Location: Shreveport, Louisiana
Date: November 17, 1990
November 17, 1990, dawned clear and beautiful in a quiet neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana. Richard White walked out his front door and down the path to his driveway. He was on his way to the nearby small town of Homer, where he was going to work. As he was about to get into his car, he heard a rustling and growling sound coming from one of the trees in his front yard. He looked up, searching through the leaves and branches for the source of the noise. He was very surprised when he finally saw where the noise was coming from--there was a raccoon high up in one of his trees.
Richard knew that raccoons are nocturnal animals--which means they are active at night and sleep during the day--so he thought there was something strange about this raccoon being out and about in broad daylight. As he continued to look at the raccoon and wonder about its appearance, he notice another startling fact: the raccoon's head was in a hole in one of the dead limbs of the tree. As Richard watched, he could tell the raccoon's head was stuck in the hole, and that the animal was struggling to get it out. Not sure what to do, Richard went back into his house and called for his wife, Rhonda, to see what she thought of the situation.
Rhonda immediately saw that the raccoon would not be able to free itself. It was clinging to the branch and trying to pull its head out, with no luck. Richard and Rhonda could hear the sounds of the raccoon's claws on the branch, and could hear it growling and whining. The animal would scratch and try to free itself, then give up in exhaustion and simply dangle high above the ground, all four of its legs clearly visible. Although it was a comical sight, Rhonda and Richard knew that the raccoon could not survive much longer in the tree. If it continued to dangle there by its neck, it would surely die. They did not want to let that happen, so Rhonda thought fast and made a quick call to 911.
The 911 dispatcher who answered Rhonda's call listened to her description of the animal in the tree with sympathy, but told her that 911 could not dispatch a fire-fighting team. The 911 dispatcher advised Rhonda to call Animal Control, and wished her luck. Rhonda called Animal Control, who told her that they didn't have the proper equipment to get to the animal, since it was trapped so high up in the tree.
With nowhere else to turn, Rhonda and Richard were getting desperate. They really wanted to save this raccoon, which they had nicknamed Rocky! As Rhonda later stated, she and Richard believe that human beings have a responsibility to the other creatures on this Earth. So, as funny as the raccoon may have looked--way up in the tree with its head stuck in a dead limb--the Whites could not turn their backs. Having tried all the official avenues for help, Rhonda and Richard decided to call her father, Ted Griffin. Mr. Griffin is a retired landscaper, and had at his disposal a very tall ladder, a saw, and some ropes. When he heard what they were calling about, he thought that the raccoon had gotten itself into a pretty humorous situation. But he knew that his daughter and son-in-law were serious, and that they needed his help. He agreed to come to their house as quickly as he could. He loaded up his equipment and rushed off to the Whites' house, about a ten minute drive away.
In the meantime, Reggie Hargrove, one of the Whites' neighbors, was leaving his house to play a round of golf at a local course. When he saw all of the commotion in the Whites' front yard, he dropped his golf bag and clubs and ran over to lend a hand. Reggie saw how serious the Whites were about getting the raccoon free. He also saw that someone could get badly hurt if they weren't careful. Richard had already climbed the lower section of the tree, and was trying to get as close to the raccoon as possible. Reggie recommended that Rhonda call 911. When Rhonda told him that she already had, and that the 911 dispatcher had been unable to help, and that Animal Control had been unable to help, Reggie volunteered to call 911 again. He knew that he had to convince a rescue crew to come to the house, since one of Rocky's rescuers was likely to be injured if professional help didn't arrive soon!
Just as Reggie was going into the Whites' house to make the phone call, Ted drove up with a car full of equipment. As Reggie watched from inside the house, Ted set up his ladder and climbed up to join his son-in-law in the tree. When Reggie reached 911 dispatcher Kathy Salter, he explained the situation. He said that, although they had been advised that a 911 rescue team could not respond to an animal rescue, several neighbors were now trying to climb the tree and rescue the raccoon. Children from the neighborhood had begun to gather to watch the progress of the rescue. As Reggie explained to the dispatcher, there was a potential for injuries if a rescue team didn't help soon. When he described Ted, a man in his seventies, climbing a ladder to a limb high above the ground the dispatcher agreed to send a rescue team. The dispatcher knew that the 911 crew had to keep the humans from hurting themselves! On the ground, Rhonda remembers seeing her father climb up the ladder and thinking that, if her mother could see him, she'd really be mad! Reggie watched Richard in the tree, and thought that Richard had lost his priorities: he had a bad back and was endangering his own life to help a wild raccoon!
When Fire Chief Charles Scarborough received the call to help a raccoon in a tree, he laughed. He remembers thinking that that's exactly where raccoons belong--in trees! When he arrived at the scene, however, he put in a call for an aerial truck. The aerial truck was necessary to get high enough up in the tree. This call was unique; Chief Scarborough and his crew had often been called upon to get cats out of trees. As he noted later, however, the difference between this call and a cat-in-a-tree call is that a cat will eventually come down. He remembers asking one distraught cat owner, whose cat was "stuck" in a tree, if she had ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree. When she replied that she had never seen such a thing, he pointed out to her that this is because a cat can get out of a tree--when it's good and ready. In this case, however, he knew the raccoon was stuck fast, and that they'd have to get it free as quickly as possible.
When the aerial fire truck arrived, Ted and Richard climbed down from the tree and let the professionals climb up to do their jobs. They both knew that raccoons can be dangerous, and were happy to see the firefighting team. The firefighters made their way up to the dead, hollow limb where the raccoon was caught. Since there was no way they could pull the raccoon's head out of the hole, they decided to cut the whole tree limb off. Using a powerful chain saw, they very carefully cut the limb off the trunk of the tree. Then, with the raccoon still dangling by its neck, the two firefighters made their way back down the ladder, carrying the limb between them.
Once on the ground, they gently laid the limb and raccoon on the grass. The raccoon showed signs of being very weak--it had stopped digging at the wood with its claws, and its growls and whines were softer and less frequent. The firefighters decided that the only way they could release the raccoon was if they split the hollow limb like a piece of firewood. The dead limb on the ground was about six feet in length, with the raccoon's head stuck right in the middle. Working carefully, they drove a hatchet into one side of the hollow limb, and used a large mallet to force the hatchet's blade deeper into the wood. As one of the firefighters, wearing heavy gloves, held the raccoon's body, they worked on the limb. The split in the wood got closer and closer to the raccoon's head, until it was finally free!
With the animal free, the firefighter picked the raccoon up and held it in front of him at chest height, away from his body. The neighbors applauded. The firefighter quickly crossed the street, where he planned to deposit the raccoon in the woods. On his way across the street, however, the raccoon turned and began to bite his gloved hand! At that, the firefighter gently tossed the animal a few feet onto the soft ground of the woods. The raccoon got right to its feet and scampered away through the trees. The neighborhood children tried to keep it in sight, but it was too quick for them. The last they saw of the animal was it scrambling up another tree!
Richard and Rhonda are happy that they were able to fulfill the obligation they felt, and safely get the raccoon down from the tree. They believe that the neighborhood children learned a valuable lesson about the responsibilities we have to all of the Earth's creatures. They just hope that Rocky is more careful in the future!