A baby raccoon left to die after being brutally bludgeoned by a golf club has been given a new chance at life and a rare opportunity to teach lessons on respect and responsibilities involving the environment and wildlife, thanks to the work of a Sanibel Island Author of children's books and volunteer at the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife.
From the raccoon's perspective, the story starts in Wilmington, North Carolina, where on a sunny Summer day in 2009, a golfer was seen repeatedly striking at what was believed, at first, to be a golf ball that had landed in the tall grass beside the rough. From a home near the course, another man was reportedly having a cup of coffee while reading the morning newspaper, but after observing the golfer, he decided to go examine the area in the grass. That's when he found a two-month old raccoon. Though bleeding and convulsing, the man scooped the animal from the ground and phoned a woman he knew as someone who worked to rehabilitate sick and injured animals.
Dot Lee, who formerly lived in Naples and Fort Myers, had moved to North Carolina many years earlier. A special education teacher who raised dogs, Dot became certified in the care of animals because so many people would bring her injured animals, such as rabbits and orphaned squirrels, but even this offered little in the way of preparing her for the frantic call from the golfcourse.
Dot Lee(left) sits with Trouper the Raccoon and his personal biographer in Author Kyle Miller.
(Photo by Bill Schiller)
Dot says the caller was very angry by what he had witnessed. She agreed to help if she could, but the outlook was grim. Blood was seeping from the raccoon's mouth and ears. It was motionless beyond the occasional, yet increasingly fleeting, firing of nerve endings in sporadic spasms of twitches and trembles that Dot recognized as indicators of shock.
Its frail and forsaken state, she says, left her feeling angry and without much hope. "I didn't think he was going to live another 20 minutes, much less through the night," says Dot.
She cleaned the wounds and tried to offer it some nourishment with the potassium and electrolytes from an eyedropper filled with a familiar sports drink. She also sought advice from a local veterinarian, but this is a sticky situation in North Carolina. It is against the law for veterinarians, or even those certified in the caring for animals, to provide such services for raccoons. Dot says the law requires such animals to be euthanized, but in this case, she just couldn't turn her back on the animal.
Incapacitated and unable to swallow, she gently massaged the raccoon's throat until the liquid was consumed. She spent the next several days keeping it warm, and would often hold it close t her chest hoping that it would respond to her breathing and heartbeat, deriving some small measure of comfort in the way a small raccoon might receive from its mother, but still, the prognosis was doubtful.
Despite her best efforts, by the fifth day, Dot came to the painful conclusion that the raccoon needed to be put down. "He couldn't lift his head, couldn't open his mouth; he just laid there and shook... and I couldn't stand to see him struggling like that," says Dot.
Amidst tears, she whispered an anguished apology, telling the raccoon "I am sorry, but I don't want to see you suffer anymore."
Amazingly, the raccoon made a subtle turn of its head and released the slightest of yawns.
"I looked at him and said, 'OK, little buddy, let's wait one more day before we decide... you're a real trouper,'" says Dot.
Throughout the days that followed, Dot wrestled with uncertainty. She considered, several times, to put the raccoon out of its misery, but each instance "a little voice inside me said, 'Don't do it. Don't do it.'"
To her unwavering delight, the raccoon slowly recovered, however, injuries had taken their toll. The raccoon was blind and deaf, and these complications were compounded by other concerns. Word had gotten out that she was caring for the raccoon, and state officials (in their typical way of inquiring with care providers) had phoned to ask about certain "ring-tailed oppossum" for which she might be caring.
Not wanting to see the raccoon taken away, and knowing that in its blind and weakened condition, releasing it back to the wild was a death sentence in itself, Dot further struggled to determine what to do.
On some level, she says she identified with the animal. That compassion may have been honed in her career as an educator working with special need students, but there was more. Dot is afflicted by multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the spinal cord as well as brain functions, and in this case, she is legally blind. While still maintaining slight vision in one eye, Dot can more clearly see something in the way of a truth for her life, that she clings to as much as she does the raccoon. "I have a purpose for being here. I know what it feels like to lose something. I know what it feels like to be cast aside, like I'm something less, but I still have a lot to give, and I believe I have a purpose in my life," says Dot. "And I believe there's a purpose that brought us together."
Convicted by her faith in their dual destiny, Dot began researching to find States where she and the raccoon (affectionately named Trouper) could live without running afoul of sanctions, and Florida is one such area. In a little less than a month, Dot Lee sold off many of her belongings and hot-footed her car for Florida, arriving early last year.
She wasted no time ensuring that Trouper received all the necessary shots, permits and clearances; and when not tending to his needs, she has volunteered her services at initiatives such as Sanibel's Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.
Dot and Trouper's story could have ended well right there, but new chapters are currently being forged. While working in a local gift shop, she came across a children's book pertaining to a Snowy Plover named "Snowy Pea" and chum, Ghosty (the ghost crab). Illustrated by Randon Eddy and written by Kyle Miller (both of Sanibel) Dot noted a phone number within the book and decided to make contact.
Miller picks up from there. As a writer of children's books, which includes that of "Dillo" the armadillo, Miller says she has grown accustomed to receiving phone calls from people with ideas for stories. "Dot called and said, 'I have this story.' Forty minutes later into the conversation, I had goose bumps," says Miller.
That conversation has ultimately led to to a new children's book, as well as a new education program. Miller, who also previously worked as a teacher, thought about the raccoon's name and developed a lesson plan which involves: "T" for teach; "R" for respect; "O" for opportunity; "U" for understanding; "P" for protect; "E" for environment; and "R" again, for responsibility.
A grandmother, Miller's career as a children's author was prompted by a desire to teach her grandchildren about the wildlife surrounding her home on Sanibel. In this new project, she believes there is potential to teach children throughout the country valuables lessons that lead to a better understanding and appreciation for wildlife.
Children that participate actually have an opportunity to earn a certificate indicating their mastery of the curriculum, collectively touted as "Trouper's Teachings."
Dot Lee has already witnessed some benefits from Trouper's interactions with young people. During a recent Boy Scout Jamboree in Punta Gorda, thousands of area scouts attended, but Dot noticed one boy, sitting alone, seemingly unnoticed by others. She introduced Trouper, even let him hold the raccoon, and soon enough, the boy was surrounded by other interested scouts.
Dot says a scout leader later approached and informed her, "The boy we were with had a mild form of autism and it was hard for him to make new friends. The Scout Leader said we did a world of good for the boy that day."
And to be sure, if all goes as planned, there will be many days ahead for Trouper, each with an opportunity to interact with children and impart important lessons. Miller, who is also planning to publish a more grown-up version of the story, thinks that Trouper will make both a fun and fundamental impression on kids, while they are still at a critical stage for learning.
She reflects on the actions of a certain golfer in North Carolina, and says, "We wish we could have reached him when he was still young."
Kyle Miller and Trouper the Raccoon will be autographing copies of "Trouper: The True Adventures of a Blind Raccoon" during an appearance at Book Nook, 11:00a.m. - 1:00 p.m., on December 28th. Appearances are also planned for MacIntosh Books on December 31st. To learn more about Trouper, visit his website at www.trouperraccoon.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.