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A few weeks ago, I saw an adorable video of what appeared to be Duck Dynasty's long lost cast member, dancing with a raccoon. The bearded old man, Mark "Coonrippy" Brown, and his pet raccoon, Gunshow, were bustin' a move to Aretha Franklin's, "Chain of Fools." As you might imagine, the video went viral (that's how I came to see it, after all).
The video posted over a year ago, has since garnered more than a million views on YouTube and has been shown on numerous talk shows. Rightfully so, I mean, it is a dancing raccoon. Gunshow has since gone on to raccoon heaven, but in May, Coonrippy rescued another baby raccoon, Rebekah. And then the government got involved. The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency took Rebekah to a wildlife rehabilitation center. It's not clear what exactly she needed rehabilitating from, but the wildlife agency took her because it's against Tennessee law to have wild animals as pets.
"I feel like I've had one of my children taken from me," said Cornrippy, a former animal control officer.
VICE: What law did the TWRA accuse you of breaking, exactly? Is it illegal to keep raccoons as pets?
Mark “Coonrippy” Brown: You cannot keep any wildlife in captivity. But my argument with them was that if this is the case, then every elementary school and biology class in high school and college is in violation if they've got tadpoles in an aquarium or a garter snake, or even if a child brings a box turtle to show-and-tell.
They didn't care for that line of argument, it seems.
Well, they did say something along the lines of schools are in violation, but they're not going to do a walkaround in every school in Tennessee. But when you have a raccoon on your shoulder in the shower and you make a viral video, if you've already had one viral video under your belt, it kind of draws a little attention to yourself.
Has this been the case your whole life?
... Well, I've had wild pets ever since I was able to go catch one. I had a skunk named Pepé Le Pew. I had a deer one time named Trophy—that was not a good name to give a buck deer... I had a hog one time with a broken leg, his name was Aesop, as in the fables. The list goes on and on...
But the whole story about Rebekah is a high school agriculture teacher had a chicken house project somewhere and there was a raccoon in there killing chickens. So she ordered two of his students to kill the raccoon. After they killed this raccoon they found out she had two babies. They called me because they knew I had a history of [looking after] orphaned animals.
The officials told me that if Rebekah is too domesticated, she'll more than likely be used as an educational tool at TWRA-hosted events. But she’ll be in captivity. And the other side is, if she is released back into the wild, then a $28 hunting license is all you need to go legally shoot her out of the top of a tree. You can have your coon dogs chase her through the woods. I protected her from both captivity and from being killed. But that's what weird: You can't get a permit to keep one, yet you can get a permit to kill one.
Do you think people should not be allowed to keep raccoons generally?
Well yes and no. You know, we’ve got so many laws out there right now that it's actually pathetic. And this is the way it's always been. When there are not enough criminals, our government actually creates them. But I'm not saying everybody who wants a raccoon should go out and have one. I wouldn't recommend anyone having a raccoon, unless they know a little bit about the behavior of that animal. And I wouldn’t go out and try to domesticate a raccoon that was taken from its mother, or a month old, or two months old. You've got to imprint them. When they open their eyes [for the first time] and you're what they see, then that's where the imprint starts. But it's real hard to domesticate something that already knows what it is.
A well meaning activist in California started a petition on Change.org, asking the Governor of Tennessee to return Rebekah to Cornrippy because, "it would be in the best interests of the raccoon to be returned to the only home she has known." The petition currently has over six thousand signatures.
Yes there are rules and laws governing these types of things, but when a former animal control officer rescues an animal, nurses it to health, adopts it as part of his family and is then criminalized for doing so, that's probably a good indicator that our means of deciding who is a criminal is severely jacked up. In Cornrippy's case, he wasn't cited by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, "because he was cooperative," according the ABC News.
Does our ninth amendment mean nothing? When a hillbilly can't even dance with his pet raccoon without fear of government intervention, I fear the country we've become.
Follow Kemberlee Kaye on Twitter.