Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on December 2, 2011. Enjoy!
Written by Laurie Raymond of Colorado
Many years ago, I was the shelter director at PAWS of Lynnwood, Washington. This organization had a dog and cat shelter, an advocacy department and a wildlife clinic. We also rotated night and holiday rescue coverage for both domestic and wild critters who got into trouble outside of regular business hours.
One fall evening when I was on call, a woman phoned from a pay phone near a trail head where she and her 9-year-old son had been hiking. They had come upon a raccoon caught in a leghold trap in a creek and didn’t begin to know how to get him out.
This Wasn’t Going to Be Easy
I sighed to myself. Years of dealing with raccoons have given me a healthy respect for them, and I recalled many instances of their formidable fierceness. I asked the woman if she and her son would wait for me and lead me back to the animal, and help me release him if I couldn’t get hold of a colleague to assist. They assured me they would wait, and of course I was unable to round up anyone from our staff to go with me. It was almost dark when we all trooped back up the trail to the animal. He was huge! I had brought with me a snare pole, some first aid supplies and a plastic carrier for taking him back to the clinic for treatment, since these traps often cause terrible damage. One look told me this guy would never fit inside that carrier!
I spoke to the raccoon, telling him what I intended and how I was going to release him, and he watched me closely but didn’t give away his thoughts. He seemed calm, but whether from trust or shock I didn’t know. I worked the loop of the snare around his body and under one arm, then gently pulled his upper body so that (I hoped) I could work on his trapped hind leg without him being able to get to me, and I showed the woman how to hold the pole stable by bracing it against a snag. I crossed the creek, approaching the raccoon’s hind end, and set to work on the trap. The animal made one attempt to pull away, but then settled stoically.
I Knelt in the Water and Tried to Pry the Trap Open
But the trap was rusty and I wasn’t making progress opening it. I knelt in the water and used my all-purpose tool to pry at the jaws, but they were not budging. Suddenly I felt a difference in tension in the animal’s body and looked up. Imagine my surprise when I saw his face just inches from mine! I looked for the woman who was supposed to be holding the pole steady. She was 10 feet away on the other bank, and the pole was lying uselessly in the water. Her son had slipped, she had dropped the pole to help him, and when the animal moved, she backed away and was afraid to approach him again.
I looked at the raccoon and he seemed to understand the situation. I’m sure he had tried with his own hands to free his leg, because he could easily reach it. I guess he realized I was his only hope. Anyway, he made no move to interfere, and I kept at the trap until I finally was able to spring it. The raccoon looked at me, then at his freed leg. Without moving away, he picked it up in his hands and examined it carefully, then put it in the water and moved his foot, and finally his toes.
Then he stood up slowly and just stood there while I released the snare, walked upstream a couple of feet, and then scuttled up the bank. There he stopped and gave me a long look I interpreted as “Thanks, catch you later” and disappeared into the underbrush. Because I got to watch as he examined and tested his leg, I’m pretty sure he was OK. And I was OK, and I was able to remove the snare (I had been wondering as I worked how I would manage that, and worrying whether I could catch up to him, if he took off still attached to it).
This event was a high point from my years in animal rescue and even now the memory is vivid and sweet.