Nighttime bandits don't have to steal a meal from Nancy Elliott's trash.
She takes care of all the wild animal friends that visit her back yard -- including 15 raccoon families, three red foxes, several opossums, a number of squirrels, deer, turkey and rabbits -- but it's her "furkids" that get the most lavish treatment.
Elliott, of Marble Hill, Mo., and her husband, Dan, keep five raccoons -- Bitsy, Rambo, Sam, Frisco and Mariah -- in the basement of their home. The masked guests live in style with hammocks, toys, a kiddie pool and central heat and air conditioning.
"You have to respect them and devote your life to their care," Elliott said. "Raccoons are very special animals -- so intelligent, so capable of love and so misunderstood. I have had the pleasure of living with nine of them now and each is unique with a different personality."
To keep wildlife in a home in Missouri they must be purchased from a licensed breeder and the Missouri Department of Conversation requires caretakers to annually renew a permit on the animals. Elliott originally bought three kits -- baby raccoons -- from a fur farm in Missouri to keep them from becoming fur coats.
While Elliott finds joy in her "furkids," she would agree that raccoons are not for everybody. They don't make good pets for families with children, and veterinarians that treat raccoons are hard to find.
But for Elliott, who never had children, the family of "furkids" is a gift from God. Her main desire is to help raccoon rehabilitators across the United States to locate medical supplies and funds for healing the animals. Last year she and her friends made calendars to sell as fund raisers for rehabilitators nationwide: Rascalflats in California, Bluegrass Babies in Kentucky and Raccoon Chatter in North Carolina.
The Web site www.coonieflats. com/sophie.html tells the story of one of Elliott's rehab raccoons. In 2002 a domesticated raccoon abandoned by her caretakers was trapped by a trailer park owner and brought to a shelter. The Elliotts were contacted to rehabilitate Sophie, who they originally thought was a young raccoon due to her small size. While their intention was to nurse Sophie back to health and release her into the wild, complications quickly changed their plans.
A hole between her eyes required stitches, and severe chemical burns on her paws made it painful for her to stand. She had also been declawed, which made it nearly impossible for her to climb, hunt or defend herself.
Sophie quickly bonded to the Elliotts and lived with them until this year, when she died from pancreatitis.
Elliott's five current resident raccoons can't replace Sophie, but are an extension of the bond that Elliott made with her furry friend.
"My life is pretty boring," Elliott said. Though "I do have a special love for all wildlife."
335-6611, extension 133