Going Animal Crackers with Rocky Raccoon

CONNECTICUT DAYS

Lying on this desk is a receipt that I have been meaning for too long to forward to our rental agents in the vague hope that the landlord, who lives in Romania, might pay some of it. His house, a handsome clapboard structure of about 80 years, has suffered, and I quote, from an "animal invasion". Trying to repel it has been a costly and surprising adventure.

My wife became aware of our problem first. Night after night during the winter she would comment on odd bumps and scufflings from below. Rarely disposed to rouse myself, I attributed them to the plumbing or the foundations. It was only late one night three weeks ago, after taking out the rubbish, that I had to admit, rather breathlessly, that something more was going on. We had unwelcome lodgers and I had just come close to being assaulted by one. Or rather squirted.

I almost missed the creature at first, but just as I reached the dustbins, it stirred about a yard away in front of the garage door. It appeared to be mostly black with white markings and I thought it was a cat. But as I trailed it into the garden, I began to wonder why it moved more like a rabbit. Finally it stopped and only then did I realise what it was: a skunk. It turned and made for me at alarming speed. Worse, its tail shot vertically into the air - a sign that it was about let loose with a stream of musky skunk-juice, so evil-smelling that I would surely have been banned from my commuter train.

It was about then that your correspondent could have been spotted barrelling out of his garden at midnight and running pell-mell down the road in his socks and a determined skunk in hot pursuit. Silly behaviour, but how was I to know that skunks populated the leafy 'burbs of Connecticut? So exotic a species, I had naively thought, were contained in the deserts of the Far West or perhaps the mountains of Mexico. Not the lanes of Greenwich. But when Frank Baker, the local pest control man, came by, I was in for still more surprises.

Frank was tut-tutting even before he got out of his pick-up. He directed me immediately to the narrow avenue of bare and polished soil that skirted the foundations of the house. By night, he explained, it would be a veritable motorway of vermin, all of which was probably billeted beneath our house. It might be dangerous for the children, especially at dusk. And there was the added concern about rabies. His sales pitch was easily made: for a fat fee he would set traps and dispose of whatever turned up.

The traps were metal wire affairs, with spring-loaded trap-doors rather quaintly called "Havaheart Traps", presumably because they neither kill nor snare. Each night, Frank would prime two of them with bait - fruit mostly - and return in the morning to see what we had. Clearly, there had been a menagerie beneath the porch that even the late Gerald Durrell would have marvelled at. In three days, Frank captured one skunk, two plump raccoons, two opossums - revolting looking animals, like pumped- up rats with beady eyes and snouts like Concorde - and a very angry ginger tom from down the road.

Opposums, it seems, are under some kind of protection and had to be "relocated" by Frank at least five miles away - not presumably, in someone else's back garden. The solution for the raccoons and skunks was more terminal. They were, the receipt says, "euthanised". That is to say, they were shot right there in our garden in the Havahearts. The first execution was almost witnessed by our four year-old, who found himself yanked from the first floor window after he had asked his mummy what Frank was about do with that long stick. "Nothing. Get back to Scooby Doo". BANG!

Whether Frank has got everything, we are not yet sure. There seems to be less disturbance at night, but he did have one ominous observation: both raccoons were males and one had "breeding marks" on him. With whom was he breeding? Where is Mrs Raccoon? And when is she due exactly?

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