Haley Williams was a 20-year-old veterinary school student who came across an opportunity to save a baby raccoon’s life in the summer of 2012. Knowing that this tiny critter will likely perish without help since his mom was nowhere to be found, Haley instantly made the decision to put him in her care for the time being.
When she first spotted the baby raccoon lying helplessly on the side of the road, he was already severely dehydrated and alone. It was an unpleasantly hot day in Kansas.
“I kind of panicked knowing he needed help right away,” she remarked. Instinctively, Haley grabbed a pair of shorts from her car and wrapped him up, then drove into town with the disoriented animal in her lap.
Getting proper help for the orphaned baby proved to be more difficult than she had anticipated. After getting turned away from the local veterinary clinic, who told her that they do not treat raccoons, Haley tried to seek help at the police station. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like any of the wildlife services in the vicinity were willing to tend to a raccoon.
Seeing no other option, Haley brought the baby raccoon home with her so he wouldn’t be left in the wild to fend for himself. She named him Winston.
Thankfully, the young vet student has had quite a bit of experience with raising orphaned kittens over the years, so she was already equipped with animal bottles and kitten formula to feed Winston.
“He took to the bottle almost immediately,” Haley said. “Even though he was scared of me when I first picked him up, as soon as I gave him his first bottle, he bonded to me right away and would not let me out of his sight.”
Winston relied on his new mom for food and safety. He would purr whenever she was around, and would let out a distressed screech whenever she tried to put him down in his bed. So, Haley made a sling to carry Winston around.
Like a newborn baby, Winston required constant care and attention. Haley even had to wake up several times throughout the night to feed him. Thankfully, her sister was around to help with the responsibility. She was like another mother to him.
With all the love and care that he received, Winston became bigger and healthier. He eventually gained a normal weight, and a healthy coat of fur replaced the sporadic patches that had been on his body previously.
As he continued to grow up, Haley knew that taking care of a wild animal would present some problems. As he matures, the domesticated indoor life would become decreasingly suitable for him. “The more I introduced him to the outside world, the more he wanted to be out exploring,” she observed.
Haley knew this, and had never intended to keep him long-term as a household pet. Thankfully, Winston had another role model who was able to show him the great outdoors and encouraged him to explore the world: Haley’s cat, Zizi. Whenever Winston wasn’t around Haley, he was hanging out with Zizi.
By the time that Winston became a full-grown adult, Zizi had unfortunately passed. Winston would leave Haley’s home and go exploring for days on end. Eventually, his adventures lasted for weeks, then months.
Now, Winston is 5 years old and has moved back out into the wild. While he doesn’t live with Haley anymore, he still returns to her home for food and safety occasionally.
“I see him more during harsh weather months when food is scarce,” Haley said. “He knows his mom will feed him. He also always comes home if he has suffered any kind of wound and will let me tend to it.”
While Haley and Winston’s story is beautiful and heartwarming, she cautions others who are thinking about keeping a raccoon as a household pet. “I’ve had people saying they’ve been looking for raccoon pets after they learn about Winston and I can’t stress enough that they’re wild,” she warns. He has bitten her a few times when she didn’t properly interpret his body language.
However, Winston will always remember his surrogate mom and knows that he can visit her for food and comfort any time. “Sometimes he shows up late at night and we’ll just cuddle and nap on the porch together until he decides he’s had enough and will leave again,” Haley said.
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