September 18, 2020

The Critter Relocation Project

Our farm—like every farm—is slam full of animals, both domestic and feral. Recently, we have alerted a few of the more nuisancy critters that they need to relocate. Alas, they don't tend to listen . . .

The Critter Relocation Project

Published September 18, 2020

We've been trying to catch a raccoon that sporadically ransacks the barn cat's food and any trash we set outside. Occasionally, we will actually see the raccoon or hear a food bowl being overturned. Most nights, though, the only evidence is an empty bowl—a bowl cleaned of every crumb. Maybe a hole in a trash bag with random bits of this and that strewn about.

Additionally, raccoons are killers. We are sometimes concerned for our aging barn cat as he snoozes away, oblivious to these masked killers slinking by. When he is awake, Diamond (the cat) doesn't even bother to keep a healthy distance. With this blasé look on his face, he will lie there, utterly indifferent, as a raccoon goes to town on his food dish. Most of these raccoons significantly outweigh the cat (I once dispatched a forty-pound raccoon who was killing our chickens). If hungry enough, one of these trash-pandas may look at the cat and see dinner. Not likely (they prefer small prey) but not unheard of. Raccoons are beautiful, but they are not always benign.

And then there is, of course, the threat of rabies. We can vaccinate against rabies, but we can't stop a rabid raccoon from doing bad things to the cat because it has lost its mind due to the virus. This is an unlikely scenario, but rabies can be epidemic in raccoon populations at times.

Raccoons have caused other issues for us in the past. They made a healthy dent in the chicken population, and, over time, they have killed most of our ducks. These are a different category of problems, though, which we address indirectly or we live with.

Ransacked cat food and trash is the current issue. One recent masked visitor has been especially challenging because he—I refer to all of them as 'he'—is both an intermittent visitor and he is super flighty (raccoons are usually rather bold). When he visits, he eats all the food, flips the food and water bowls, and often strews trash hither and thither. And he is a particularly unhealthy looking raccoon. He hasn't bothered the cat yet, but . . .

So, we decided to attempt to trap him. The trap is a nice live-animal trap that we bought at Tractor Supply—a bit pricey at $70.

You've probably already guessed the biggest challenge associated with trapping: It's hard to be selective. We don't want to trap the cat. Plus, there are feral cats in the area who visit from time to time as well. We'd like to keep those around.

There are a couple ways to tackle this problem: (1) Use bait food uninteresting to a cat (fruit, veggies), (2) Let the cats get caught a few times and learn from the experience, or (3) Bring the cat inside for a few nights and hope he knows how to use a litter box. We opted for option three—for Diamond, at least; the feral cats are not approachable.

We brought Diamond inside and set the trap.

At first, he was all excited to be inside with us. He loves humans, and this was the most human thing ever! He nuzzled and clawed and, most importantly, he used the litter box! Woot! But after thirty minutes or so, the novelty wore off and he wanted to be back outside. He wanted to be back outside where the world was without walls and he could be with his "friends" the raccoons, opossums, and feral feline brethren.

That first night, we ignored his angst until he eventually relaxed. Well, he relaxed . . . a little—relaxation interrupted by yowling every few hours. And he learned how to do this really annoying bat bat bat bat bat thing at the bottom of the door, causing it to rattle constantly. That was fun.

Sleep was fitful and we managed to catch . . . the feral cat, DD. Of course. Luckily, DD took his predicament in stride and waited patiently for us to free him. We didn't see him for some days after that, which was convenient.

The next night nothing. Then another night of nothing. We then took a break from this drama for a few days. That was until we noticed the food bowl being wiped out again. We brought the cat back inside.

This time, we caught someone. Not the raccoon—because why achieve your goals so easily?—but an opossum. Now, opossums are more nuisance than anything else. They don't carry rabies, and they are not going to attack a cat. But, they do eat the cat food and they will dig into the trash, though not as dramatically—they don't fling the garbage with abandon like a raccoon does.

We caught the opossum, loaded him up in the truck, and found a sensible spot a couple miles away. I pulled in, opened the truck gate, and the opossum gave me that grimace that only an opossum can muster. (Opossums are interesting: they can be both incredibly adorable and terrifyingly hideous with a mere change of expression.)

I set the cage on the ground and opened the trap-gate. There was a pause in activity—then BOOM!—the opossum flew out of the cage and barrelled into the woods. Opossums are not the fastest creatures in the world, but this one found some motivation.

After I released him, I was thinking: I betcha this spot is where all the local folks release all of the random critters they catch. I betcha these woods are an immigration hotspot. I envision a lot of diversity. Better food and music. More engaging conversation with a more worldly perspective. All the best parties.

I wished him well and drove home. One less opossum on the farm, but a raccoon still lurks—destined for now to haunt my dreams.

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