Little Hands was only a few weeks old when he was found alone on the side of the road. It was early June, and all the wildlife shelters and rehabilitation centres in the area were already full.
“When you ask what to do with [an orphaned raccoon], you’re told, ‘Leave it alone and let nature take its course,’ or ‘You can take it to a vet who will have to euthanise it,'” Nikki Robinson, who works in wildlife rehabilitation, tells The Dodo. “It broke my heart. I couldn’t let that happen!”
While Robinson worked full time, her mother Linda was semi-retired and could bottle feed a baby up to five times a day. So after Robinson made it clear that grandchildren were not in the cards, Linda reluctantly became Little Hands’ mother.
“The first time she bottle-fed him and he looked up at her, she literally melted,” Robinson said. “She treated him very lovingly from the start because they really like to be touched. So she built a bond with him, even though she knew he would eventually return to the wild.”
Little Hands grew strong, and by the end of the summer he was ready to go out on his own.
“They are gently released and go onto their property and live under the patio for a while, and she leaves food outside until they wander off and find their own way,” Robinson said. “But Little Hands remained friendly with the whole family and he was very kind and loving to us.”
“My mother” has a porch swing that she sits on outside and he would come up and literally crawl on the swing and sit next to her and just want his butt and chin scratched,” Robinson said. “He wanted his cuddles and then he got his food and left.
For the past three years, Little Hands has been living independently in the wild – but he always returns to the house where he was raised to cuddle with his mother.
Since Little Hands left home, Linda has taken in numerous orphaned and abandoned baby raccoons with nowhere else to go.
And every year, the raccoons she releases into the wild come back for occasional visits.
“Every day she sits outside and waits, and even when they’re grown they visit her and she just beams and loves it,” Robinson said. “They love her too – she’s just the mama.”
Thanks to Linda, the little raccoons can spend their lives in the wild, but just like their human children, they know they can come home to mum for a snack and a hug anytime.