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)

  • Kate

    2008/03/25 at 3:31 pm

    My cat sat and stared out a kitchen cupboard for two full days before I came down one day to find a mouse – strewn in parts across the kitchen floor. Yuck! Its like living with a feline serial killer.

  • JayLene

    2008/03/25 at 3:32 pm

    Yay for Chuck! He is the Hero of the Armstrong family! Because here in Oregon, Racoon = Rabies! Yikes!

  • Jennifer H

    2008/03/25 at 3:32 pm

    This is seriously one of the best raccoon/chimney/prophet dog stories I have ever heard. Not that I get a lot of those stories, but, well, you know what I mean.

  • meg

    2008/03/25 at 3:33 pm

    That is the best, most awesomest story EVER.

    I want a Chuck dog now. 🙁

  • Viv

    2008/03/25 at 3:34 pm

    Oh geez, that’s made my morning, it’s so awesome.

  • Erika

    2008/03/25 at 3:35 pm

    I am VERY happy I wasn’t drinking anything when reading this. My poor computer would never have been the same.

    We had a squirrel get caught in our chimney when our daughter was about 3 wks old. I was sitting on the couch, probably nursing her, my husband was upstairs working, when I started hearing a weird tapping sound. I went upstairs and it wasn’t my husband. Went back downstairs and the dog was staring at the part of the chimney that went through the kitchen. Went to the bsmt, and the cats were sitting on the floor, staring at the pipe leading from the furnace, transfixed.

    Just about the best part was when we started calling up pest-control people. The first person we called said “gee, I don’t know *how* you’re going to get him out of there!”

    Umm…isn’t that supposed to be the job of the “experts”?

  • shannon

    2008/03/25 at 3:35 pm

    I’m filing this one under “Must read when having a crap day”

    Thanks for the (deep belly) laugh!

  • Ben

    2008/03/25 at 3:37 pm

    A Dooce post about Chuck AND racoons? I think that’s a magical trio of greatness!

    I somehow think that my wiener puppy would just cower in fear versus actually alert me to the presence of danger or adorable wildlife.

  • Gina

    2008/03/25 at 3:38 pm

    This was a fantastically written post and the pics complement the tale wonderfully! I “stumbled” it for you, btw. 🙂

  • Tara

    2008/03/25 at 3:38 pm

    this is a GREAT story.
    but aren’t chimney sweeps supposed to be skinny 12 year old boys? or is that just in Dickens?

  • Erika

    2008/03/25 at 3:38 pm

    Oh, also–when the people who knew what they were doing showed up and set the squirrel trap, I asked them what they’d do w/ him when they caught him, and they said they’d take him to the other side of town and release him so he didn’t make his way back to our roof. And I said:

    “Oh, but won’t he miss his family?”

    Somehow, I think these guys deal w/ crazy people on a pretty regular basis.

  • Tori

    2008/03/25 at 3:39 pm

    Holy crap batman.

    That’s one big friggin raccoon.

  • katie

    2008/03/25 at 3:39 pm

    After I read the hint in yesterday’s daily chuck photo, I thought for sure it was birds. But a racoon? THAT IS SO MUCH BETTER . . . well for me, maybe not so much for you guys.

    In university I lived in this basement dive whose entrance was through the garage. An entire family of racoons decided to make their home right there in our warm, garbage filled garage. It was cute for a little while, watching them tear apart our garbage with their tiny hands, but after about the third time I had to crawl through a window to get into my apartment, I changed my mind and called my landlord.

    You should pimp Chuck out as some sort of super detective. I’d pay.

  • SarahThe

    2008/03/25 at 3:40 pm

    HOLY SHIT. That thing was HUGE.

  • April

    2008/03/25 at 3:40 pm

    I’m glad the raccoon was able to escape unharmed. I was unfortunately in Chuck’s position once… sitting next to our fireplace and hearing something large scampering around inside. Nobody believed me. When I finally convinced them I wasn’t imagining things, the landlord called animal control, who then euthanized the poor beast over my vehement protests.

  • daay

    2008/03/25 at 3:40 pm

    Yay Chuckles! Way to go!

    I had a bird fly in my house come in through the chimney once. It was awful. Kept hitting the window, he so didn’t get named.

  • Erika too

    2008/03/25 at 3:41 pm

    Feeling your pain, we’ve had several ‘chimney incidents’ over here.

  • Kiwi T

    2008/03/25 at 3:42 pm

    Chuck is awesome! I hope you charged the sweep for such a great experience and one to add to his list of things he’s swept away…

    We one had a lovebird fly down our chimney. We kept it in a cat box for a day but it somehow got out. Nowhere near as dramatic as your story.

  • Patty

    2008/03/25 at 3:43 pm

    I *love* the thrilled look on the chimney sweep’s face. That’s the look of his inner 12-year old shining through. Great set of images and story, Chuck is seriously a super dog.

  • Lanna Lee Maheux-Quinn

    2008/03/25 at 3:43 pm

    Wow, that was quite a raccoon. So glad it was a win-win situation, the raccoon got out safely, yet your house was unscathed!

  • doug

    2008/03/25 at 3:43 pm

    I’m just amazed that chimney sweeps can still find work in 2008. Aren’t all chimneys required to be digital by 2009?

  • darr

    2008/03/25 at 3:43 pm

    Awesome Chuck!!

    I read your blog all the time and send my college-aged son Chuck’s page. I thank you for lighting up our lives — both of yous!

  • Aaron

    2008/03/25 at 3:44 pm

    Is Lita worried that other animals might come out of the chimney?

  • alex

    2008/03/25 at 3:44 pm

    I once had an adult opossum squatting in my attic, so I totally and completely validate your motivating fear. From this experience I can also say with authority that woodland animals WAY STINK and evicting Percy was the only way to go.

    Chuck knows his business, yay him!

  • Cappy

    2008/03/25 at 3:45 pm

    They’re cute but you can’t imagine the disaster they can wreak in a house, even a smaller coon than that. They can open cabinets & drawers & stuff like a person…. I knew an old (senile) lady once who thought it’d be fun to have 2 pet coons in her house. They destroyed the kitchen in about 5 minutes flat. Every bag of flour, sugar, beans, boxes of rice, sacks of potato chips, cookies~~ you name it, they can open it. I went to try to help her herd them out her back door & the little hooligans were throwing things at me & chittering like maniacs. And they can also be vicious if they feel cornered or threatened. I had a friend whose dog was killed by a large racoon. And bite? Hell, yeah. And claw & scratch, & then yeah~~ there’s the poop factor. And it’s nasty poop too.

  • Hilary

    2008/03/25 at 3:48 pm

    Oh dear.. I sure can relate. Make sure there have been no babies left behind, and following that, that all vents are covered with screen to restrict its return. I just finished a three-post account of my story. You got off easy! 🙂

    Start with this post
    and then follow up with the next two. I’m still in a state of disrepair.

  • Nickki

    2008/03/25 at 3:49 pm

    Truly supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (ok, I caved and checked Google for the spelling but only after I had had a good go at it myself). I think its the ‘one leg, then the other’ that got me in a state of giggles. And I’m so so sorry, I promise that on Sunday, it will be on my list of confessions, but I really did picture your shocked face and what the neighbours might say as they peered over your lifeless body had Percy decided to make a dive.

    Chuck rocks, you don’t need telling that. But can you imagine if the racoon had fallen down the inner chimney and landed on his head? That would have been one amazing photo. Better than the grapes and that particular photo had me reaching for my Merlot and toasting you across the pond.

  • Jenna

    2008/03/25 at 3:51 pm

    GOOD BOY, CHUCK!!! lol. how long did this go on again? ah, well. bye, bye raccoony.

  • jac

    2008/03/25 at 3:51 pm

    totally awesome. that was one for the books. hmmm …. maybe your next book should be about chuck and his amazing powers?

  • Nicole

    2008/03/25 at 3:53 pm

    My father is convinced that a horse ate our dog. Perhaps Chuck’s fear of horses proves this theory?

  • Scale Junkie

    2008/03/25 at 3:54 pm

    Chuck was having visions of that thing coming down the chimney and stealing his treats to feed the 27 babies it looks like its about to have! That thing is HUGE!

    Way to go CHUCK!!

  • Lottifish

    2008/03/25 at 3:55 pm

    I think Chuck deserves a cookie.

  • Julie

    2008/03/25 at 3:55 pm

    Only in the Armstrong house! Great pics and way to go Chuck!

  • James | Double Danger

    2008/03/25 at 3:56 pm

    Now the twitter comment makes sense. Awesome. Chuck is top notch.

  • Ely

    2008/03/25 at 3:58 pm

    We had a really similar situation in which a huuuuge raccoon lived in a garbage can outside of our house…and every day our dog would growl at it at night when we’d take her out. We’d always kid around, like “ha what a funny dog…growling at the garbage” until one day my dad opened the can to throw something out only to discover why the dog was growling.

    great story though!

  • linda

    2008/03/25 at 3:58 pm

    Reminds me of the time my two cats were scratching at the fireplace glass screen, only to have me realize they were merely planted in front of the fireplace staring intently at the screen. The scratching noise? It was coming from deep within the chimney. Of course I was home, alone, on a Saturday morning. Several phone calls and hours later the chimney was minus one very annoyed squirrel and we were the proud owners of a stainless steel chimney cap.

  • The Introvert

    2008/03/25 at 3:59 pm

    Makes me wonder why my dog is terrified of the church pew we just salvaged from my great-great-grandfather’s old church. Of course, he’s also scared of certain doorways…and loud noises…and vegetables.

  • angela

    2008/03/25 at 3:59 pm

    So, you’re saying that when my dog starts barking and clawing at the livingroom window I should pause the TV and actually go investigate? Are there snacks involved? My only motivation is the possibility of snacks.

  • andrea

    2008/03/25 at 3:59 pm

    My husband had the same thing happen years ago when he lived in SLC. Every time he tells the story I have chimed in with “what was the big deal with him living in your chimney” or “raccoons are cute animals” and he’s never had the patience to explain to me the real reasons one does not want raccoons in their chimneys. Thanks to you and Chuck for clearing that up for me.

  • junewell

    2008/03/25 at 4:00 pm

    Chuck deserves some kind of major reward for this. I suggest that you balance something on your head and let him take a picture of you.

  • Sheila

    2008/03/25 at 4:00 pm

    I’m confused. How does a raccoon LIVE in a chimney? Where does he rest his little raccoon head at bedtime and how does he keep all the remotes from sliding down the chimney? Raccoons are magic, I am thinking.

  • Melissa

    2008/03/25 at 4:01 pm

    Raccoons are kind of cute to look at, until they try to come inside. We have them around my apartment and when I tried to shoo them off the birdfeeder one night, one acted like he would just walk in the patio door instead of leaving. *sigh* Another night, a couple of them were either fighting on making baby raccoons on the patio above me. Yeah…not a pleasant sound. It freaked my cats out.

    This is the first chance I’ve had to comment on your site. I found it recently (just a little late) and read through all the archives. I only have a couple things to say, wash is definitely pronounced worsh and crayon is so pronounced crown, don’t let anyone say differently. 🙂

  • KG

    2008/03/25 at 4:08 pm

    Dogs are so seriously awesome I can’t even stand it.

  • Robin

    2008/03/25 at 4:09 pm

    I’m so glad that story had a happen ending with the raccoon going on its merry way. Chuck rocks!

  • Alison

    2008/03/25 at 4:09 pm

    Yay Chuck!! That is one freakin’ large raccoon. And no, raccoon poop in your fireplace would not be pleasant. In fact, the word “ewwwww” comes strongly to mind.

  • Eater's Regret

    2008/03/25 at 4:09 pm

    Is it totally weird that I thought the raccoon was adorable…
    Ah I know they are all diseased and stuff, but I work as a copywriter for a toy store and we have raccoon plush toys and I have to write about how cute they are and why you should buy them. I am incredibly glad he got out okay and lived to terrorise another family.
    P.s Chuck man, you rule!

  • anise

    2008/03/25 at 4:10 pm

    way to go chuck.

  • Amanda

    2008/03/25 at 4:11 pm

    I promise you that this is not as bad as finding a whole family of raccoons…and they managed to make into the house not just once, but twice!!

    I woke up one night to sounds coming from our den. I thought it was my younger brother (I was living w/ my parents at the time), i was meet w/ 2 sets of beady eyes. I screamed and ran into my room, and called my father from my cell. apparently I scarred it and it ran into the basement. We chased it out. we thought end of story…

    except 2 mornings later, my dad came down stairs to find the raccoons fishing in our fish tank (again in the den) – we chased them out w/ an empty wrapping paper tube – figured out that they were actually coming in through the furnace. We blocked the door to the furnace and called the chimney sweep. They are scary little creatures

    I’m glad that you listened to chuck before it came down the chimney!!!

  • Vi

    2008/03/25 at 4:13 pm

    Just keep a look out. They come back.

    I had to have my attic done 3 times. They are crafty creatures.

  • Justin

    2008/03/25 at 4:15 pm

    Dude! You. Freaking. Rock. Thanks for having this blog. I totally love you, in a BFF kinda way, not psycho internet stalker kind of way.

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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