Cute animals brought out a maternal instinct. But then her project grew.
Perhaps because I was a city kid, my exposure to wildlife was limited. As I grew into adulthood, the most feral creatures I saw were teenage boys on skateboards.
That changed when I moved to the wooded hills of Oregon many years later. For the first time, I encountered animal communities in my own neighborhood, including deer, raccoons, opossums, field mice, and even skunks.
On first seeing this array of wildlife, I was enthralled; they were just so adorable. With their large, round eyes; button noses; and endearing qualities, they reminded me more of human babies – albeit furry ones – than threatening beasts of the forest.
That initiated my problem: Their cuteness brought out my maternal side. Which, quite naturally, made me want to feed them.
And so a few times a day, I began to toss slices of stale bread to any wild thing that happened to pass by. One evening, a nursing raccoon with four kits appeared on the back deck while I was sweeping. She extended her tiny, exquisitely shaped paw as though asking for a handout, and I was instantly smitten. I decided to upgrade the menu and put out a serving of fresh cat kibble and water. She came back the next evening. And the next.
Eventually, I was dishing out several piles of cat chow to the late-night crowd. Once, I counted nine raccoons all in a row, each devouring its meal in the same fastidious manner.
After the raccoons finished, the shy opossum we’d nicknamed Perry arrived to scoop up any leftovers.
All was well until the wildlife began behaving, well, wildly. The raccoons started squabbling noisily among themselves. They could be heard throughout the entire valley, I was certain. Fervently hoping my neighbors simply thought I was watching the National Geographic Channel with the volume turned all the way up, I slunk inside and stayed put.