A woman who has raised a wild raccoon since it was a baby says she is being told to release the animal or that it may have to be euthanized.
Cora Peterson, a Jefferson County resident, said county humane society officials recently told her she had a month to train the animal, named Meeko, to forage for food and then release it on her property. However, Peterson is concerned the animal, which she said is friendly with people and has only ever lived inside, will be shot if it approaches a neighbor who may mistakenly believe it is rabid.
''He's domesticated. He plays with us. It's as if he's a big cat,'' Peterson said.
RACCOON ISSUE — Meeko is a raccoon that Jefferson County resident Cora Peterson aims to keep even though the county humane officer says it is against the law to do so. -- Contributed
Peterson said she talked with Ohio Division of Natural Resources officials to see if she could purchase a permit to legally keep the animal. Apparently, no such permit exists.
''It's disturbing. People can get a propagators license to release birds on their property - a license to kill for fun,'' she said. ''I can't get a license to keep an animal alive who was helpless when we found him. ... What's so humane about any of it?''
Peterson said she's never allowed the animal to go outside. It eats dog food and uses a litter box.
Peterson would like to have it vaccinated against rabies, but her veterinarian is only licensed in West Virginia and she's not allowed to take Meeko across the Ohio state line.
She also has not found an Ohio veterinarian who is willing to vaccinate the animal. Peterson said she has not tried to contact any zoos about whether they would take the animal.
''I want to save him. I don't feel it's fair,'' Peterson said.
She said she took the animal in after her daughter discovered it on their property about a year ago. The mother raccoon had died. She noted the county was alerted to her owning the animal by a relative.
Cassandra Howell, Jefferson County humane officer, said it is ''absolutely illegal'' for people to own wild animals.
She said Peterson keeps the raccoon in a cage that is 4-by-4 feet, and that it is not a proper life for a raccoon. Peterson said she plans to expand the animal's cage to 8-feet long.
Howell said Tuesday she believed the game warden, Craig Porter, had seized the animal Monday. But Peterson said no one from the Ohio Division of Natural Resources has tried to take the animal.
Porter said an investigation of the matter is pending.
He declined to say whether the animal might be euthanized, but he said it could not be released into the wild because of how long it has been kept in captivity and its contact with humans.
Peterson said she allows the raccoon out of the cage to play, but when left out he gets into the kitchen cupboards.
Peterson said the animal bit on her on the nose while playing recently, but it didn't leave a mark.
Howell said if one sees a young animal alone, it is likely the mother is nearby and it should be left alone.