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Onix awaits fate

August 11, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It's illegal for Maryland residents to keep wildlife as pets - but a raccoon named Onix is different, said his owner, Carrie "C.J." Giffin. She's fighting to save him from being euthanized.

Giffin, who lives with her husband, Carlos, south of Keedysville, found Onix on a Dargan road more than 13 years ago and has nurtured him since.

Not long ago, Giffin said, a neighbor's dog opened the latch of Onix's pen. He got out and wandered off the property.

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Now, the raccoon is being held at the Humane Society of Washington County. The humane society confiscated him on Aug. 5 to give Giffin a chance to get a permit to legally keep him.

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources does not issue permits for people to own wildlife. DNR spokeswoman Heather Lynch said exceptions may be made for animals that can be rehabilitated and released, which doesn't include raccoons.

Washington County's Animal Control Ordinance says that if someone doesn't have a state or federal permit to claim a wild animal within 10 days after it's confiscated, it may be "released in a suitable habitat where permitted."

Otherwise, it might be euthanized.

Paul Miller, the humane society's executive director, said releasing the raccoon to the wild is impossible because it's domesticated, but a wildlife educational program might take it.

Lynch said late Tuesday afternoon that the humane society is trying to place the raccoon with a rehabilitator in Virginia, but she had no other details. Miller couldn't be reached later Tuesday to confirm that account.

Giffin, 54, said the seizure is unfair and devastating. "They're not taking my pet," she said. "They're taking my child."

The name Onix came from brainstorming. The raccoon's tail rings made Giffin's family think of jewelry, which led to onyx. They changed the spelling.

Giffin said Onix weighs more than 35 pounds and is a "very sweet animal." He gives high fives to people and gets a daily bath.

She has a picture of him taking a grape from the mouth of her brother, William Mills.

Giffin has always lived with animals, and not necessarily ones you'd expect. She said she's had groundhogs, bobcats and falcons as pets.

At one point, she said, she had 19 cockatiels, six ferrets, six hamsters, three dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs and an iguana.

She has cared for other wild animals, including raccoons. "I turn 90 percent of the animals back loose," she said.

Asked about the appeal of animals, she said, "They're not like man. They're not greedy. They're like our ancestors. We're Cherokee Indian and German. You only take what you need."

Giffin questioned how anyone can be sure an animal is "wild," when, at one time, dogs and cats qualified.

But Lynch said that domesticating a wild animal, no matter how cute it may be, strips it of its natural instincts.

In February, a Washington County couple took in a tame deer, fed it and refused to hand it over to the Department of Natural Resources, which planned to euthanize it.

With help from others, the couple released the deer - which they named Bucky - at the Potomac Fish & Game Club near Williamsport just before DNR employees could get it. The adventure attracted national attention.

Miller said rabies, a disease that is usually fatal, is a main risk of handling wildlife, especially raccoons. Four animals, including raccoons, have tested positive for rabies in Washington County since Christmas, he said.

Onix stayed in an enclosed pen outside Giffin's house, but was allowed to move freely indoors.

Giffin said she knew when she took Onix in that it was against the law in Maryland. "That's the reason why we kept him out of the public's eye," she said.

"All I want to do is get him home," she said.

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