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)

  • Slonik

    2008/03/25 at 4:15 pm

    Uuh, what is butt grease? Not a native English speaker here, help me out. Are we talking about poop?

  • Kate

    2008/03/25 at 4:16 pm

    Yeay! Chuck!

    Dogs are awesome in general.

  • Sue at eLuckypacket

    2008/03/25 at 4:17 pm

    Pity it wasn’t a baby hippo … might have had trouble getting down off the roof. Though I’m thinking someone might have stood on the sweep’s head to help it down!

  • kate

    2008/03/25 at 4:18 pm

    Holy Moses. I haven’t seen a raccoon that big since I lived in Oakland. My sister and I would regularly wake up and hear raccoons on the roof and in the backyard. One night I flipped on the backyard light because the racket was unbearable and there were four enormous raccoon couples having a raccoon orgy. They all stopped for a moment, stunned by the light and shrieked. Ewwwww!

    Way to go Chuck! I can only hope my dog is that observant if we get anything in our chimney.

  • Liz

    2008/03/25 at 4:21 pm

    Ugh, that’s so not nice. Ew. Glad you got that taken care of.

  • Meredith

    2008/03/25 at 4:21 pm

    The pic of that raccoon peering at you over the chimney is priceless. With a name like Percy Twinkles. . . I can only imagine him muttering “Buggar . . ” under his breath . . .

  • Patti

    2008/03/25 at 4:23 pm

    Is it just me or does your chimney sweep resemble Gilbert Gottfried? Funny story!

  • SEAslug

    2008/03/25 at 4:23 pm

    uhh…Shouldn’t there be a postscript to this story? One where you tell us that the chimney sweep attached some sort of mesh covering over the chimney to prevent future visits from the raccoon?

    In any case, way to go, Chuck!

  • Chookooloonks

    2008/03/25 at 4:25 pm

    I swear to God if you were a black girl you’d be me. We have raccoons in our attic right now AS I TYPE. Send Chuck over immediately.

  • Frankie

    2008/03/25 at 4:25 pm

    OMG how cute! I have a thing for racoons.. no, not *that* kind of thing, you know, like an “I want to squish them and love them” kind of thing… Yeah, that still sounds bad.

    How about this?: Go Chuck!!

  • shaunacon

    2008/03/25 at 4:26 pm

    That is the best story I have heard all week. I also love that you were able to get photos of the whole thing (seems like something me and my husband would do).

  • naima

    2008/03/25 at 4:28 pm

    ewe. we once had a FAMILY of raccoons in our chimney one winter – a poppa that would come and go & the mamma & two babies. cute. but ewe.

  • naima

    2008/03/25 at 4:28 pm

    ewe. we once had a FAMILY of raccoons in our chimney one winter – a poppa that would come and go & the mamma & two babies. cute. but ewe.

  • Femtastic

    2008/03/25 at 4:30 pm

    So STINKIN’ cool! I’m very glad to hear that there are others who would, at least initially, be excited at the idea of a pet raccoon living in a seldom-used chimney. (love the name, but I’d have gone with “Senior Fabuloso, King of the Brick Forests”, (fabu for short) Or possibly Steve. Steve the Raccoon. Either would be good.

    Now I wanna go home and check my never-used chimney for wildlife excitement.

  • DangerMonkey

    2008/03/25 at 4:31 pm

    Ah, the ol’ raccoon-in-the-chimney trick. When I was growing up, my next door neighbors found a whole family living in theirs- babies and all. Sure, at 8, raccoon babies are adorable. But then you realize how freaking nasty they can be…eeek.

  • Lorrian

    2008/03/25 at 4:32 pm

    Yay Chuck for discovering the intruder!

    Yay Heather for wanting to adopt it!

    Boo Jon (just kidding) for wanting it to move on!

    Fabulous set of action shots. Great story!

  • Felicia

    2008/03/25 at 4:35 pm

    Cute! Yet dirty. Oh my God, you have leaves on your trees??? You are so lucky. I’m still trudging through the effing snow.

  • Leonie

    2008/03/25 at 4:41 pm

    thank you for this post, I laughed so hard i cried a little.

    and I’m glad Percy’s gone.

  • Anonymousss

    2008/03/25 at 4:42 pm

    I am such a bad blog reader, I read that post and said “heh, theyve got a racoon in their chimney” Then moved on.
    I will find a suitable punishment. Maybe leave the sugar off the top of my muffins or something.

  • Carrie Jo

    2008/03/25 at 4:45 pm

    I love the 6th pic with the raccoon just peering over the edge of the chimney. It looks like he’s saying, “Well jeez, you didn’t have to be so rude about it!”

  • sikantis

    2008/03/25 at 4:46 pm

    Animals could get the same esteem as we human beings get.

  • Laura

    2008/03/25 at 4:48 pm

    That Chuck, he just slays me every time.

    If he ever starts staring at the toilet bowl, ya’ll better call in a snake handler. 😉

  • Captain

    2008/03/25 at 4:50 pm

    You are far braver than I…

  • Kate

    2008/03/25 at 4:50 pm

    There is so much awesome and funny in this post I don’t even know where to start. I can only imagine Leta’s horror when she realized there was yet ANOTHER furry creature living in her house.

  • Diana

    2008/03/25 at 4:50 pm

    I agree with everybody else: fantastic pics! Kudos to Jon for those.

    I also never realized the climbing ability of raccoons. I think perhaps Percy is a Spider Raccoon. Doing whatever a Spider Raccoon does. Including scaling your house.

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey

    2008/03/25 at 4:51 pm

    I’d be looking for a new house right now.

  • Paula

    2008/03/25 at 4:51 pm

    Too freaking funny! Raccoons are cute, but destructive. We waged war with them for years, until we finally had to get an electric fence because we were tired of funding their sushi habit (pond+fish+raccoons=no fish, no sleep) They are furry stomachs with opposable thumbs and will investigate any food-based opportunity! I have seen them use doggie doors if they know food is inside.

    Unfortunately they can be really dangerous to people and pets and frequently carry rabies and distemper. If he shows up again I would have someone (do you have a Critter Getter in Utah?) come out and remove him.

  • Tim

    2008/03/25 at 4:53 pm

    Funny you mention this. We’ve been having a similar problem lately. My dog does not normally sleep with us. Except when it is cold. Or when we are weak.

    We also just moved into a new house that doesn’t have blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows in our bedroom. Because, we have no neighbors. And it rocks.

    So she had become a bit of a persona-non-grata because she started waking up at 4am and barking her head off at the windows. I figured it was one of the 1001 stray cats in the neighborhood. So I would shush her, and stuff her under the blankets until she shut up (she’s a dachschund and likes to burrow, she likes it!). I should mention that I have horrible vision at night, and I sometimes walk around with my eyes closed. Because there’s not a lot of difference.

    So one night, she was spending the night in her crate. I got up in the early morning to go to the bathroom, and I noticed a figure at the window. I figured it was a particularly brazen cat, but as I acme close it began shambling off. Not moving like a cat at all. It glanced over its shoulder with a look on its face that can only be described as shame, and I caught a look at its beady little eyes. It was a huge possum. Although, it was kind of cute in how ashamed it looked to have been caught looking in our windows.

    Lucy and I saw it a few more times at 4am, meandering through the yard. My wife did not, as she would probably also have died.

    Lucy found it one day under the stage in our backyard, and proceeded to bark at it a lot. But unfortunately the possum’s habit of playing dead is a particularly good defense against dogs. My dog won’t attack dead things, and so she just barked. Not able to completely believe it was dead, but also not able to attack it because it seemed so dead.

    My mother decided she wanted to see the possum when she came to visit, but alas the possum appears to have shambled off to a better place to live.

  • Denise Vita

    2008/03/25 at 4:55 pm

    first a beach towel, now a raccoon. i wonder what you guys will find hidden in your next home if you should ever move again.

  • Kristin

    2008/03/25 at 4:58 pm

    chuck = teh awesome

  • doggie anonymous

    2008/03/25 at 4:58 pm

    Dear #101,

    Butt grease is not poo… it is anal fluid from the anal glands. They are two small glands located on either side of your dog’s rectal opening. Each gland holds a small amount of a noxious smelling liquid brown substance that your pet uses as something of a doggie calling card every time he potties. Squeezing a little every time he potties… thus saying… Fido was here.

    Sometimes the glands do not “express” themselves properly and can lead to a huge build up of fluids. Unfortunately, dogs can “express” the glands quite in appropriately… like when scared.

    And stink…. yeah… its bad.

  • Natalie

    2008/03/25 at 5:01 pm

    Wait, is that chimney sweep dude for real?

    Love the pictures, what a cute little fluffball you had living up in your chimney. My mom and dad had a pet raccoon when I was just eensy beensy and it kept stealing the silverware and putting it behind the oven.

    Of course, they didn’t find out where it had all gone until the oven broke.

    Little rascals.

  • K

    2008/03/25 at 5:02 pm


  • abbersnail

    2008/03/25 at 5:03 pm

    Great story! I want to name my future dog Percy.

    Helena’s comment regarding the mating raccoons was pretty awesome, too.

  • Michelle

    2008/03/25 at 5:09 pm

    Wow. Chuck. Is. Awesome.

    That Coco fella he might be adorable but Chuck is truly Awesome.

    p.s. what a great story

  • [michele]

    2008/03/25 at 5:09 pm

    This post made my day.

    And this:

    “My tear-away pants got snagged on my Union Jack thong and basically the funeral went downhill from there.”

    made my week.

  • jonesie

    2008/03/25 at 5:09 pm

    The furry creature is awesome…
    But seriously the photo that sticks with me is that chimney sweep.
    A more excited chimney sweep I have not seen.
    Makes me consider a change of career!

  • Aisha

    2008/03/25 at 5:11 pm

    What a great story!

  • Di

    2008/03/25 at 5:11 pm

    This is why I read you…you left me breathless anticipating the denouement of the racoon adventure. I just hope you don’t get a bunch of comments telling you how you were somehow cruel and disrespectful of this creature (who, it seems, was cruel and disrespectful of Chuck!)

  • Lisa

    2008/03/25 at 5:14 pm

    who needs tv…..the Armstrong’s had a raccoon in their chimney and Chuck the wonder dog was on the case the entire time. Luckily, the paparazzi was there to catch it all. You all have all the fun. No more Princess outfits for Chuck. He has earned more manly attire.

  • Vanes

    2008/03/25 at 5:15 pm

    wow! I like how u wrote in detail about how the raccoon popped up, it just makes it look cute!

    aww poor raccoon

  • Suebob

    2008/03/25 at 5:17 pm

    What a GOOD boy.

  • kate

    2008/03/25 at 5:20 pm

    Dude, it is YOU who has a heightened sense of awesome! Those pictures are super megatron awesome. I am jealous. I want a raccoon in my chimney now. (That sounds dirty.)

  • shanna murray

    2008/03/25 at 5:24 pm

    chuck so earned a heaping serving of bacon. you all did great, and it looks like the sun is finally shining in your neighborhood. maybe you could have a bacon picnic, and invite the chimney sweep along!

    three cheers for something working out the easy way!

  • heighlo

    2008/03/25 at 5:25 pm

    AWESOME shots of the action.

    I had similar situation last year with my dog except it was a possum under my house…who was finally trapped on Easter Sunday (my cat Newman was trapped twice and once with marshmellows – now there is a party getting marshmellows out of a long hair tom-cat’s fur!). I was lucky to find a company in ATL that ‘relocated’ my Easter possum to a place the welcomes possums. I learned to listen to my dog too.

  • Jessica

    2008/03/25 at 5:26 pm

    Ah, the destructive power of the raccoon. My step-uncle had a summer house on the Lake of the Ozarks, which kind of went fallow after his divorce. In that time, a family of raccoons invaded one winter and took up shelter. By the time they were done with their winter vacation, the house was trashed beyond reasonable repair. It had to be taken down to the studs it was so badly damaged and in the end, he just had it razed as it was cheaper to do that then repair it all.

  • Meegan

    2008/03/25 at 5:28 pm

    Holy shit. My 18 month old toddler weighs a whopping 21 pounds. That is one BIG raccoon! Way to save the day, Chuck.

  • Amber

    2008/03/25 at 5:31 pm

    Just wanted to say I LOVE you blog!! And those are some amazing pictures!! You always manage to brighten my day. Thanks!

  • DesignGirl

    2008/03/25 at 5:31 pm

    Ha! That’s awesome!
    For our 1st wedding anniversary, I bought my husband a cement gargoyle — the “winged dog”. Weighs about 60 pounds. He used it to hold down the board that covers the top of our chimney (our fireplace has been deemed “unusable” due to some issue regarding it’s lining, and hey, here in FLA, like we have ONE cold day a year that might be fun to use the fireplace.)

    So now, we (1) don’t have RATS coming into our house via the chimney anymore, (2) have an easy way to tell new friends how to find our house (“look for the bungalow with the glowing gargoyle on the chimney”) — yes, my husband the electrician actually installed solar lights on the roof that illuminate him, and best of all, (3) it scares off those pesky Jehovah’s Witnesses that LOVE to come knocking on our door at 8am on weekends. Ahhh, after years trying to come up with some fool-proof way to ward off those briefcase-and-umbrella, tract-carrying, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer folks, we’ve FOUND it!!! No longer do we need to answer the door in our birthday suits … they look up, see the gargoyle and scurry past our house!

    Are there JW’s in Utah? Or do the Mormon’s like have street fights with them ’cause it’s their turf? :o)

  • Liz

    2008/03/25 at 5:34 pm

    Chuck is a modern day hero like Lance Armstrong. Also, your Chimney Sweep looks like Val Kilmer. I love him already.

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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