Michigan friends recount the moment they rescued a choking raccoon

Updated
CBS News

Burton, Michigan — You've no doubt seen many animal rescues, from barn fires to flash floods, critters cut loose and airlifted. But this story is one-of-a-kind.

"It's an unbelievable thing to see," John Ptaszenski told CBS News. "You know, if we didn't catch that on camera, no one would have ever believed it."

The drama unfolded at a backyard cookout last month in Burton, Michigan, located just east of Flint. Long-time friends Ptaszenski, Tyler Whalen and Bill Messenger were just wrapping up their weekly cookout when a raccoon appeared.

The raccoon had just stolen an American single cheese slice, a harmless caper, until it became clear to everyone that this mammal had bitten off way more than it could chew.

The friends noticed the raccoon "pointing at its neck, like the universal sign for choking," Whalen said.

"Right after that is when Bill just sprung into action and started hitting its back," said Ptaszenski of the incident, which was captured on cell phone video. "…I could not believe a wild raccoon was letting him hit it in the back that hard. I was like, oh my God!"

Whalen said the raccoon was "leaning back into it, like, 'Help me out brother!'"

And help the raccoon Messenger did — as the footage shows — the cheese came flying out of the mammal's throat after he whacked him on the back. The raccoon survived and remained briefly in the backyard before slowly dawdling away. 

Dr. Suzanne MacDonald, an animal behavior expert from Toronto's York University, said she has "has seen it all" and been "bitten by it all," but she'd never seen anything like this.

"Don't be slapping raccoons or any other animal on the back," MacDonald said. "...But it wasn't like he was giving him mouth-to-mouth or anything."

MacDonald explains that a choking animal cannot bite you. But regardless, the three friends believed they had no choice.

"We all thought it was going to die," Messenger said.

"We were pumped for that little dude," Whalen added.

"He was one of us at that point," Ptaszenski said.

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