Raccoon trio steals Orange Park family's heart

Waylon, Willie and Dolly aren't your typical pets

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Many people have pets or know others who do, but few can say they know someone with pet raccoons.

But in Orange Park, there's one family with three members who are raccoons. 

When most people think of raccoons, they probably envision the ones they catch going through their trash cans at night.

But the Coppens think of raccoons as family.

They don't recommend having them as pets, but they love them.

Vicki and Gary Coppens' home videos are a little different from everyone else's because they often include their five dogs, two cats and three raccoons. 

"We often wonder what normal people do for entertainment in the evenings," Vicki said. "We swim with the raccoons. We watch the dogs and the raccoons wrestle. They are our entertainment."

It started when Gary found a baby raccoon one day, and his love of animals took over.

"We looked up on the internet how to take care of baby raccoons and the rest is history," Vicki said.

That was eight years ago. When that raccoon died, they knew they had to have another one.

"We went to the breeder to get a raccoon and, as we were pulling out of the driveway, Gary said, 'Well, do you think we should get another one so that they could bond to each other?'" Vicki said.

That's when they got Waylon and Willie -- brothers who share their own private room.

But the Coppens wanted a "snuggler" like their first raccoon, so they got Dolly, who's a little bandit by the way. In the short time News4Jax was at the Coppens' home on Thursday, Dolly tried to steal all the equipment brought into the home.

The Coppens said they don't get many visitors these days. 

When someone asks if they're crazy, "we say, 'Yes,'" the couple said, laughing.

The Coppens said they don't recommend having pet raccoons to others, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agrees.

Sarah Helm, a wildlife assistant biologist with the FWC who has a background in working with exotic and wild animals, said adult wild animals won't react like a cat or a dog and owning one requires "significant changes in lifestyle."

Helm added that it's more difficult than people may realize.

"In captivity, they can live into their teens, so it's a significant commitment," she said.

Though wildlife officials don't recommend having a pet raccoon either, it is legal. But owners have to have a special license and a lot of patience.

There is a risk for rabies. The Coppens' raccoons are vaccinated, but it's not 100 percent. If the animals bite or scratch someone, they are supposed to be put down. 

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