On June 10, 2009, Dorothy “Dot” Lee received a phone call that would change her life. Lee, who rehabilitates wild animals, received a call about a 9-week-old raccoon.
Reportedly the kit had been beat with a golf club by someone playing on a golf course.
When Lee arrived, she didn’t have much hope for the little animal.
“He’d been hit so badly in the head that I couldn’t find his right eye and he was suffocating in his own blood and couldn’t breathe,” she told PEOPLE. “I didn’t see much hope there.”
The 9-week-old kit was left for dead after being beaten with a golf club.
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Despite the kit’s condition, Lee took the little guy home where she gave him round-the-clock care for several days. On the fifth day she had lost hope and started to believe that euthanizing him would be best. Then something miraculous happened.
“The little bugger opened his mouth and yawned,” she said. “And then he stretched every limb.”
Several days after taking in the kit, Lee thought she’d have to euthanize him.
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She continued to care for him and worked hard so one day he could return to the wild.
According to Naples Daily News, the state of North Carolina, where Lee lived at the time, required the raccoon be returned to the wild within a six-month period.
As Lee and the raccoon, appropriately named Trouper, neared their deadline, Trouper began to regain his hearing. Unfortunately, he was still blind and unable to perform the basics functions he’d need to survive in the wild.
Over the next few months Trouper’s hearing returned.
Knowing that once the deadline approached Trouper would either have to be released into the wild or euthanized, Lee decided to make a drastic move.
“I made Trouper a promise that I would never give up on him and would never let another human hurt him,” Lee told PEOPLE. “So I sold everything I owned and moved to one of the few states where I could keep him if I licensed him as a service ambassador.”
The pair moved to Florida where Lee registered Trouper as a wildlife ambassador.
Lee didn’t give up on Trouper, and rather than euthanize him she moved to a state where she could legally keep the raccoon.
Now, nearly 10 years after Lee rescued Trouper, the two visit libraries, schools, and organizations teaching others to respect wildlife.
In addition to traveling around the Fort Myers area in Florida, Lee also started the Wildlife Education Project, which works to promote the idea of having respect for wildlife.
The pair put on educational programs near their home in Florida.
While everyone is always amused by Trouper, Lee makes sure that everyone knows wild animals are not pets and that the only reason some wild animals, like Trouper, live with humans is because they can’t take care of themselves.
“I tell them that Trouper didn’t get any respect from the person who hurt him—he’ll never climb a tree, feed himself or go fishing with his family like other raccoons,” Lee told PEOPLE.
Although Trouper is living a life different from his fellow raccoons, he is living his best life.
Since Trouper is unable to care for himself, Lee spends most of her day caring for the almost 9-year-old raccoon. Raccoons that live in the wild typically have a two to three-year life span.
She feeds—McDonald’s chicken nuggets are his favorite!—and bathes him and allows him to roam her two-bedroom condo like you would let a cat or a dog roam free.
Lee suspects that she might only have a few more years left with Trouper, but that doesn’t mean the two have any plans of slowing down. They continue to work at educating people about wild animals.
He knows that he is loved and I also know that he loves me. He’s changed my life, absolutely. Every night, when I take him to his room and put him to bed, I tell him that he’s the most terrific raccoon in the entire world, universe and galaxy. He’s given my life meaning and a purpose. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for Trouper.