Zoo to house raccoon

August 21, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, Md., has agreed to take in a raccoon that a Washington County woman kept as a pet for more than 13 years.

"It looks like we are going to be the home for that animal," Director Richard Hahn said Friday.

Hahn didn't know when the raccoon will be moved there from the Humane Society of Washington County, where it's being held.

The humane society confiscated Carrie "C.J." Giffin's raccoon, Onix, on Aug. 5.

In Maryland, it's illegal to keep a wild animal as a pet. One reason is rabies, a fatal disease that raccoons are known to carry.


Hahn said a wooded area with a streambed at the zoo, between the mountain lions and the alligators, would be perfect for the raccoon.

The zoo, which keeps wild and exotic animals of many sorts, must build an enclosure for the raccoon before taking it. Hahn guessed that might take a few weeks; he said he'll know more after examining the setup Giffin had for the animal.

Hahn didn't know how much that would cost.

Hagerstown attorney Jerome Joyce, who has helped Giffin investigate whether she could keep Onix, said people have offered money to help her cause. He said he probably will put the money into his trust account as a lawyer and send it to the zoo to help pay for the enclosure.

Giffin, who lives south of Keedysville, had been hoping to reclaim Onix. She could not be reached for comment Friday.

Washington County's animal control ordinance says the humane society could have euthanized the raccoon if no one with a valid permit had claimed it within 10 days.

But the ordinance also allows the humane society to keep searching for a home past the deadline, which it has. The 10-day period elapsed Wednesday.

In its search for a home for Onix, the humane society checked with other states about whether wildlife refuges there could take the raccoon, Executive Director Paul Miller said Friday.

West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia also would not allow the animal to be brought in, Miller said.

As news of the saga reached animal lovers across the country, including at least one raccoon lovers' computer chat room, Miller fielded calls from people lobbying to keep the raccoon alive.

One call came from Kentucky. But, in that instance, Miller said, the caller would not commit to taking the raccoon in, which he found frustrating. He later learned that the state of Kentucky would not allow the transfer, he said.

Miller said the humane society doesn't mind waiting "a couple weeks" for the zoo to set up a habitat.

Miller worked hard to find Onix a home, saving his life, Joyce said.

"If there's anyone to be thanked, it's (him)," Joyce said. "He's gone to great lengths."

In response to a question about whether and how quickly the state would issue the zoo a permit for the raccoon, Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Heather Lynch issued an e-mail statement.

"DNR continues to work with the Washington County Humane Society to identify a location which will be able to legally take the subject animal and provide the required level of humane long-term care," Lynch wrote.

Hahn said the zoo has had raccoons before, but not recently, and not pets. He said Onix will need a setting that caters to both his domesticated tendencies and his innate instincts.

"Our motivation is softhearted," he said. "We love our animals. We know how other people love theirs."

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