"I have somewhat of a dilemma", said Gail Martin of Critter Care in Surrey. "How would you feel about seven?"
And so it began. One summer, at a country fair, I saw one of Critter Care's info booths for the first time, where they had photo albums of foster parents and their charges — both raccoons and squirrels. Half an hour later I was at Critter Care's door, signing up to foster. Gail had me do newborn squirrels first. We brought them home in a ice-cream bucket, and stimulated them to poop and pee by gently rubbing their little tummies with a Q-tip. Without the same stimulation that a mother's rough tongue provides, they get blocked-up. It was wonderful and amazing watching all our babies grow. We had wonderful talks with our children about the circle of life, as we sat around the kitchen table stimulating squirrels.
After a year of waiting and much anticipation and preparation, my raccoon babies were to arrive at last. We were asked to take the largest family group being fostered in fifteen years! I immediately agreed to take them, of course. All that remained was how to break the news to my sorely put-upon hubby.
My masked love-boats arrived in a two-car convoy along with kennels, piles of blankets, sheets, toys, bottles, nipples and eight pounds of raccoon milk powder. Gail and Jan (old hands at all this), and I did a quick feeding of seven eager little mouths, and then, red-faced with joy, I tucked my purring little darlings into their bed. "This should be no problem", naively thought I.
After carefully explaining the perils of aspiration, and all the things that could happen to my babies, Gail reminded me to RELAX and off she drove...
At 10:30 pm began my first feeding alone. I was well prepared...
Seven little bottles neatly lined up, seven different colours of nail polish (for marking), kleenex balls (for peeing), pre-made and ready, magic bags heated and ready to go. I began...
Two and a half hours later, covered in urine, poop, nail polish, milk, wet kleenex, and a cold sweat, I was finished. During that eternity of two-plus hours, only one nearly aspirated. As I swung him through the air with my finger in his mouth, simultaneously tickling his throat, numbers two and three climbed out of their bed and ran away, while numbers four, five, six, and seven hung on the bars of their kennel screeching like jet engines. My dear hubby stood over my shoulder muttering dire predictions about "biting off more than I could chew".
But I made it! I learned to feed all seven in less than an hour, stimulating with one hand and feeding with the other, all the while making soothing chirring noises. I wear the bloody scratches across the back of my hands like a badge of honour.
Then began stage two of rearing my little ones — creeking and weaning. But I drew the line at pre-chewing the slugs!!
The raccoons are hard work, but the great moment that you watch them go free pays you back a hundred-fold for your efforts. We helped fourteen raccoons grow up! How many people can say that!