Family doesn't want to lose pet raccoon

Posted: Sunday, February 29, 2004

AMARILLO, Texas Jean eats Fritos, likes to swim and really doesn't seem to approve of Holly's smoking habit.

She is such a member of the family, in fact, that Holly Black and her sons went to city hall to try to find a way to legally keep her.

Jean is the 1-year-old raccoon the Blacks brought with them when they moved to Amarillo from Llano last month.

"Like any other animal, you become really, really attached to her," said Garrett Black, 17.

But when a neighbor saw Jean and notified the Blacks' landlord, the landlord told them they couldn't keep her because she violates city law. A 1999 city ordinance prohibits residents from keeping raccoons and other animals that are at high risk of having rabies.

The Blacks got Jean when she was still a baby from a man who found her in his attic. She couldn't even open her eyes then, so she has been exposed to humans all her life.

Jean, in fact, is named after Holly Black's mother, who died a few weeks before the Blacks got the raccoon and who liked to raise foxes and squirrels.

The Blacks asked the city manager and mayor for a variance to allow them to keep their raccoon, but the ordinance doesn't allow for variances.

"The only way to do it is to amend the ordinance," said John Ward, city manager.

The Blacks can take their case to the Animal Control Board and the Amarillo City Commission to see whether the ordinance can be changed. But the state may not leave the local authorities any choice.

"We don't have the authority to allow her to possess that," said Lewis Rather, staff lieutenant in the Texas Parks and Wildlife regional office in Lubbock.

Rather's agency requires raccoon owners to obtain a fur-bearing animal propagation license before acquiring the animal. The raccoon can only come from someone else with a license not from the wild and a person is disqualified from getting a license if they already have the raccoon.

Dr. James Alexander, zoonosis control veterinarian for Texas Department of Health Region 1, said raccoons are restricted because an approved rabies vaccine isn't available.

The Blacks said Jean has been spayed and vaccinated, apparently with a vaccine approved for a wide range of species, not raccoons specifically.

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