I’ve lived in the same house on the same 2 ½ acre parcel of land in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, for nearly 28 years. Since we moved in, with the housing boom of the 90s, our little village has transformed from a bucolic and hidden rural gem to a network of subdivisions and development. The street we live on has seen significant development, as the open meadow across the street that was the entrance to 30 acres of old growth oaks is now lawn and houses, and while most of the oaks are still there, they now give cover to a subdivision of castles and roads that were built for those “one percenters” you keep reading about.
Despite all the development and change, my street remains a dead end street and is still pretty quiet. There are enough trees and enough open space to make it feel like we still live in the country. Wildlife is still surprisingly abundant, having learned how to inhabit the suburban landscape and co-exist with us wacky humans.
It’s rare that we see deer anymore. When we first moved in, sightings were quite frequent. Coyotes still howl at night, and on two occasions, we’ve seen them in my back yard. There is a family of foxes that lives on our street, appearing every year with new pups right about now; they usually make their den in the culvert under a driveway down the street, and I think some years they used the thick hedgerow that surrounds the southern half of my property. We’ve had snapping turtles and pine and garter snakes in our yards, and, in the tall hardwood trees in my backyard, we’ve had nesting great horned owls. We’ve had skunks we’ve never seen but thanks to our late, great golden retriever, Sid, we know existed because every year he’d manage to get sprayed. And we’ve had raccoons, which reminds me of our most memorable encounter with nature.
It was about twenty years ago, a Saturday, a bright summer morning. I remember I had to run to Menards in Racine to pick something up. Before I left, I noticed, in the lot across the street from us, a raccoon sitting in the yard, not moving, and not looking right. I knew raccoons are nocturnal creatures, and I also knew they can be carriers of disease, including rabies. I went inside and told my wife to keep an eye on it and make sure the kids and dogs didn’t go too close to it. Then I said, “I should just get my .22 and shoot it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “This is a residential neighborhood. We don’t want to upset the neighbors.”
I ran my errands, and when I got back, about an hour and a half later, the raccoon was still there, in the same spot, looking sick. I went inside and told my wife I was going to get my .22 and put it out of its misery.
“Are you crazy? You’ll upset the neighbors. There are people who deal with these things.” She got the phone book out and I began dialing.
The first thing we tried was the humane society. They said, sorry, they only deal with dogs and cats and domestic pets.
Then we tried something called animal control. They replied there was nothing they could do for potential dangerous animals, and suggested we try the humane society.
Then we called the village police department, and they said, sorry, as it is a Saturday morning they only had one detective on duty and that he had more important calls to deal with. They suggested we try animal control.
For some reason that still eludes me, I tried animal control again, telling them that the police department referred me to them. That didn’t matter; they still didn’t deal with dangerous animals.
Finally I called the police department back, and got put in the queue for the lone officer on duty. They gave no promise on how long it would take to respond.
Frustrated, I went out and talked to my neighbor at the time, Sam, one of my all time favorite people. He was one of the nicest and most generous guys I’ve ever met, a perfect neighbor, always willing to help, and he was smart and strong in that no nonsense, unassuming manner that I admired so much. He was a retired factory worker, at the time about 70 years old. He always reminded me, in terms of how he looked and spoke and acted, of the famous test pilot, Chuck Yeager. As I told him about my misadventures on the phone and that a detective was finally on the way, I looked out across the street and I noticed the raccoon wasn’t there anymore.
“Yeah, he got up and moved into that brush,” Sam said, pointing to the little thicket that divided the property lines across the street. “Moved real slow and clumsy. That thing is definitely sick.”
We went across the street to see if we could see it, so if the cop ever came, we could tell him where it is. Sure enough, it was sitting in a little clearing in the shade in the thicket, breathing heavy. It silently glared at us as we peeked thru the brush at it.
A little while later, a squad car pulled up to our house, its lights flashing. I went out and met the detective, dressed in his brown uniform, with a walky-talky holstered on one hip and his service revolver holstered on the other. I told him where the raccoon was, and that it was definitely sick. He told me to stay back. He pulled his revolver out of his holster and carefully approached the thicket. He slowly crept to the right side, aimed his revolver, and fired – boom! – so much for not disturbing the neighborhood. Then he moved to the front of the thicket, revolver still drawn, and aimed, and boom! – he fired a second shot. Then he stalked to the left of the thicket, again took careful aim, and boom! – fired a third shot. He put his revolver back in the holster, took the walky-talky out and took the call, and approached Sam and I from where we watched in my front yard.
“Well, I got him,” he said. “I”ve got another call I have to respond to, somebody will be out in a little bit to dispose of the carcass.” And then he was back in his squad car, lights flashing, and drove away, down the street, putting the final exclamation mark on the commotion that only a squad car with flashing lights and the sound of three gunshots could arouse in a quiet neighborhood.
Sam and I had no choice but to go over and check on the crime scene. Peering through the brush, we could see the raccoon, but it wasn’t still and quiet this time. It was loudly hissing, spinning in circles, with one of its back paws broken and bleeding, it couldn’t move. As far as we could tell, the three shots the detective fired, all from a range no greater than 10 yards, had resulted in one hit, to one of the raccoon’s back paws.
“For cripes sake,” Sam said. “This has gone on about long enough.”
He went to his garage and got a shovel, a spade. He came back and stepped into the thicket and put the point of it at the raccoon’s neck. The raccoon hissed, angry and loud, and with its front paws grabbed at the shovel, but Sam was quick and decisive, he took his right foot and applied it to the spade and in one clean motion decapitated the raccoon. It may have been gruesome, but it was the quickest and most effective and most humane solution. That was Sam – he always knew what to do to get a job done, and he was always willing to do it.
With that, after several hours, about five phone calls, one police squad car, three shots from a detective’s service revolver, and one decisive shovel to its neck, the ballad of the sick raccoon was complete. Thank goodness I listened to my wife and didn’t shoot the poor thing – that might have upset the neighborhood.