Naples | It is not every day that a blind raccoon is welcomed into the seventh-grade science classroom of teacher Sheila DiMarco of St. Ann Catholic School, but Jan. 16 was one such day.
Trouper the Blind Raccoon, a wildlife ambassador who has been featured in local media and “National Geographic Wild” television, brought a few expressions of glee and lots of smiles when his handler, Dorothy “Dot” Lee, wheeled him into the classroom in a child’s stroller.
The students learned about the life of Trouper, raised since 2009 from 8 weeks old by Lee, a certified wildlife rehabilitator, after he was beaten over the head with a golf club in North Carolina.
A former special-needs teacher, Lee used the skills she learned to help people to help save Trouper. It was a long process, with months of bottle-feeding and physical rehabilitation. It was during this process that Lee realized that Trouper was blind, had no sense of smell and, at the time, no hearing. Trouper had to learn how to walk, swim, eat and interact with others, but had lost the ability to feed or defend himself.
Although she was not allowed to keep Trouper as a pet, Lee knew he would not survive long in the wild, so she figured out a way to keep him as a companion animal since she is legally blind. At the same time, Trouper also became a federally licensed wildlife ambassador as part of the Wildlife Education Project. Now living in Fort Myers, Lee explained that the stroller works as a cane as she walks around, helping to guide the pair through crowds and in unfamiliar surroundings.
Lee also noted that because Trouper is registered as a wildlife ambassador, she received a call to check up on him following Hurricane Irma. “They asked many questions about how he weathered the storm, but never asked how I was. I’m glad they had their priority straight,” she joked.
Throughout the presentation, while Lee held Trouper in her lap, the students learned that raccoons are part of the bear family and distantly related to pandas. They also have many characteristics that humans have, such as opposable thumbs which give them the ability to grasp things and hold them. In addition, Trouper likes the same kinds of foods the students eat, such as chicken nuggets, pizza and marshmallows. Sadly, because he never learned the to eat normally, Lee must still put food into Trouper’s mouth.
Lee stressed that while Trouper is tame, no one should ever approach animals in the wild. “He will still bite,” she explained. “All animals with teeth will bite, so stay away and enjoy wildlife from a distance.”
She also explained that Trouper did regain his hearing and has a fondness for classical music, particularly female Irish singers. When the students were invited to meet Trouper and pet him, seventh-grader Gianna DiPietro came forward at the urging of her classmates and sang “Amazing Grace” for Trouper while holding his hand. During the song, the raccoon stayed still and, although blind, tilted his head and faced Gianna so he could listen. She was a little hesitant to sing to a raccoon, but said afterwards that it was cool to sing to Trouper and hold his hand.
As students approached, some were excited to pet him and shake his hand, while others were more hesitant. Throughout the presentation, as new information was revealed about Trouper’s story, the students remained absorbed and focused
The big lesson for the class was that while it is unknown why the person injured Trouper, what is known, Lee said, is that the person did not respect him. “I ask that you all pledge to respect all living things. It is what we must do for animals like Trouper to survive.”
This lesson was an easy one for the St. Ann students to absorb as they are all taught about caring for God’s creation, as part of their core curriculum.
DiMarco had hoped her students would gain a new perspective on wildlife from the presentation, and seeing firsthand their interest in Trouper proved the lessons were effective.
For information about Trouper the Blind Raccoon, call 239-482-7176, or visit TrouperandFriend.org or www.wildlifeeducationproject.org.