Onix moves to new digs

October 12, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

THURMONT, MD. - After two months at the Humane Society of Washington County, Onix the raccoon moved into his new home at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo on Saturday.

Onix has his own wood, chain-link fence and glass enclosure, about 18 feet by 14 feet. An outdoor habitat with a pool will be built in the spring.

The transfer has not quelled Carrie "C.J." Giffin's desire to get Onix back.

Giffin, who lives south of Keedysville, found and took in the raccoon when he was a baby more than 13 years ago.


In August, the Humane Society of Washington County seized Onix from Giffin's home after the raccoon got loose.

Giffin was unable to reclaim her pet because it's illegal to own wild animals in Maryland without a permit.

Upset that the state is enforcing that ban even though Onix has been domesticated, Giffin said she's still eager for an attorney to successfully sue the state on her behalf.

She said it will happen. "We're still going to do everything we can to get him out," she said Monday.

Washington County's Animal Control Ordinance allowed the Humane Society of Washington County to euthanize the raccoon after a certain period. Instead, Executive Director Paul Miller kept looking for a good, legal home for the animal.

The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont agreed to take the raccoon two weeks into Miller's search and to build him his own habitat.

Miller took Onix, along with his blanket and toys, to the zoo on Saturday.

On Monday afternoon, with visitors watching, Onix quickly warmed up, leaving his pet carrier to dunk a plastic ball in a water dish and investigate a photographer's camera and shoes.

Onix earned an admiring stare from 4-year-old Drew Gehle of New Jersey, who was with his aunt, uncle and grandmother.

Brian Evans of Thurmont, Drew's uncle, said the family found out about the new exhibit when they got to the zoo.

Norma Etgen, Drew's grandmother, said she has a permit to raise raccoons in Ohio, where she lives, and owns two of them - Chester and Gladys. She said Chester, 12, is as big as Onix, who weighs more than 30 pounds, according to Giffin.

Onix's enclosure is in the North America section of the zoo, not far from the alligator habitat.

The zoo plans to educate people not just about raccoons and their history and lifestyle, but on the importance of not taking in wild animals as pets, said Jennifer Schmidt, who's in charge of visitor services at the zoo.

A sign posted on Onix's enclosure says, "Much to the distress of Onix's benefactors, raccoons are not allowed as pets in this state by regulation. Fortunately for Onix, permission was granted to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve to care for Onix for the rest of his life by DNR (the state Department of Natural Resources).

"For as long as he is with us, Onix will be an ambassador for his species and a valued member of our zoo family."

The sign ends: "So, what is it that we have learned here? Leave wildlife in their natural habitat. If they are injured or orphaned contact a licensed rehabilitator in the state that you live. Please and thanks!"

Richard Hahn, the director of the zoo, had predicted that the enclosure would cost at least $1,000. On Monday, he said the actual cost was between $3,000 and $4,000.

The pool and outside habitat will run another $1,000, he said.

An account was set up at Bank of America in Thurmont to help with the expenses, but only two people contributed a total of $110, he said.

Hahn guessed that the outdoor habitat will be 1,600 to 2,000 square feet.

It won't be large for a wild raccoon, which tends to roam farther, but it will be nice, which probably is more important, Hahn said.

Giffin said she's not sure she can deal with seeing Onix at the zoo, so she won't go.

She said an attorney in Indiana is looking for an attorney in Maryland to file a lawsuit against the state.

"There will be an uproar about that very shortly," she said.

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