Our ace sports photographer, Richard Darcey, was at home taking a shower when he thought he heard strange noises. He turned off the water and listened.
Yep. A scratching noise was coming from the attic, just over his head.
Darcey guessed that an animal had gotten in probably through a small opening near a gable. He got dressed, put up a ladder and investigated.
When Darcey shined his flashlight into the opening, he saw a raccoon. "A huge raccoon," he told me later. "This one looked like he weighed about 30 pounds. My flashlight awakened him, and when he raised his head to investigate me, he didn't look pleased. I got down off the ladder quickly."
Darcey phoned the Humane Society of Montgomery County and asked Stuart D. Shifrin whether he could borrow an animal trap. Shifrin told him there was a waiting list for traps at the moment, but there might be an easier way to get the raccoon out.
"Ammonia is a good repellent," he said. "People who put a little ammonia into their garbage cans find that animals don't bother them. The animals sniff the ammonia as they approach, and don't even bother to knock the lid off. Raccoons learn quickly. If the ammonia smell is there for several days, they don't even come around to sniff any more."
"All right," Darcey said. "I'll put some ammonia on a rag and toss it in there. Anything else?"
"Yes," Shifrin said. "Put a small radio up there. Tune it to a station that broadcasts a lot of talk shows, and turn up the volume. Raccoons hate the intrusion. Your guest will probably find a more peaceful habitat if you subject him to nonstop talk."
Darcey followed instructions. He tuned a transistor radio to WTOP, which offers talk around the clock, and awaited results.
The next day, his raccoon was gone. And it hasn't returned since.
Before I started to write this report about Darcey's raccoon, I checked with Shifrin, who is a wildlife director of the Montgomery Humane Society."Dick Darcey thinks you're a genius," I said. "You got rid of his raccoon."
"We win some, we lose some," Shifrin said philosophically. "I couldn't lend him a trap right away because business is really booming for us right now, so I thought we might as well try some other things first."
"Why is business booming?" I asked. "Is it because the weather has turned cold and the raccoons are looking for warm homes?"
"No, not really," he said. "We just have a lot of raccoons in this area."
Raccoons are basically treee dwellers all year around, he said, but at times they do get into houses. "It's the squirrels that begin looking for a warm attic at about this time of the year because their little ones will begin arriving in February, followed by the raccoon babies in April, and then snakes, and of course the birds will nest in chimneys. We just seem to keep busy all year long."
"How did you happen to get into this kind of work?" I asked.
"I was working toward a master's degree in wildlife biology when I heard the job was open," he explained. "I applied for the job, they hired me, and here I am. I've been too busy to get my degree, but I really love what I'm doing, and I've never regretted the decision."
Incidentally, Shifrin says we can add one more suggestion to our list of things that foil raccoons intent on raiding garbage cans: He reports that one householder found an old auto tire that fit the top of his garbage can so snugly that the raccoons couldn't get it off. If all else fails, try that.
P.S.: Was Darcey in danger of being attacked by his 30-pound guest? "Any animal is dangerous when cornered," Shifrin said, "but you're not likely to corner an animal that's as quick and smart as a raccoon. They seldom attack humans."
If you encounter any 30-pound raccoons, don't mess with them until you make sure they know they're not supposed to attack humans. It would be just my luck to meet a stupid raccoon who thinks he's a bear. HELP!
As you have probably noticed, Scott Chase has already begun to worry because his fund drive for Children's Hospital is off to a slow start. I tried to explain to him that it is a fundamental law of nature that all fund drives must begin slowly, but there was a glazed look in his eyes and I don't think I really got through to him.
If you can send him your check today, you'be be doubly blessed. You'll be helping to provide medical help for Our Town's needy children, and you'll be relieving the anxiety of an earnest young man who is determined to do a good job.
Address your letter to: Scott Chase, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Thank you.