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Companions for life

Local woman rescues injured raccoon, becomes its caretaker

February 24, 2016
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

"An angel in a raccoon suit" has changed the life of one Fort Myers resident after he was found with severe scaring above his eye and nose from being struck with a golf club.

As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Dot Lee was able to take a raccoon in her home to rehab it before releasing it again while living in North Carolina. Unfortunately since Trouper's injuries were still so massive - he was still blind, could not smell, feed himself, climb a tree, or defend himself - at the end of six months when she was supposed to release him, Lee found a way to continue to care for him.

"Unfortunately I had two choices. The law states that he had to be euthanized (because) he's not releasable. But, here (Florida) you can get a license to keep wildlife," Lee said. "I don't like breaking laws, so, I had some decisions. Turn him over to the state and they would euthanize him because it's the law, or take him to a safe state and get a license to keep him legally."

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Dot Lee, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, has been Trouper's caretaker since he was 8 weeks old. He will soon turn 7 years old.

After researching the laws in different states, she found two - Virginia and Florida - on this side of the country that she could take Trouper. Since she graduated from Naples High School and Edison Junior College, she chose Florida and immediately went about obtaining a license to keep Trouper once she arrived.

"Six weeks later I sold everything I owned and drove to Florida," Lee said six years ago this April.

Lee said most of the rehabbers have a doctor who help them see to it that their animals get back to the wild, seldom ever charging for the work.

"I want to say thank you to the wonderful veterinarians who are doing their job as a doctor and fulfilling their oath," she said.

A veterinarian in the area shared that they would be happy to take a raccoon as a patient after arriving, resulting in Trouper's physicals and vaccinations.

Due to the brain injuries he suffered from being struck, he did not move for five days after going under Lee's care. After struggling the first week and then noticing minor changes such as his hearing returning, Lee decided to do everything in her power to help save the raccoon's life.

Lee spent the first six months doing water therapy with him on a daily basis. She said she decided to do the therapy because once she took her hands away from him after setting him down he would fall over.

"He had no balance, he couldn't walk. I would have to hold him up," Lee said. "Six months later I could put him on the floor and he would be able to walk without falling over."

The water therapy was done in the bathtub because he was little at the time, only 8-weeks-old.

"I could hold him in one hand and lower him into the water," Lee said. "The first time I did it, I thought this is what I learned in graduate school because I am a retired special education teacher. This is what they tell me, as soon as his little body touches the water he should start flailing because your brain automatically kicks in. Put him in the warm water and he didn't move and then all of a sudden his brain kicked in and he started swimming and moving the legs in the right direction."

The therapy worked, as well as daily exercises Lee developed. One of the exercises includes Lee holding his front paws while lifting him up off the ground, so Trouper will tuck his legs in.

Today, Trouper can walk and run and swim. Lee taught Trouper how to swim again by customizing a floaty that he used off the coast of Sanibel for five months every Saturday. Unfortunately Trouper still cannot climb.

Most raccoons have about 50 sounds they make to communicate, which unfortunately is not the same for Trouper, who only has one. The sound he makes while happy is a purr, or frill, which he communicated with Lee when he was two or three years old.

The duo have daily routines that they follow. One of which includes his feeding time every two hours. Lee starts the routine by touching his mouth, encouraging Trouper to open, so she can stick the food in his mouth.

"I'm the only one that feeds him," she explained.

It took some learning on Trouper's part on how to swallow food when he was younger. Lee had to massage his throat to encourage him to swallow. She also had to teach him how to lap water to drink. It took Lee three years of putting fluid on the side of his mouth before he was able to drink water on his own from the front of his mouth.

His diet include meat, fruits and vegetables, which does not always stop there. Some of his favorites include pizza, excluding pepperoni, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs and pudding. If there is something Trouper does not like, such as fish, he will spit it out.

His therapy recently started including music, which has helped him stand on his back legs, become more mobile and aware of his surroundings.

Trouper, who loves instruments, will place his hand on an accordion, or violin and hold it there the whole time it is being played. He can hear the music and feel the vibration coming from the instruments.

"He just loves music and loves the soprano voices," Lee said. "That is how I discovered he liked Jackie (Evancho). About four years ago she was on public television here in Sarasota. He was walking around minding his own business when all of a sudden he sat right there (pointing to the TV) on the floor and listened. He sat down and his ears moved and he sat there the whole program by himself. So the next day I went out and bought him a CD player and some headphones that I redesigned to fit his head."

Trouper gets a bath every three days with Alberto VO 5 shampoo because he does not scratch or itch with this brand, he does not matt up and his coat sparkles in the sun. His nails are filed every other day, as well as his teeth brushed daily.

"He's respected and loved and this is our mission with him," Lee said. "He lived because he wanted you to understand what respecting all life is about."

Trouper is an animal ambassador who works with kids and adults. The kids write letters to Trouper, which are read to him and each student receives a letter back with their questions answered.

"One of the things that really keeps me going and gets me out of bed every morning is watching the faces on people who really appreciate and see him," Lee said. "They also see what I see and I feel connected then. I see in this animal not a dirty old raccoon, I see an angel. They feel his spirit and get something from him."

Trouper will have his 7th birthday party at Sanibel Public Library Saturday, April 2, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The party will include a presentation, games and a family birthday cake. Attendees are asked to bring a 9x13 sheet birthday cake resembling a wildlife theme - birds, fish or mammals - in any flavor they desire. Those who attend the birthday party will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite cake with quarters. The winner will receive a family dinner at a Sanibel restaurant.

"Trouper loves all kinds of cake," she said laughing.

Those interested have to call Lee at (239) 482-7176 ahead of time, so she knows how many cakes will be made.

For more information about Trouper, visit, or follow him on Facebook at Trouper Lee.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.



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