When cruising down the residential streets of Yankton, it’s common to see lots of walkers with their family, friends, and furry canines enjoying nice weather. But it’s not often that the one in the lead, at the end of a leash, is a raccoon. Imagine my surprise when what I thought at first was a small cat, was actually a baby raccoon, walking happily along with Jet Yaggie on all fours! I stopped my van, rolled down the window, and yelled out, “Hey girl, can I meet your raccoon?!” This was an experience that made my morning. Jet was very patient, and helpful. She waited while I parked my vehicle and walked over to join them on the sidewalk. Claudio, the raccoon, was only a few weeks old at the time. He’d been born in a grain combine at the John Deere dealership lot on Hwy 50 and abandoned with some littermates. The typical spring litter can be anywhere from two to five kits, but Claudio wound up being the only one left to be taken in by the Yaggies.

Jet revealed that Claudio wasn’t the first raccoon that the family had taken in. They’d had previous foster attempts with three others before, but unfortunately they didn’t live very long. The Yaggie family has always been very pro-animal. Besides Claudio, they currently have Carmel; the cat, three geckos, a box turtle, and Jet’s chicken named Eminem, after the rapper. Jet’s dad, Jason Yaggie, has also prior experience with having a pet raccoon from growing up on a farm just outside Mission Hill, SD. That raccoon lived outside on the property though, while Claudio prefers to stay mainly inside the house. Jason said that by the time that raccoon was a year old it had gradually stayed away for longer and longer periods of time, with less frequent visits back at the property, until it stayed in the woods for good.

When Claudio arrived, the Yaggies raced to get kitten replacement milk to bottle feed him. They didn’t have a regular feeding schedule, but instead paid attention to the tiny raccoon’s hunger. They did a good job and he soon gained weight, grew, and was eating dry cat food in no time. Like many raccoons in proximity to humans, Claudio likes to supplement his diet with people food whenever he can. He loves marshmallows, Twinkies, strawberries and watermelon. Jason says he seems to prefer pork over any other meat, and will devour pork chops and ham. Jet recently discovered that Claudio enjoys her gecko’s snack too, which is a basically bug-based treat. Both Claudio and the cat compete for ice cubes and will race to the fridge, whenever they hear someone getting ice out of the refrigerator.

Claudio and Carmel have interestingly, been buddies since the beginning. They often wrestle good-naturedly and chase each other around the house. When Carmel tires of her rambunctious playmate, she takes off to unknown parts for a break. Jason thinks it was probably by watching Carmel use her cat box, that she taught the coon that he should use one also. Claudio is also very cat-like in that he has his own agenda, and comes around for attention when he wants, and then disappears to curl up for naps.

Jet’s younger sister, Winry; aged eight, is also a great help with Claudio’s care. It is Winry that usually takes him out for walks on the leash, to help him get some much needed outdoor exercise and expend some crazy raccoon energy. Jason shares that the downside to having a raccoon as a pet is that, “They are extremely curious, and will get into absolutely EVERYTHING! Claudio loves to get into the trash can, will open cabinets and delve into anything that’s left out. Nothing’s off limits.” Raccoons paws look more like black, leather gloved hands, and are adept at opening doors, latches and even able to unscrew jar lids. It’s a little like having a toddler on the loose. Unlike wild raccoons that are usually nocturnal in nature, Claudio has adjusted to his human family’s schedule and is usually awake when they are, and sleeps when they do.

Besides his daily walks, Claudio has also been on regular road trips to Colorado. “He did really well in the car, and just hung out in back with the kids.” Jason relates. The family were really surprised when they made an impromptu bathroom break at a rest stop, and found another couple outside with a raccoon of their own. Jason said, “It was about a month younger than Claudio, but they checked each other out and were friendly.” Claudio has also gone Kayaking on the lake with Jet and her mom, Trisha. Jet recalls, “At first he accidentally fell into the water. We had him on a leash, so I could easily scoop him back up. But then he kept purposely jumping back in. He loves the water!” Jason also had an unexpected guest one morning, when Claudio hopped in the tub and joined him for a quick shower.

Claudio is probably less than half grown at two months old. He currently weighs under ten pounds. The average raccoon in the wild can weigh anywhere from twenty to thirty five pounds, and have a length of about three feet from nose to tail. That’s the size of a medium dog. The heaviest raccoon ever recorded was over sixty pounds in Texas. Captive raccoons can live more than twenty years, but the lifespan of a wild raccoon is much shorter and averages one and a half to three years. Hunting and injury from vehicles are the most common causes of fatalities. Jason says that he thinks part of the reason Claudio might prefer to be in the house, is because it’s so much cooler inside, especially during the heat of summer.

Life with children and pets is always an adventure. Jason and Jet agree that the best thing about having a pet raccoon is being able to watch it grow and see how it’s so very unique from every other pet they have. They’ve enjoyed getting to learn Claudio’s personality and habits, and to learn what his different purring, soft growls, grunts and snorts mean. For the Yaggie children,

having an unusual variety of pets has taught them responsibility, compassion, and created lasting bonds with animals they may never have had knowledge about before. The pets in the Yaggie family have provided a source of fun and happiness, far better than what many children experience from electronics.

While having a raccoon is illegal in some states, and is considered an exotic pet and requires special permits in others. It is legal in South Dakota and many other states however. In Arkansas, the limit is six exotic pets per household though. Many people have had wonderful, long term relationships with raccoons as pets, but it isn’t something to be done without some serious thought. Raccoons can be unpredictable and destructive to belongings. They require lots of time, patience and supervision. Just like many other creatures, raccoons have varying temperaments, with some being better than others. President Calvin Coolidge had two during his time in the White House, named Rebecca and Rueben. When asked if the Yaggies have any future plans to release Claudio back into the wild, Jason was uncertain. “He’s free to live with us as long as he wants, as long as he continues to get along with everyone.” One thing is for certain, living with a raccoon is never boring.