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Nearly 20-Hour Raccoon Rescue from Watsonville Drain Took ‘Tremendous Heart'

Although alive when pulled out of the drain, the animal "collapsed and died" a few hours later.

A raccoon was believed to have been trapped in a narrow Watsonville drain for more than 24 hours, and city crews spent nearly as long first trying to figure out how to reach it and then digging up a shopping center's parking lot to rescue it.

The animal was tightly lodged in a drain near La Princesa Market, and fire, animal shelter, wildlife emergency services and public works officials worked from 3 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. to get to it. By the time they got to it, the raccoon was comatose, dehydrated and hypothermic – but still alive. It died a few hours later, though.

The effort began around 3 a.m. with a homeless man hearing grunts and cries emanating from the drain off Freedom Boulevard. He alerted police, who confirmed that the raccoon was in distress and asked for help from the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter.

Shelter officials and the Watsonville Fire Department arrived on scene by mid-morning, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to reach the trapped animal.

At 1 p.m., Wildlife Emergency Services was called in. The group’s President Rebecca Dmytryk wrote in a statement that her employees are experts in “difficult and technical animal rescues, but this was really bad.”

Two hours later, the city’s Public Works Department had been asked to consult on the rescue and the burgeoning group agreed that the raccoon couldn’t be simply pulled out.

“The only way to reach it would be to cut through the pavement and dig to the pipe,” the statement said.

Lucky for the raccoon, the owner of the shopping center where the rescue went down is an animal lover herself and gave emergency personnel the green signal.

Using shovels, jackhammers, and a saw that was rented from a nearby Home Depot, emergency personnel “punched through the asphalt in no time.”

Although many who had been asked for help were meant to be done with work for the day, they returned, voluntarily, at 5 p.m. It took the group until 10:30 p.m. before the raccoon was dislodged and placed in heating pads and given warm fluids.

A Santa Cruz veterinarian offered to treat the animal who was so cold that its body temperature was too low to be displayed on a thermometer. 

As of 1 a.m. Saturday, the animal’s temperature could be recorded. But around 9 a.m. Dmytryk took to Facebook to say that the raccoon had been "able to walk a bit, but then collapsed and died." She said it likely suffered from exertional myopathy caused by stress to its muscles. 

“What’s more incredible than us getting this animal out alive, was the tremendous heart that went into its rescue – people giving their time and energy to help this poor creature,” Dmytryk wrote. “This – this heart gives me hope for the new year.”

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