the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Chuck’s heightened sense of AWESOME!

Last week I posted a picture of Chuck with a round swath of soot on his forehead and explained that for the last two weeks he’s been standing with his head inside the fireplace for hours every day. But because we couldn’t hear anything or smell any rotting carcass I just assumed that it was a new habit of his, an adorable habit, and when I walked into our bedroom to find him just standing there silently, his entire head and neck disappearing inside the top of the fireplace, I was all, how cute is that dog? WHO’S A GOOD BOY WITH HIS HEAD UP THE CHIMNEY!

But many of you sent me email to urge me not to take such behavior lightly. Do not ignore your dog, you said. Your dog is trying to tell you something, you said. And then you started sending me stories about how your dog started barking at the fireplace and two days later your entire house was filled with bats. And that’s all you had to do, mention the bats, because if it could be bats then it could also be a family of squirrels. And if it could be a family of squirrels then there’s no reason it couldn’t be AN ADULT OPOSSUM. And if that was the case then I was going to call up that restaurant in Austin that puts bacon in their refried beans and order a serving for 12, because the guests at my funeral were going to be hungry after seeing the frozen look of horror on my dead face.

So Jon called a few chimney sweeps, got some bids, and scheduled someone to come out and take a look at our chimney on Friday morning. And a few hours before he showed up Chuck went from standing silently near the fireplace to growling at the fireplace, code for: I’M NOT KIDDING ABOUT THIS. Chuck only growls at Coco when she’s trying to steal a rawhide bone out of his mouth, and maybe sometimes at horses, okay definitely at horses, because there was that one time I thought it would be funny to drive slowly by a barn to see how Chuck would respond to all the animals. And he growled, all right. But he was also so scared of the horses that suddenly an inconvenient grease shot out of his butt, and because he was sitting in my lap at the time that butt grease ended up on my shirt, and in that instant I was very upset that humans were born with noses.

The chimney sweep showed up later that afternoon and found nothing in the chimney connected to the fireplace in the living room. However, when he inspected the chimney connected to the fireplace in our bedroom he let out an exclamation of excitement, ran upstairs and said, yeah. There’s a raccoon living in your chimney. And he is rather large.

Then he said that once he nudged him a bit with his tools the raccoon would either a) fall off the chimney or b) run away scared. Let’s look at these options for just a second. A) There is no way a raccoon could survive that kind of fall, and b) B doesn’t even matter when A is a possibility. So I said to the chimney sweep, look, I am not about to let you go around killing wildlife, can we just let him continue living in our chimney? All he wants is a few warm cuddles, why not leave him alone! We could adopt him and let him sleep in our bed! I’d name him Percy Twinkles Armstrong and take photos of him wearing Keds.

That’s what this family was missing! A raccoon! THAT WE COULD ANTHROPOMORPHIZE.

The chimney sweep looked at me and then looked at Jon like, ummmm… And that’s when Jon was all DO NOT PAY ANY ATTENTION TO THE INSANE WOMAN STANDING BESIDE ME.

So I guess there are all sorts of reasons you shouldn’t let a raccoon live in your chimney. Who knew? I won’t get into that long list here, but one bullet point on that list is the fact that the raccoon would use your chimney as a waste receptacle. That’s all I needed to know. If that’s not a good enough reason for you then you should probably go out right now, adopt a puppy and let her poop all over the inside of your car. That bullet point will instantly make sense.

Now, I haven’t ever been a chimney sweep, but I imagine they see all sorts of wacky things inside people’s fireplaces. Birds, nests, that uncle who went missing, so you’d think a raccoon wouldn’t be that big of a deal to him, right? WRONG. When he saw us heading outside with our camera I think he realized, dude, I never get to see the animal scurry out of the chimney. I bet it’s more awesome than NASCAR. So he went and got his camera, screwed it to a tripod and set it on our neighbor’s fence. I don’t know why that made me so happy, to see him so excited about it, maybe because a situation like this was exactly why he became a chimney sweep in the first place. Or I guess he could just be a huge fan of soot.

So he grabbed all his equipment and headed down into our bedroom while we stood out in front of our house waiting for some crazed raccoon to shoot out the top of our chimney. Five minutes later he ran out the front door, breathless, and said, “DID YOU SEE IT?”

Um. No. The invisible raccoon managed to escape unnoticed.

He scratched his chin, said he’d go back down and nudge him a little harder, and thirty seconds later we saw a foot:

And then another foot:

And then the whole raccoon emerged. Indeed, he was rather large:

I held my breath waiting for him to fall to his death, but he just sat there and peered at us over the top of the chimney:

This went on for what seemed like hours but was actually only a few minutes, the raccoon sitting calmly on the chimney. I wished so badly that I knew what he was thinking and came to the conclusion that he was assessing whether or not he could take us. Should he climb down and find another place to live, or would it be worth it to jump off like a flying squirrel into my face, just to watch me die from shock. He was weighing his options.

And then without provocation he turned and slowly scaled the chimney down to the roof and off into someone else’s life:

The chimney sweep estimated that the raccoon weighed anywhere from 15-20 pounds. That’s bigger than Coco. That’s bigger than some toddlers. Internet, I think the lesson we can all learn from this is TAKE YOUR DOG SERIOUSLY.

(all photos taken by Jon with our telephoto lens)

  • Dawn in Austin

    2008/03/27 at 4:51 am

    I just came in today after hearing of you from The Undomestic Diva. She was right, you’re hilarious. Great story to start the day. And hey?! where’s that place in Austin that puts bacon in the refried beans?? Sounds yummy!Count me as a regular. Thanks!

  • The Lisa Show

    2008/03/27 at 5:10 am

    Awesome pictures! And poor, sweet Chuck. I want to smother him with hugs and kisses.

    I just yelled at my husband from across the room, “Jeff, there’s a raccoon coming out of Dooce’s chimney!” He nodded disinterestedly without bothering to look up. Oh well.

  • Sally

    2008/03/27 at 5:32 am

    Percy Twinkles Armstrong is so cute I could just pick him up and kiss him on the lips

  • Rosemary

    2008/03/27 at 6:09 am

    ha ha ha, what a fantastic story. I have a very strange cat that tries to kill imaginary things. On several occasions she has jumped to attack the wall and fallen from the our second story (loft). Seriously, if there is something in our wall, you think she would realize that the WALL is in the way of her getting it!

  • Kate

    2008/03/27 at 6:21 am

    It’s nice to know that your readers are helpful every now and then, even if you have to put up with all those exclamation points and crazed, unmedicated fanatics from time to time.

    Anyway, I loved this post. The photos were great. One question, though. How exactly was the raccoon going to fall? Off the roof? Or down into the chimney?

  • Anonymous

    2008/03/27 at 7:07 am

    Good boy Chuck!

  • Shini

    2008/03/27 at 8:19 am

    If cute raccoons like that are pests, then please let me have pests, since I don’t have an uber cool dog like Chuck…

  • Angela Giles Klocke

    2008/03/27 at 8:21 am

    So…sounds like a good time to be thankful I don’t have a fireplace! Love all the shots 🙂

  • Denise Beck

    2008/03/27 at 8:38 am

    Now what is Chuck gonna do for fun?

  • aja

    2008/03/27 at 8:47 am

    and at that moment all of my paranoia would strike me dead.

  • Nic

    2008/03/27 at 8:49 am

    Awesomely funny post. I laughed so loud at work that my coworkers came to check on me. I love the beans and bacon wake food reference. Ha! Love you, Armstrong.

  • Michelle & the City

    2008/03/27 at 8:56 am

    HOLY COW! maybe i should pass along this story to my boyfriend whose dog continues to scratch and sniff at the same spot on the wall everyday? hmmm…


  • Katie

    2008/03/27 at 9:16 am

    Priceless! They are crafty rodents aren’t they! I grew up in NE Colorado and grew up hating them since they’d eat all my sweet corn in my garden! Then I was stupid and ran one over in my new car and instead of it going under the tires, he went under the engine, caused over $2K in damage to my new car, and then had the audacity to roll around in the ditch, look me in the eye and run off, unscathed! Swear the thing weighed 30-40 pounds, looked like a beach ball! Glad you are coon-free! Fun times!

  • Kristine

    2008/03/27 at 9:41 am

    We had a blazing chimney fire one year from creosote build up (amazing the things you learn when you purchase your first house… creosote… who knew?) and when we hired the chimney sweep, he actually showed up at the door in a top hat and sang CHIM CHIMNEY CHIM CHIMNEY CHIM CHIM CHAROO… the entire song. I stood the smiling while inside I was thinking, good lord, son. You couldn’t pay me enough. Anyway, next time you need your chimney cleaned and you don’t have a raccoon to make it exciting, spice up your day by hiring Chim Chimney, they are on 33rd and 3rd east and they might just be an acting troupe that also happens to clean chimneys.

  • Master of Space and Time

    2008/03/27 at 9:42 am



  • Renae

    2008/03/27 at 9:49 am

    What a good boy! It almost makes up for the butt grease incident.

    Speaking of dog butt grease, when my dog Grissom was young, like maybe 6 months old or so, he and I were sitting in the living room, it was a beautiful day out, so the front door was open to let in some light and fresh air. Someone came up the path but you couldn’t tell who it was because of the way the light was hitting the screen door. Grissom started to growl a bit, the person behind the door growled back and barked. Grissom yelped, shot butt grease all over the place and ran down the hall in the other direction.

    About thirty seconds later, he came charging back, barking his head off, like he had realized “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be protecting my mom!” By then my dad had walked in to the house. Never before or since have I seen my dog look so confused. Poor guy stuck by my dad’s side the whole rest of the day, periodically looking up at him like “is it really you? Is everything ok?” It was pretty funny, but the smell…not so much.

  • mmilo

    2008/03/27 at 10:22 am

    The cutest character in this story is the chimney sweeper.

  • Heather

    2008/03/27 at 10:32 am

    I love it!! This story put quite a smile on my face, as I thought I was the only person in this world that could be deathly afraid of angry opossums and angry raccoons. That is crazy, glad you caught it on film! And give Chuck extra love, what a great dog!

  • Jerlyn Thomas

    2008/03/27 at 10:45 am

    That is completely hilarious! I absolutely love the photos by the way!

  • jesse james

    2008/03/27 at 11:00 am

    Reason #1,482 why my girlfriend and I need to get a dog! Coco has not been helping the case. Thanks for the leverage Chuck!

  • Laura

    2008/03/27 at 11:30 am

    No kidding — our beagle used to sit at our sliding glass door and stare at the stars (we thought). Come to find out, she was watching the huge family of rats that moved in to our apt complex. They’d run back and forth across the fences at night. We about died when we realized that we had, on many occasions, opened the sliding glass door for our dog to get a better view of the “stars”. EWWWW!

  • Tsunami

    2008/03/27 at 11:32 am

    Great pics of the Raccoon! Great post!
    I couldn’t help but wonder if the chimney sweep had a daughter, or son, or wife, or friend. Maybe they are bloggers themselves, and maybe they happen to read your blog. Imagine that they logged on today and read your post like they always do and then they saw the picture of the chimney sweep. How awesome would that be? Just a regular chimney sweep they would say, now famous beyond all comparison because of his picture on . Now he is the world’s most famous chimney sweep. This is the world I want to live in.

  • Layla

    2008/03/27 at 11:37 am

    YAY Chuck! He saved the family from potential rabies!! He deserves a reward.

    The chimney sweep looks *way* too excited about his job!

    Love the photos! God bless the internet.

  • Liz

    2008/03/27 at 11:42 am

    Chuck? I’d kiss ya, but I have a healthy fear of butt grease.

  • Konabold

    2008/03/27 at 11:47 am

    Hey I’ll trade you my 2 COONHOUNDS for Chuck!

  • Judy Cotner

    2008/03/27 at 11:48 am

    Is the chimney sweep man married? Would he like to be? Cuz he’s HOT.

  • Shirley

    2008/03/27 at 11:50 am

    Good boy Chuck!!

    Raccoons look ubercute on paper but are awful, destructive little shits. They run rampant in the harbor near our home and are always breaking into people’s boats. We’ve run into one that must weigh 40 pounds trying to get into our critter proof cans. Instead of running away like most animals, he gave us a total “Hey, do you MIND?” glare. It was funny and disturbing all at the same time.

  • Laurel

    2008/03/27 at 12:09 pm

    We knew we had mice when our dog started lying on the floor with her nose under the couch and her tail wagging. When we found mouse, er, droppings in our daughter’s bedroom closet, we moved.

  • Courtney

    2008/03/27 at 12:14 pm

    While I’m super excited about Chuck and racoon, I have to tell you how sorry I am that he butt juiced on your lap. Our dog Basil is an occasional butt juicer. At least it wasn’t on upholstry though – that’s hard to clean up.

  • Sandy

    2008/03/27 at 12:19 pm

    That’s awesome! My brother had an instance when he couldn’t figure out why he was going through 50 lb bags of catfood like crazy – when his 2 cats didn’t appear to be gaining any weight – he got up to use the bathroom one night around 3am to find his 2 cats cuddled up with a rather large opossum all sharing a late night snack from the cat food bowl…it was apparently living in a crawl space under the pantry…

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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