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Saving Mathilda

"Your raccoon is a little slow.”

This was one of those stories where I had to think, you just never know what’s behind the next tree …

I’ll begin here. This is not a tale of my childhood hero Jane Goodall. Nor a story of apes in Tanzania. But it is definitely what served as an outdoor adventure for my daughter, Maddie, and me (the front patio is outdoors, right?) … and just as certainly, a wild animal encounter. Kinda.

Okay. Pour a glass of Pinot Grigio and venture, if you will, with us through our front door and into the front yard, just past the porch where the cement almost ends and the sod begins. It’s the weekend before Easter and we are sitting in the driveway watching for hummingbirds and chatting. With absolutely no fanfare or noise, we are overtaken by a small raccoon wandering purposefully out of bushes and up the driveway toward us. She approached us like she’d just come for a friendly visit. You know … like friends chatting over the garden fence. She settled in a patch of lawn next to a holly bush. Nothing wary about her at all, neighborly in fact, just looking to hang out and to maybe see if we had any snacks.

Raccoon meal-planning wise, it was the perfect house. As the Easter holiday was approaching, we had tons of company-coming food in the house and Easter candy, which turned out to be, well, raccoon-nip for our unexpected visitor. I stayed in the driveway with this quiet little animal (who just looked at me and sat like she was waiting for tea to be served) while my daughter ran to the frig and emerged from the house with a platter of snacks: chocolate Easter eggs, salami, Prosciutto, ham slices, crackers and lettuce. And a name – Mathilda.

Me: How do we know it’s a girl?

Daughter: She’s so cute, she must be.

Me: Why Mathilda?

Daughter: Because it’s like the movie, Leon the Professional, where orphaned, little girl Mathilda is taken in by a tough French hitman and becomes a criminal, and raccoons have little bandit faces.

Me, skeptically: In this scenario, which one of us is the French hitman?

She ignored me and began handing Mathilda food. It turns out that Mathilda was very polite. She would take each piece of food daintily from your fingers and then wait for more. I think we probably gave her too many chocolate Easter eggs, but she seemed accustomed to confections.

After Mathilda decided snack time was over, she made her way over the bench in our tiny garden area, five feet from where we were sitting, curled up like a cat and went to sleep. It was now becoming apparent that she considered herself more of a house guest than woodland neighbor. It was just about 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening. We were afraid to just leave her there as we have larger-than-raccoon predators in the area and it didn’t seem that she had any survival instincts at all. I mean, she fell sound asleep in front of two humans she’d never met.

Maddie insisted we couldn’t just leave her there all night. I had to agree, but what does one do with a raccoon?

My daughter got on her phone and 10 minutes later she found a rescue shelter just up the road. The rescue lady, Liddy, was unbelievably helpful and told us we could bring her right over. Maddie coaxed Mathilda into a cat carrier per Liddy’s instruction, and off we went. Liddy assured us that she will find a place for her.

Good as her word, Liddy called Maddie in morning. “Brenda is waiting for us over at her raccoon shelter (raccoon shelter??). It’s about an hour away,” she tells us. We picked up Mathilda, along with an envelope with donations for raccoon food and medicines, spare towels, baby wipes and an enormous bag of dog food.

We arrived at Brenda's clapboard white house located so close to a railroad track it seemed to be part of the train. Three cats sat sentry outside. There was a small sign next to the front door with wooden carved images of three baby raccoons, each with a little hand up, seemingly greeting visitors.

We hauled the supplies and Mathilda out of the jeep. The cats look slightly suspicious. We walked to the front door and rang. A tiny, reed thin woman in her sixties answered. "You're bringing the raccoon?” she asked what seemed to be rather obvious but who knows what Brenda has seen in her time. She took Mathilda and disappeared into the house. When she re-emerged, she said, “I put your raccoon in the back.” We followed her down the narrow hallway, past the tiny kitchen, into a kind of back parlor room. There sat Mathilda in her crate. "Well ...," Brenda said gently, as she pulled our little raccoon from the cage (she actually crawled all the way inside to grab her). ... Seems that Matilda is a bit slow."


"Yep. She's definitely not a normal raccoon. She really is just a pet. No idea how to survive.” We left Mathilda in her very capable hands, after spending an hour or so helping her feed the seven other infant raccoons she was fostering and one very loud, very tiny squirrel named Sandy.

Maddie went back to visit a few weeks later and found our furry little sister sitting with Brenda on the sofa watching reality TV. Like I said, not exactly a Jane Goodall worthy exploit unless couch potato Mathilda, flicking through the remote one afternoon, lands on the National Geographic channel — which would be about as untamed as it gets for us.

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