The Sideshow

Arizona man arrested after rescuing and adopting drowning raccoon

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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(AP/Bob Jordan)

UPDATE: I spoke with Tom Cadden, a public information officer with the Arizona Game and Fish Department today, who provided some helpful information on this story. First, Cadden explained that Stan Morris was not in fact arrested for keeping a wild raccoon. Turns out, he was arrested for an outstanding, unrelated misdemeanor that turned up in police records after authorities were alerted to the raccoon situation.

Cadden also asked that we address reader concerns about the fate of Sonny the raccoon. "We'll be putting out feelers to the community," for someone who can adopt Sonny, Cadden tells Yahoo! News, saying that a zoo, animal rehabilitation center or an educational institution are the most likely destinations. Sonny would only be put to sleep if tests showed he had an infectious disease. Cadden's other concern was that readers might be misinterpreting Morris' actions. "After he rescued the raccoon, the best thing he could have done for it would have been to release it, or to contact the authorities," Cadden said. "By taking it home for several months the animal was 'imprinted.' He removed its chance to live its life in the wild," Cadden said. "The best thing people can do for wildlife is to keep them wild."

Original story begins below.

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When 57-year-old Stan Morris saw a raccoon drowning in the Colorado River, he decided to put his own health at risk by saving the struggling animal. Seven months later, the good-hearted deed landed Morris in jail.

Before his arrest, Morris and the raccoon he affectionately named "Sonny," had developed quite a bond, according to the Associated Press. Morris told police he first looked online to see if it was against the law to keep a raccoon as a pet. When he didn't find any information telling him otherwise, he decided to adopt Sonny.

Technically, it is legal to keep a raccoon as a pet in Arizona, but an owner must first obtain an exotic animal license or permit. Most states that do allow raccoon ownership recommend adopting one from a professional breeder.

Morris says Sonny became domesticated after being adopted. In fact, Arizona Game and Fish Department officers were only alerted to the situation when reports began surfacing of a man walking around town with a raccoon perched on his shoulders.

A look over the Game and Fish Department website gives the impression that Arizona doesn't care much for raccoons. Not only did the state arrest Morris for keeping Sonny as a pet, but it has a law that states a raccoon, "is the only animal in Arizona that can be legally taken with a firearm at night."

Still, even adopted raccoons have been known to bite owners or strangers who startle them. And some of the concern is for the raccoons themselves, who cannot be returned to the wild once domesticated as a pet. Raccoons typically live 10-15 years, making them a time commitment similar to that of a cat or a dog for any prospective owners. The website Furry Bones has some good guidelines on what to expect when adopting a raccoon.

The Humane Society warns that raccoons like Sonny are likely to be put to death by state wildlife authorities if they have not been properly adopted.

On Wednesday, Sonny was removed from Morris' home "without incident." Yahoo News made several calls to find out Sonny's fate and will update the story as soon as information is available.

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