Canadian 'Raccoon Whisperer' draws international admirers
Raccoons are exotic for many of Jim Blackwood's out-of-town visitors
Jim Blackwood's country property on the River Road in Pictou County, N.S., is just the kind of place a city tourist might consider a summer escape.
But it's not the surrounding rolling hills or nearby East River that draw travellers from all over the world to Blackwood's home — it's the raccoons.
"It took me 19 hours ... from Cyprus to reach here but I think it's worth it," Foula Joannidou told The Current.
For Joannidou, like many of Blackwood's out-of-town visitors, raccoons are exotic. She had only ever seen the critters on Blackwood's YouTube page before her visit this summer.
"Now they can feed from my hand," she said.
For two decades Blackwood — or the "Raccoon Whisperer" as he's known online — has been feeding raccoons from his back deck every night. He began recording the interactions and sharing them on YouTube seven years ago.
And though the retired RCMP officer has an audience of thousands who love to watch him give the wild animals hot dogs, corn on the cob or sliced hard boiled eggs — some of his fans want more.
So for the last three summers, they have been visiting Blackwood to feed the raccoons themselves. He's had people from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Pennsylvania and most recently, Cyprus.
"They're a very soothing animal to be around," said Blackwood.
Honouring late wife
The 65-year-old's fans reveal that while city dwellers everywhere are grappling with an animal considered by many to be pesky, dirty — and annoyingly smart — not everyone sees raccoons with such hostility. One of Blackwood's videos has had more than 400,000 views.
It was Jane, Blackwood's late animal-loving wife, who first started feeding raccoons from the deck. When she was dying of cancer only two years after they got married, Blackwood promised her he'd continue the nightly feed.
At one point, Blackwood was spending close to $300 a month on food for the raccoons.
"They can eat," he told The Current.
Blackwood says one baby raccoon who's currently coming nightly loves banana bread so much, it eats a loaf of the treat every night. He says another raccoon would only eat peanut butter sandwiches if the crusts were cut off.
Now much of the food is donated, mostly by locals, though ecologists have long warned the public about the dangers of feeding wild animals.
Joannidou said her trip to visit Blackwood and his raccoons had been a delight.
"Not just adventurous but educational, too."
One of her days in Nova Scotia was spent at the nearby lobster carnival, where a local fan of Blackwood's recognized her from his latest videos.
The Raccoon Whisperer has not only received guests from far, but gifts from his fans, too.
"This cuckoo clock is from Germany," he said from his living room. Across from the clock, there's a quilt made up of raccoon photos sent by an American fan.
But it's in Blackwood's bedroom that his passion for raccoons takes a starring role. There are posters, crafts, clothing and even a shelf of stuffed raccoons.
"They're my joy in life really," he said.
"I look for them every night of the week and have never been disappointed."
Listen to the full story near the top of this page.
This segment was produced by The Current's Mary-Catherine McIntosh.