My fur is not in storage,
Or draped across my bed
But warm she keeps my shoulders
As she's asking to be fed!
Not waiting in my closet,
For a cold or snowy day,
But bouncing on my pillows
As she calls for me to play.
Her eyes not cold and glassy,
With an empty, thoughtless stare,
But briming with ideas
That she cannot wait to share!
Her paws not hanging limply,
Without the sense of touch,
But pulling at my earing
That she covets oh-so-much.
I pray to God in Heaven
That she will find her way
Home to my heart each morning
To spend another day
Asleep upon my pillow
Safe up upon my bed -
And I pray we'll be together
Forever when we're dead.
For there will be no Heaven, for me, when I have died,
Unless my darling Robbie shall there likewise abide.
Robbie came to me quite unexpectedly, on a mild but wet June evening in 2003. With my then 3 year old niece, Elyse, on my hip, I was on my way to the barns, to feed my horses and cats, on June 11, 2003. In my path was what I first thought was some poor creature one of the cats might have brought to the house, as a 'present' - as barn cats are wont to do. I bent down to 'poke' the bit of grey, only to hear a squeal from the wee thing. On closer inspection, I realised that, although the tail rings were barely evident, and the black mask likewise faint, the tiny critter was an infant raccoon. I suspected that Robbie's momma had her litter of kits in the aging willow tree that grew along the fence separating my back yard from my barn yard, and that momma must have been in the process of moving her kits when I came out of the house. Thinking momma could not have gone far, I quickly took Elyse up to the barns, and 'whistled' for the cats. Elyse and I spent at least an hour, in the barns, hoping to give momma raccoon plenty of time to retrieve her kit. When we returned to the house, the kit was still right where we'd first spotted it. It was now about 6:30 p.m., and the gathering rain clouds had already darkened the sky. Still, I thought momma would come, so I left the kit where it was. Elyse and I went into the house, and watched from the window. When raindrops began to appear on the window, I decided we could wait no longer, for momma, but needed to rescue the kit, if it was to have any chance to survive.
Against all odds - the kit was likely not more than a week old - the kit not only survived, but thrived. Named 'Roberta' in honor of 1st Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, lost to his family on March 23, 2003, in Iraq, Robbie became my ward. Having an orphan raccoon is a full time business, if one is not going to cage the kit. For the first three weeks, I did manage to get some things done. I was in the process of selling my Long Island farmette, and looking for a new home along the Eastern seaboard, in the Mid Atlantic range. Now, not only did I need a new home for myself, my horses, cats, and flying squirrels, but also needed to select a property that would provide a suitable 'soft release' for Roberta, when she was old enough to be on her own.
I had the huge advantage of expert advice, from Dorcas MacClintock, a mammologist, author, and artist. Mrs. MacClintock's book, 'A Natural History of Raccoons' provided an excellent reference, and plenty of good practical advice, for those of us inclined to consider all creatures worthy of care, when such creatures are faced with the trial of being orphaned.
In my search for a new home, I found what should have been the ideal location, for Robbie - and indeed, was and remains a 'raccoon refuge'. Unfortunately, while I did take pains to protect Robbie from rabies by having her vaccinated, I was not aware that another virus - parvo - was a problem, for the resident population of raccoons. By the time we all moved into our new home, near the Elk River, Robbie was developing just as hoped - she was an agile climber of sweet-gum trees, a fabulous finder of aquatic creatures for 'finger food' (although she far preferred oatmeal cookies to 'sushi'), and quite the independent girl, but still very attached to her 'family' - her adoptive momma (me), and her companion quadrupeds, my cats. Robbie took walks with us each day, in the Elk River Ranch woodland, and played in the creek that crosses my new property. There were, I knew, resident raccoons - their pawprints could be seen in the clay and sand banks of the creek. I figured Robbie stood a good chance of being allowed to 'integrate' into the existing tribe of raccoons - and the property I chose has limited automobile traffic, so I felt she would be safe from the greatest danger to raccoons - the great and horrible gods Ford, Dodge, Volvo and Mercedes. All was going very well, for Roberta.
We moved into our new home on October 22, 2003. By December of 2003, Robbie was making her own tours of the woods, at night - but returning each morning, in the wee hours, to get her oatmeal cookie, and to jump up on my bed, to snuggle between the pillows, stacked high against the headboard of the bed.
But in very early January, 2004, Robbie came home after being out for nearly 22 hours - and although she took her oatmeal cookie, she did not eat it, just turning it over and over in her hands. Robbie had a litterbox she used, when in the house - and shortly after going into the bedroom, she made use of the box. Walking through the hall, I noticed a very unpleasant odor from the litter - Robbie's scat was loose, dark, and very foul smelling. Robbie herself seemed subdued, but her personality did not change. She was sweet, and cuddly - but her tail was soiled with her excrement. I took her to the bathroom, and used the shower 'hose' sprinkler to wash Robbie's tail. As always, Robbie tolerated my attention - but it was clear something was very wrong, with her.
I did some internet searching, and also called my brother-in-law, a vet in Colorado, and Mrs. MacClintock. Parvo was quickly determined to be the problem - and parvo is nearly always fatal. Even if I could have gotten vet care for Robbie, it was not likely that she would survive.
Although Parvo is brutally fatal, it is also a mercifully swift killer. Unlike the other viral killers of raccoons (distemper and rabies), Parvo does not attack the central nervous system, but the digestive system. Robbie did not show any signs of the confusion and convulsion typical of rabies and distemper. Robbie did not appear to be suffering, but was just uncharacteristically quiet, and unwilling to eat or drink. Right up to her end, she would gently explore my face with her 'hands' while I cradled her in my arms. The disease took Robbie in just three days, from the first sign of symptoms, to her passing over the 'Rainbow Bridge'.
Along with Robbie, I lost a huge part of my heart. But, faced with the prospect of 'doing it all over again', I would not hesitate for a moment. Robbie's friendship and trust is something I'll remember all my life, and I'll be forever grateful for having the opportunity to have such a wonderful relationship with one of the most personable creatures in the Great Spirit's Domain.
I have four albums of photos that detail Robbie's life with me on Long Island and here at the Elk River Ranch. You can visit the albums here: