains and some throw pillows because she obviously intended to stay. In fact, she set up a nursery and gave birth.

She was very, very quiet about the whole thing but then a single, expectant mother probably shouldn't be throwing wild parties anyway. The first time we realize that something was going on in the chimney was when Napoleon began sitting on the fireplace hearth, gazing up into the chimney. He wasn't upset or agitated, just calmly sitting there with head cocked to one side and an air of responsible watchfulness. That's a look that I normally associate with Napoleon when he's around babies. He has a real love of babies (human and animal) and assumes he's a guardian when there's one around. They really fascinate him. But since it was a chimney he was staring at, I didn't associate the two.

Well, I didn't associate it until a week or so later when I noticed that our fireplace was whimpering. It had never done that before so it definitely got our attention. Napoleon had obviously been hearing it for a couple of weeks before we did but his hearing is much better. By the time we heard it, the raccoon babies were probably about two weeks old and starting to practice their glee club homework. At least a couple of them were in the band since there were noises that sounded like a squeaking clarinet and a badly tuned violin.

We weren't sure what it was at first. My initial guess was probably rats or mice and since the flue was securely closed, I didn't worry about it much. We figured out it was raccoons the night that Bruce looked up at one of the windows downstairs and was nose to nose with Mrs Raccoon. She quickly put her paws over her eyes so she couldn't be seen in the dark and melted away into the bushes. But when we heard a heavy thud on the roof shortly after that, and the sound of paw-steps going from the corner where the pine tree grows across the roof to the chimney, we knew who had moved in.

But what do you do with baby raccoons in the chimney? We're both animal lovers and certainly didn't want to smoke them out. We thought we'd give it a little time and see if they'd move out on their own.

That plan was quickly discarded when the noises from the chimney started getting louder and louder. Either space was becoming a premium in there and wrestling matches were being held, or the babies had become teenagers and were throwing parties when Mom was gone. Even Napoleon would shake his head and mumble about irrisponsible kids. We knew that we couldn't leave it to natural plan anymore and called an animal control company that specialized in raccoon removal.

Wait a minute! There was actually an ad in the yellow pages for raccoon removal! Apparently this happens a lot around here.

So, the raccoon removal specialist (RRS) showed up, peered down the chimney and said that yes, there was a family of young raccoons living in there and one had just flipped him off. Told ya they had attitude. He tried using his catching stick to grab them but they had moved into a little depression right over the fireplace and were backed into it laughing at him. Every time he poked the stick down there, they'd just point and giggle.

The RRS told us that he'd have to go to Plan B and pour some "liquid deterrent" down the chimney. I told him not to be coy. I know all about coyote piss. Apparently the raccoons did too because it didn't do the slightest thing to deter them. I think they sprayed around some Febreeze, plugged in an Airwick and ignored it. On the other hand, Napoleon is a farm rescue kitty and even after 15 years, he still knows the scent of predator piss. He growled at the fireplace and stayed out of the den for three days!

The RSS came back the next day, peered down the chimney and this time when the raccoons flipped him off, he gave them the finger right back. He poked around with his stick again, hollered at them and finally told us that he'd have to escalate it to his supervisor. At this point I'm not only marveling that there are such things as urban raccoon removal specialists, but that they actually have a point of escalation for extremely difficult raccoons!

Turns out that they didn't need to escalate it after all. Later that night, we heard a lot of stomping............yes, actual *stomping*....... on the roof as the raccoons moved out. There was a lot of racket during the whole process. I'm guessing that they had a hard time getting the sofa out of the chimney. As angry as they were about it, we figured we'd be hearing from the Raccoon Civil Liberties Union but so far there's been nothing in the mail from their lawyer about the eviction.

They didn't move far away since we see the mother around from time to time. I think she's living under the spyria bush out in the back corner of the yard. It's as big as a Toyota and the cable pedestal is behind it so she probably figured that there's plenty of room and she can tap into the cable line. This could explain all those On Demand charges on our cable bill.

Bruce did see the whole family one night when he was working in the garage. He happened to look up just in time to see them walking up the middle of the street in single file......about six of them in a row. He said it was like some surreal version of West Side Story. He expected the raccoons to start snapping their fingers and breaking into a dance. I'm positive that somewhere up the street there was a gang of foxes waiting to rumble. I'm pretty sure I heard the distant wail of "Mariaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa".

Now if you think the raccoons are bad, you should meet the squirrels.

Squirrels are rats with good PR. Sure, they're cute and have fluffy tails, but that's about the only thing that separates them from rats. In fact, we have a lot less trouble with rats than we do with squirrels around here. Last winter, the police department kept getting calls from a woman reporting vandalism. Someone kept getting into her yard and cutting pieces from the middle of her christmas lights strung on the front porch. They were cutting about 12 inch sections from various places. It wasn't till the spring when she found a squirrel nest in her eaves that she realized who was doing it. Yep, the squirrels had a stash of pretty strands of christmas lights in their nest. Fortunately they hadn't figured out how to splice them together and hook 'em up to an extension cord. Given a few more weeks, I'm sure they would have.

We have a huge squirrel nest hanging in one of the trees out front and there are dozens of squirrels in and out of the yard. At first I thought they were cute and then I noticed that there were holes gnawed into my patio furniture cushions and clumps of stuffing were missing. At $50 per cushion, that's really expensive squirrel nest lining! When I went out to stuff the ruined cushions into a trash bag and bring in the ones that were left, the squirrels sat on the patio roof and threw pine cones at me. Seriously! They really did! I had to duck the projectiles! Either squirrels have their own major league baseball team or they've got a catapult up there.

Our house is a tri-level built into a hill so to get to the living room you have to go up one flight of stairs. That puts the living room windows even with the branches of the tree growing closest to the house in the front yard. I love it because I can open the big window, curl up on my loveseat and it feels like I'm sitting in the tree. Napoleon joins me there and it's our favorite "quiet place".

Then we met the squirrel from hell. I mean this squirrel can rant more than Dennis Miller! Usually when the squirrels see me in the tree, they raise one eyebrow and whisper to one another "Who invited her? Is she your relative? No, she's not mine. I dunno. Just ignore her". But little Mr Anger Management Issue Squirrel had a complete melt down.

He climbed as far out on the limb as he could which put him about three feet away from me. First he just yelled at me with a lot of chittering and chattering, then he'd stop and glare at me. From his silence, I figured he was expecting a response so I talked back to him. Little did I know that I was engaging a squirrel in the hottest debate of the century. You think political debates get out of hand? Try having a rational conversation with a squirrel!!

So he'd chitter and glare and I'd laugh and reply and then he'd chitter even louder and glare even longer. Napoleon was sitting beside me calmly watching the whole thing and would occasionaly turn his head to look at me as if to say, "Do you believe this guy?"

Finally the squirrel completly fell apart. He started spinning his tail around like a propellor. If we'd had a good breeze that day, I think he would have taken off like a helicopter. He had a routine that went "Chitter, chitter, chitter, snarf, snarf, chatter, growl" while the tail spun like a crank, and then he's stomp his back feet three times. I didn't know that squirrels could stomp their feet! By the time he had gone thru the routine three or four times I was screaming with laughter and singing "Disco Duck" to him.

With one last shreeching chitter, he flipped his tail up into the air and ran off to the nest. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he had a cell phone in there and was placing a call to Uncle Vinnie and putting a contract out on me.

Out in the country the critters and I have a mutual respect for one another and if I don't go where they are, they won't go where I am. But here in the city the critters are psychotic and those rules don't apply. I'm really careful when I go out in the yard now. Somewhere out there is a squirrel who wants to put me in a pair of concrete shoes.



  1. "Squirrels are rats with good PR". LOL. I learned to despise city squirrels very quickly. At my previous house I had this huge old maple tree, inhabited by a jerk squirrel. In Ontario they have these all black types that get huge and fearless. I had to watch my back when mowing around "his" tree for fear he's naw my face off. He very often told me where to shove it when weeding the flower gardens :0


    I'm so glad I believed your suggestion about food and drink before I started reading. I might have had a soaked keyboard otherwise.

    In the midwest we call squirrels "tree rats," but I really like the "rats with good PR." Mind if that gets used? ;-)

    Do your raccoons come out during the day? The ones where I went to college did. They lived in the sewers and were quite happy there. Scared the piss out of me though since I was taught that raccoons and 'possums that come out during daylight hours might have rabies.

  3. I am so glad I came by!! Too funny!! I'm a country girl turned city girl, too!! So, I totally understand what your talking about! I have a opussum that has taken up residence under my house!! And my cats just sit there...and watch!! I dunno know why people spend so much time watching TV when there city critters to watch! LOL!!

  4. This is hilarious!!! Sorry you're having such critter problems. if it makes you feel better my friend told me this story: one year around Christmas a racoon broke into their house. the parents saw him and he was startled into running upstairs (but not before he stole a christmas tree ornament off the tree). The racoon ducked into the bathroom which just happened to have a little door that was somehow open into the attic. The then went into the attic and DOWN THE WALLS until he was stuck in the wall right behind the master bedroom bed!!!! And to top it all off the Christmas ornament he had stolen played Jingle Bells when you squeezed it so the couple got to hear Jingle Bells and scratching all night long until someone could come unstick the racoon the next day. Crazy Creatures!

  5. This is too funny! I hope that you and your squirrels can come to some kind of truce- I would not want to be living under the threat of a "squirrel hit". Stay safe!!!hee hee hee heeee

  6. Deb,you have an award over at my blog. Please stop by and collect it.