I know the raccoons we are seeing on our deck are young. They look young. Their tails are short and the coats are not the plush, rich colors that you see in adult raccoons. Their masks are incomplete.
I got to wondering how long a raccoon can live and was surprised to discover that a wild raccoon, it’s a very short lifespan — usually two to three years. Kept as a pet, they can live as long as 20 years. That’s a huge difference. Apparently being protected from other predators and being well-fed and taken to a vet as necessary makes more than a small difference in their lifespans.
They are illegal in many states, such as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and this state (Massachusetts) among others. There are specific laws surrounding raccoon ownership in most states too. In some states, it may be legal to own a raccoon as a pet, but it is not legal to import raccoons from outside the state.
A lot of this has to do with their being fur-bearing animals that are frequently hunted for pelts — which is now illegal almost everywhere in the U.S. They make charming, intelligent pets, too. They can be housebroken to use a litter pan (like a cat) and will eat almost anything from seeds to meat and fish. Their intelligence also makes them difficult pets. Imagine if your cat or dog had the intelligence of a 2-year-old and about the same amount of control.
You can’t crate them for very long. They are very active creatures. They go crazy living in cages and need to be free to explore. Free to decide your office need redecoration. They may not have the material for the decorating, but they are pretty good at destroying your current arrangement. They also love electrical cords and knocking things off shelves, tearing down curtains, opening refrigerators and eating anything that looks interesting — which, being raccoons, is more or less everything. If you eat, they’ll be happy to eat it.
In temperate or warmer climates, they are a much better outdoor pet but they are also tempting morsels for bigger predators. Lynxes, bobcats, mountain lions, big hawks and eagles are happy to eat young raccoons. If they live to grow to their full size of 25 to 30 pounds and sometimes more (obesity is one of their issues), they can fight back. It’s the little ones who die. Which is why most of the raccoons you meet in the wild are young.
Most people consider them furry vandals and try to keep them out of their yards. I have a problem with that because everything gets hungry. We’ve taken over so much of the world, it isn’t easy for them to find healthful food.
Raccoons live all over the country from southern California and Louisiana through the deep Ameican south up to near arctic conditions in Canada. They may not live long, but they live everywhere including Boston. We had a huge one living in our backyard on Beacon Hill. He owned the backyard which was technically ours, but I felt a lot safer letting him have it. He growled at me when I tried to go out there. He was a big boy, a happy trash raider if ever I met one.
Then there’s the issue of rabies. The most typically rabid animals are bats. Next, come skunks and after that, raccoons. During my (very) brief stint as Deputy Animal Control Officer for Millville, a tiny neighboring town, I became very familiar with rabies. They had even found rabid deer.
I got a rabies shot because no way I was handling possibly rabid animals without an inoculation. Rabies is lethal. You do not survive it. Not you or any animal. The anti-rabies shots they can give you to prevent it if you are bitten are known to be very painful. But if you don’t get the shots immediately, they won’t work and you’ll die. All of this put me out of the animal control business in a big hurry.
Pet raccoons don’t get rabies because veterinarians — assuming you can find one who will treat a raccoon — get rabies shots. They also get the same medications dogs and cats get to prevent ticks, fleas, heartworm as well as other worms and infestations.
So. That’s why your pet raccoon can live 10 to 20 years while the wild ones like those stealing seeds from our feeder probably won’t see age four. I feel bad about that, though there is nothing I can do to fix it other than pretending I don’t know they live on the seeds from our feeders.
I feel guilty about all the animals I feed. When it’s terribly cold, I want to let the birds in and so they can warm up. I’d like to have flying squirrels gliding around the house. I think that would solve my problem with ancient Chinese porcelain and Native American pottery. It would become shards in no time.
There was a period in my life when we used to raise the occasional litter of Siamese kittens. When people asked me about breakables I assured them if it was breakable, it was already broken. I’m getting too old to deal with taming wild things in my house, even if the wild things are crazed Siamese kittens.
The only pet squirrel (non-flying) I knew died by falling head-first into a toilet and drowning. It wasn’t my squirrel, but it convinced me that wild animals need to stay wild unless they are injured and can’t live outside.
I feel bad about the raccoons. They are young and I wonder, even with the seeds I provide, if they will live to adulthood. I’m lucky it’s illegal to keep them as pets. The laws are protecting me from me.