Close encounter of the wild kind
Shortly after dark the other night, my quiet backyard exploded with a dachshund pandemonium of screams and yelps so far beyond the pale that I ripped off my oxygen, ran barefoot through the porch debris of my friend Jack’s recent fire and, night-blind, could barely make out the form of a large animal apparently in mortal combat with my puppies.I screamed for Jack, who flew out and managed to herd the puppies inside while I followed, slamming the dog door and windows, cursing myself for “having meant to” get exterior lights installed.Usually it’s Nick who gets stepped on, or accidentally locked outside, or has the misfortune to be stuck with a bully stick inferior to Freddie’s, but this time it must have been Nick who did most of the screaming from out of range, while Freddie, with three bleeding gashes on his flank, had been on the business end of the battle with what Jack determined (from a telltale chattering sound) was a raccoon.We bathed the wounds (which appeared to be scratches rather than bites) with peroxide, slathered on Neosporin and settled in for an uneasy night. A call to Aspen Animal Hospital the next day confirmed that Freddie’s shots were up-to-date and the course of treatment correct, so that seemed to be that.Wildlife visitations this close to town are usually sporadic. Except for a long siege of skunks, the porcupines, cats, rabbits, pack rats and foxes never tarry for long, and even the nightly bears keep to the alley. We figured, erroneously, that the raccoon was a one-shot visitor. I should mention here that I’ve been taking a seven-day regimen of prednisone for a low-lying upper respiratory infection, a drug not known for its calming effects. Manic at best and “hummingbird on acid” at worst, I was in no mood to have a killer raccoon stirred into my emotional stew.When I opened the kitchen door the next night, the puppies ran virtually into the arms of the raccoon, standing upright on the porch, so startling all of us that the dogs were slammed back inside before they knew what had happened.Normally an animal lover, I had had it. “He has breached the boundaries, there are limits!” I bellowed. “Get a knife!” “Do you mean you want me to go outside right now and kill that raccoon?” “YES!”Meanwhile, I had dumped a junk drawer onto my bed, pawing through the contents for my pepper spray (bought from Ralph Jackson, probably in the ’70s), then moving on to set up my new fire extinguishers, ready for war. (“Hospitality ends at one!” my mother used to scream at boyfriends lingering in the driveway.)Jack wisely crept off to his guest room and I fell asleep before finding the pepper spray.The following evening, disappointed that there were no guns for sale at the farmers market, but armed to the teeth with the garden hose, a bottle of ammonia, the fire extinguishers and a new flashlight, it began to pour rain and the dogs refused to go out to pee or to slaughter raccoons.Then my shed-renter came in with the unsettling news that the raccoon is known to be living under the house on the corner, is the mother of babies and apparently the darling of the neighborhood. Damn! It’s hard to harbor lethal revenge against a mother foraging for her young, and I felt the venom flowing out of me as if my hate artery had been slit. Now what? Get a grip on myself, remembering that raccoons aren’t sweet as adorable as they look? Take care packages over to her babies so she’ll leave mine alone?Su Lum is a longtime local who senses that this tangled web isn’t over. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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Teachers are underpaid. They can’t find housing. Turnover is unacceptably high. If you are a teacher in Aspen today, you face losing your entire current work group five years hence.