‘There’s still a stigma’: UK raccoon rescue for mental health, animal intelligence – not surprising skunks |  County Durham

‘There’s still a stigma’: UK raccoon rescue for mental health, animal intelligence – not surprising skunks | County Durham

“S“Animal rescues almost saved my life,” says Iain Jenkins, a raccoon rescuer whose semi-detached home in Hartlepool looks as ordinary as they come, but it’s anything but. This is a home Jenkins shares with the raccoons. , a parrot and a friendly skunk and previously a host of exotic animals including a crocodile in the conservatory.

Jenkins’ unusual story is inextricably linked to his own mental health struggles, which he is keen to talk about.

“About 20 years ago I had a nervous breakdown due to exhaustion and stress,” he says. “I basically ended up just sitting there, staring at the walls. I was paralyzed at one stage. If there was something to count, I counted it over and over. I just felt closed in, I couldn’t see where I wanted to be.

“It was scary because part of you knows what the problem is, but you just can’t see a solution. Then I realized, you know what, animals have always been a big part of my life, so I went in that direction.”

Jenkins gave up a successful career in education and social care to devote herself to animal welfare, setting up the non-profit organization Raccoon Rescue UK. He has never looked back and is the go-to person if a raccoon or similar exotic animal is on the loose in the UK. He is currently helping to lead the hunt for an escaped City Farm raccoon, Meeko, in Sunderland.

Almost 40 miles south, Jenkins shares his home with four raccoons, an African gray parrot and a skunk, whose favorite resting place is Jenkins’ bed.

Jenkins with Pete the stinky skunk in his living room. Photo: Gary Calton/The Observer

The raccoons are in outdoor enclosures and include two brothers, Scout and Nicky, who needed a home after another rescue center closed and who don’t, Jenkins says, want or desire any human contact.

Then there’s Rubbish, a male and, at 18, very old raccoon found during a police house raid in Northern Ireland. The friendliest of all is Katana, who was a misguided choice of pet that her owners knew needed a better life than they could provide.

A plaque at Jenkins’ home in Hartlepool. Photo: Gary Calton/The Observer

Jenkins says he adapts to what the animals want, not the other way around. “Many of the animals we take in have behavioral problems because of the way they have been treated. If they want to hide and not be bothered, that’s absolutely fine.”

Jenkins has had dozens of raccoons and fur coats at his home, as well as other exotic animals in need of help. “Until a few years ago, we had a crocodile in a 12-meter pool in the conservatory. It was a £400 a month electricity bill and probably not one of the best decisions I’ve made. But she was beautiful.”

Before becoming a teacher, Jenkins worked as a zookeeper and as a nature consultant for television documentaries such as Survival.

He has a special fondness for raccoons because of their extraordinary intelligence. “They are just very intelligent animals, as intelligent as a two-year-old child. Everyone has a completely different individual personality and like small children their moods can change in an instant. They love cashews, they hate cashews.”

The skunk is called Stinky Pete, which seems unfair since he isn’t and has never sprayed it in the house. Jenkins’ advice to prevent this: “You don’t want to scare them.”

Ruby, the once stressed and unhappy parrot is also a rescue. “Of all the animals, he’s the messiest and the most destructive,” says Jenkins.

Jenkins and his rescue parrot Ruby. Photo: Gary Calton/The Observer

Jenkins helps pay for his animal rescue work with the money he earns from circus sideshows and training people in magic and illusion. This means that his house is a strange mixture of animals and everything that goes with it, and props such as those for sawing people in half.

He believes that mental health should be discussed as much as physical health. “For me there is no difference. No one is ashamed to talk about a broken leg or a heart attack. It’s unfortunate that there is still a stigma around mental health.”

Raccoon rescues are rare in the UK, although he says it happens more than people might expect.

Meeko, the current escapee, was one of three raccoons believed to have been released by a trespasser at the Sunderland Training and Education Farm on December 18. Two female raccoons, Rocket and Pinch, are tempted by hotdogs left in a crate at the farm, but Meeko remains on the loose.

It’s taking time because of their intelligence, Jenkins says. “They are really adaptable and versatile. They can climb. They can hang upside down if they want. They can burrow, can push themselves into thickets, and are very good at hiding. When they move they are really quiet so you just wouldn’t know they were there. Meeko is probably having the time of his life.”

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