July 5th, 2012 at 9:00pm - I got a phone call from a lovely woman claiming to have seen two baby raccoons that seemed abandoned as well as another that was deceased so I hurried over to the Lewiston address. The woman met me outside of her residence and we could hear the faint cries of a baby raccoon in the thick brush but every time we would make our way through the branches and dense growth there would be silence. Once we left the woods the crying would start again until finally the crying stopped for a good half hour after we were outside the area listening. At this point I opted to leave the scene and hopes it would come out again at a later time.
July 5th, 2012 at Midnight - Thinking about the poor and helpless babies, I grabbed my iPod and loaded some baby raccoon calls as well as a few female raccoon calls and headed back over to area to play the audio recording in hopes that we could get the babies to call back to some of the sounds. When I arrived and started looking around the area the woman was still awake and worried about the babies and came out to help look and listen. Once again, the same issue. We could hear but not locate where the cries were coming from. After another hour of searching in the dark and a half hour of silence we left once again.
July 6th 2012 at 4:30am - The woman called me in a panic that one was still alive and one had passed, the live one was huddling next to the deceased sibling near a rock. I grabbed my STAT box and headed over. Sure enough. There was a beautiful little handsome boy raccoon about 4 weeks old. Eyes newly open and tinted blue. The sibling was indeed passed so I gathered up the lone survivor in a blanket to discover where they were hiding was actually their former home with another dead sibling further in the hole under the large rock.
Now for the journey of the triage. Weak, wobbly, thin and dehydrated his outlook was not a bright one, especially knowing he is the only survivor of his litter. And of course we have no idea what they are right against. Is it merely abandonment? Rabies? Distemper? Some other genetic deformity? But I always root for the underdog and want to give them all a change to we push forward. After getting him home with a thorough look over, parting his fur to look for wounds, fly eggs or maggots, checking mucus membranes for hydration levels, gathering his weight and body condition he gets placed in a warm temporary tote to let his body temperature rise to normal before his first round of sub q fluids, a bottle of pedialyte and then the slow weaning onto his proper formula.
By the following day I was hoping for a great improvement but he still appeared very weak and unstable. His gate was off more then a typical baby of his age so I wondered about possible injury so off to the vet we went. The vet did a physical and x-rays and everything seemed physically fine. Assuming it was still simply malnutrition/dehydration that did damage to the body and would take time to recover so he suggested to give it a few more weeks and being so young the possibility of nerve damage was possible which could take weeks or more to recover from as well. So it was a waiting game.
Weeks went by and still no real improvement although he was eating well and thriving, his condition was not improving and with his siblings all deceased I was not going to introduce him to other baby raccoons if he had something contagious. So he remained alone and terrified of the world. He was very lonely and cried a lot more then most baby raccoons. My beloved friend, Michael Marchigiani, bought him a stuffed animal that had a heating pad and a heartbeat that thumped in it and it seemed to help. Being held during feedings also seemed to sooth him but putting him down was always a terrifying experience for him. His emotional state was heart breaking. I finally videoed his instability to ask others their thoughts on his gate.
Many debates went around and around and after bringing him back to the vet after a few more weeks a wonderful and knowledgeable vet tech took one look at him and said "Oh... he has cerebellar hypoplasia" (which I had never heard of before) so they talked about it and they agreed that was indeed the diagnosis and suggested I go home and look on youtube for "wobbly kitten syndrome" and sure enough, there were many cats walking/staggering just like him! It would seem the mother was infected with distemper when she was pregnant and in the development the disease damages the cerebellar part of the brain in the babies. Weeks after the babies were born, the mother must have succumb to the distemper and the siblings to their ailments and I am sure he would have soon after had we not intervened.
So now to learn more about his condition and what can we do about it. Well that was not a very fun lesson. Because of the damage done, nothing can be done to reverse it. What is done...is done. This poor little guy was deemed non-releasable. And for a raccoon... non-releasable = euthanized. I fought so hard for this poor guy. Rooting for him to pull through. Waiting for him to get better. Trying everything I could think of to get him better - faster. Then I was offered a proposal by, Michael Marchigiani, who has been my supporter for many years. He offered to fund the care for this baby if I would spare his life. He would fund his housing and food for however long his disability would let him live.
He started in the small tote on intake and before long he was able to climb out of that. And in his weak state we had to restrict movement since we did not know if he had nerve damage so he was restricted to a small-animal cage so he could not climb and/or fall.
Before long he was even outgrowing that and Michael Marchigiani purchased his first official housing for the raccoon now known as "Rudy". It was perfect for the time being. It was great for his age and where he was in his development. There are so many parts of Rudy that make him unlike most other raccoons. It is hard to describe him as a raccoon, knowing how very different from one he is.
After a few months, Rudy began digging and clawing at the canvas as well as learning that a zipper can be moved so it was time to upgrade once again.
By this point in Rudy's development it has become clear that he definitely suffers from some of the emotional issues that are associated with his condition. He is very insecure and always wants to be held as much as possible and panics whenever you try to put him down and will even lack out in aggression (out of fear) when you try to put him down. Holding him tight seems to be the only thing that gives him a sense of safety and security. Once he is down, he will explore but is extra cautious and timid and the slightest noises send him in a panic to retreat. There is no alert response with him, it is always flight. Sadly with his ataxia when he panics and tries to flee, he scrambles and flails for a few seconds before gaining his barring enough to actually "escape". Even with all of his emotional and physical challenges, many would think "With all those issues, why let him *suffer*, why not just put him down?". That is easy to answer. His issues are a small percentage of the time. He loves to play, he loves to cuddle, he plays with his toys for hours like a puppy and enjoys his time. Because his joy greatly outweighs any complications, it is easy for me to allow him to live out his days in the best ways I can provide.
Before long Rudy was strong enough to start breaking and bending the wires on the dog playpen so we moved him to a large outdoor pen that we use to use for pre-release raccoons hoping that he would enjoy the large space. Well that was an epic fail. He was terrified of the large open space, he would climb the 6 foot tall fencing and fall (luckily we took him falling into consideration and lined the bottom of the cage with a few feet of fluffed hay) and then he would stay in the far, back, corner of the cage and cry for hours. Even after a few weeks he never really adjusted. We started brainstorming to figure out what else to do to make him more comfortable, confident and feel secure. Michael once again came up with an idea of building a cage inside and between his funding and talking through the idea with my husband together they fashioned a huge indoor cage for him to keep him safe and make it fairly easy to keep clean.
Mike (my husband) and Rudy playing on the bed.