We have seen the raccoon in our backyard twice before, although the evidence of his visits appear more regularly. Until he showed up, I didn't know that raccoons were so big, bigger than Scottie, the terrier we used to have, and burly, too. The last time we saw Rocky, it turned into an inadvertent game of tag.
Michael went out to turn on the sprinklers, not knowing that Rocky was on the patio. There was a momentary stand-off while they sized each other up and both considered options. Then Michael decided to get on with his task. Rocky didn't run away; he would sprint three or four feet ahead, then stop to check Michael's whereabouts. Unfortunately for both of them, Rocky's evasive maneuvers went straight towards the backyard faucet, exactly where Michael was going. When Michael got there, Rocky turned around and started his little sprints back towards the patio and our back door. Again, exactly where Michael was headed after turning the water on. There was a moment when I wasn't sure which one would come in the house.
Tonight, things took a different turn. We arrived home about 9 PM and Michael happened to flip on the patio light and glance out. "Lane," he called out, "you have to see this." I hurried to the living room windows, but I could have taken my time. There stood Rocky, hovering over a cat food dish and giving Michael a stare that looked threatening even from five feet away and through glass. After a moment, he turned his baleful eyes back to the subject at hand - cat food.
Just that morning, I had re-engineered the cat food dishes on our patio. Ants had begun invading the two containers, roiling over the food in such numbers that the kibble looked alive. The feral cats hadn't been eating much and I thought the ants were why. I tried putting the dishes up on lawn chairs, but guess what? Ants can climb plastic chairs. My next idea was a water barrier.
I used two cake pans, filled them with water, and set the cat feeders inside. It worked like a charm against ants, providing the cats with food that wouldn't bite back, but it also appealed to Rocky. As we watched, he scooped up kibble in first one hand, then the other, stuffing the food into his mouth greedily, perhaps afraid that we would come outside and chase him away. I say 'hands' because it looked so human, the way his paws powered towards his mouth one after the other. Just think of a movie where a ravenous person falls on a table of food and inhales it one handful after the other. That was our Rocky.
After a few minutes, he seemed to relax; obviously, we weren't charging out at him. In his more leisurely eating style, Rocky scooped up kibble with his hands held together monkishly, then dipped it into the moat of water surrounding the dishes. I knew from textbooks that raccoons washed their food, but kibble? Really?
Inevitably, the kibble escaped into the water whenever Rocky dunked it in and then he would plunge his snout under the water like a child in a shaggy coat dunking for apples. Periodically, he would look up at us with a quizzical eye. Is it really supposed to be this hard? I could almost hear him say.
While Rocky chowed down on the wet cat food, Michael and I went looking for cameras to take his picture, although the photos didn't turn out well through glass and in poor lighting. While trying to take a picture, Michael noticed something else on the patio.
"There's a cat out there," he told me. "Look behind the table." Sure enough, a cat was stretched out in pose of blissful sleep. "That's Blackie!" I said. Blackie, who we think is Baby's dad, is a homely thing. His coat has brown highlights, giving him a muddy look, and his big, jowly tomcat head just doesn't fit his long, thin body. He might might not be a pretty boy, but he was smart, the only one of our regulars we hadn't been able to trap for neutering.
"Oh, Michael, look at him. He's dead. The raccoon killed Blackie!" I knew that no cat would lounge so casually three feet away from a raccoon, and Rocky was that close to him. The raccoon stayed at the first feeding dish a long time, and Blackie never moved. When he had had enough of that one, he repeated his performance at the second one. When he had had enough kibble, he strolled over to the big dish of drinking water and thoroughly washed his hands and face, then strolled into the night without a backward glance at us or at Blackie.
"What are we going to do about Blackie," I asked from the kitchen. "Well, nothing tonight, that's for sure," Michael responded. "I'm not dealing with a dead cat now." "So, what then? I'm supposed to deal with it tomorrow after you go to work? I can't do that," I shot back. There was a long pause. "Neither one of us is going to deal with it," Michael said, "Blackie just got up!"
I ran to the window. There he was, calmly making a snack of the kibble Rockie had left behind. That Blackie is one smooth operator, that's all I can say. Or maybe Rocky and Blackie had already come to an accommodation, one rogue to another.
What a mess I had to clean up the next day; kibble really doesn't hold up well in water. It's been a couple days since Rocky put on his show for us. We haven't seen him and I haven't found any pans of kibble goo on the patio. Tonight I saw Little Mom, Baby's mother, eating daintily from an ant-free dish of cat chow. Mission accomplished for me.