Family friend: she's the one in the mask
After a successful escape from Czechoslovakia, our family of four, my husband , myself, and two daughters, came to the United States in the fall of 1970. Since we are very devoted nature lovers and outdoor people, we dreamed of living in the country. We found a house at a location which suited our imagination and settled there in February 1971.
Every morning, when my husband left for work and the children for school, I went out with our longhaired dachshund puppy and discovered our neighborhood. I walked through fields and woods, eagerly watching the unfamiliar birds and little beasts. In late May we got a call from our farmer landlord. He asked me -- knowing of my affection for American wildlife -- if I would like to take care of a tiny orphan raccoon which he had found in his barn in the hay. I hesitated for a moment, feeling that it would be a big responsibility, but the excitement of our girls made me agree. We drove to the farm and were given a small box which moved and made a funny noise. When we opened it, there was Procyon lotor,m the raccoon, the animal which could be a symbol for America and its many great qualities, the rascal whom Iroquois Indians called "the one who scratches."
It was love at first sight. Our daughters discussed the most appropriate name for it and finally named it Profa, which in Czech is student slang for "the professor." Profa was a female and from the very beginning the darling of the whole family -- the dog included. She amazed us again and again by her constant inventiveness. Nothing seemed impossible for her. At first she was fed by bottle, later she learned to eat from her own bowl. She ate almost everything, preferring meat and sweets. She became perfectly housebroken by watching our kitten use its litter box. For a month we had kept her in the house, taking her out for short walks and giving her the chance to learn about the wide-open world. Mother Nature had equipped her with great instincts so I was merely a "supervisor."
Very soon she understood several orders; in fact she learned much faster than most dogs. I talked Czech to her; I did not know much English then. Later on, when my English was better, I talked to her in English Also, so she became the only bilingual raccoon in the whole United States. For our convenience she even changed her life style, being very active during the day and sleeping quietly in her crate all night. Her favorite pleasure was her tireless play with our kitten, Macek, and puppy, Dingo. Early mornings we used to go for a walk in the woods. We followed a narrow path, with the puppy as advance guard and Profa and the kitten experimenting with tree climbing. Those walks taught me a lot about animal behavior and I loved them. When we came home all three would jump on the sofa where they cuddled together in warm, shaggy little heaps.
As months passed, Profa grew rapidly and continued to be very friendly. When she got tired of trees and roof climbing (which was rather scary to watch,) she trilled and asked to be let in the house. There she often climbed into the bathtub and played merrily with the faucets. Of course she learned very quickly how to turn them on but never bothered to learn how to turn them off.
With fall approaching, we were uncertain what she would do in winter. We felt that she might like to have some cozy, dry place for hibernation, so my husband built a "nest" for her in the corner of our basement ceiling. To enable her to go freely in and out of the basement, he took out the window and substituted a little magnetic swinging door which Profa could reach by means of a slanting ladder which she learned to climb in no time and loved to use.
For reasons of her own she did not choose the warm nest for her hibernation. One day in early December, when the first snow came, she did not return from her outdoor games. I was worried. She had become very dear to me and I felt responsible for her. When my husband came home from work and learned about my worries, he reminded me that Profa was declaring her preference for the wild. He was right: she must have searched for and finally found her own natural hibernation. She did not appear for many days. Suddenly one day she came back, looking beautiful in her winter coat, healthy, friendly and ready to play. She got our full attention and love, but with the dusk she was gone.
The winter passed and with the first warm breezes of spring, there was Profa again, hungry, but sound. That year, she spent most of her time outdoors, near the house in the bushes somewhere. She came immediately when I called her by name. With the arrival of her second fall she looked lovely, almost fully grown , her coat magnificent. We fed her very well and, in addition, she hunted in the woods.
Profa's second winter passed as her first one had. Next spring she came just to say "hello" and let us know she had other interests: it was raccoon mating time. For many weeks we did not see her at all.
How shall I describe our feelings when one evening, hearing some strange noises coming from the basement, I turned on the light to find our Profa with three babies. When the litle ones saw me, they started to run but their mother calmed them. Profa came to me and let me know that our relationship had not changed.
We fed all of them very well that year; they came every night and sometimes stayed near the house till dawn.
Years passed in harmony; we never tried to touch the young ones; they must stay wild. Their mother was very affectionate, her devotions divided between her children and us.
One year she disappeared to my grief, and we could only guess what happened to her. She was just four years old and in her prime. But her offspring are visiting us daily -- even now, after nine years, they come for their dinner every evening, from spring till winter. They may be the fifth generation. Sometimes they come two or three, chatter noisily or play with my husband's tools on his work bench. They are messy eaters, but they never forget that they are supposed to behave as guests. They are very welcome of course -- their cheerful spirit, adaptability and optimism should be an example for many people. In a way they helped me to overcome my homesickness. We will remain their friends forever.