How Trouper the Raccoon Changed Her Life

This animal rehabber has rescued many creatures before, but this raccoon was different. 

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Dot and Trouper hanging out at the beach.

One hot June morning in 2009 a friend phoned me from the golf course near my North Carolina home. He had seen a golfer beat a baby raccoon with a golf club. It wasn’t unusual for me to get these types of calls. A licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I took in and cared for injured animals until they could be released back into the wild. The kit—just eight weeks old—was in bad shape. His face was so swollen I could barely find his eyes. I didn’t think he’d live through the night. But I took him home and put him on a heating pad inside a crate. I gave him fluids and cleaned his wounds, hoping for a miracle. He didn’t move for four days. I fed him formula with a dropper, but I had to massage his throat to help him swallow it. I can’t release an animal like this back into the wild, I thought. How would he forage for food?

On the fifth morning, I made the decision I always dreaded as an animal rehabber. This raccoon had no quality of life, and I was qualified to end his pain. I held the kit in my arms and looked into his beautiful black eyes. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. Just then, he opened his mouth and yawned. He stretched his legs. Then he shook himself. It was as if he were saying, “I’m still fighting!” Maybe there was a chance he could bounce back. I knew he had to strengthen his limbs. I put him in a bathtub full of water. Immediately, he started kicking. That was the confirmation I needed that he was going to be okay. But a few weeks later I was helping him practice walking when a wind slammed my back door shut. The kit didn’t jump. Oh no, I thought. He’s deaf. He couldn’t see or smell either. My own vision was failing. I knew what it felt like to be without all your senses.

My mind went back to the day I had prepared to say goodbye. Maybe this life is just too hard for him. Maybe… “Don’t do it!” a voice said. I lived alone. Was God talking to me? I looked down at the raccoon. “You’re a real trouper, you know that?” In that moment, I promised both myself and Trouper that I was in it for the long haul. “No human will ever hurt you again,” I told him. Knowing I wouldn’t be legally able to keep a raccoon in North Carolina, I researched states where I could. There were only two. Virginia and Florida, my home state. Six weeks later, with my dog in the back seat and Trouper beside me in his crate, we crossed three state lines to start a new life. (I stopped driving a year later.)

Trouper, now 10, is a licensed wildlife ambassador and service animal. I take him to schools, churches and community centers to teach about the importance of respecting all life. People ask if he’s my raccoon. I say we take care of each other. I’ve healed many animals in need, but Trouper has helped me share that work with others. He’s a constant reminder that every creature deserves a chance. What’s more, he’s captured my heart. Every night I hold him in my arms and say, “Thanks for coming into my life and making it better.”

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Miss Dot would like to remind people that no one should attempt to keep wildlife as pets. Because of his brain injury, Trouper could not be returned to the wild. He is a licensed wildlife ambassador and service animal, so Miss Dot can take him to schools and other places to share his story.

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