One day a week, a Pacific Beach couple live their lives on the wild side

From Monday to Saturday, Tamara “Tami” Cross and Craig Schreiber live relatively tame lives.

A resident of Pacific Beach for more than 20 years, Cross is an attorney in her own law firm. Schreiber has his own marketing company. When they’re not working, they enjoy surfing, taking their two dogs paddleboarding, and all the conveniences of living in a beach town.

But almost every Sunday, their life gets a little wilder. Referring to this as their own “little country road trip”, they head to a small house tucked away in the back of a unique Ramona property.

The house is full of occupants and the list of tasks is long – folding laundry, cleaning, preparing meals and hiding enrichment items.

This is all part of the work involved in their charges at the “Raccoon House”. The building is part of the Project Wildlife Ramona campus of the San Diego Humane Society.

“Enrichment can range from hiding food in their habitats to putting new plants around enclosures to taking new ‘toys’ out of a box,” Schreiber explained.

Tami Cross and Craig Schreiber find there’s always plenty to do in raccoon enclosures, from general cleaning to hiding food and toys to keep the baby animals busy and learning.

(Courtesy of San Diego Humane Society)

“We constantly have to do enrichment activities,” Schreiber said. “The campus welcomes 60 to 100 raccoons a year. And they all need to be busy.

Raccoons are usually orphaned, usually discovered either when their mother is found dead (often hit by cars) or when the babies are somewhere they are not wanted (in a shed or attic, for example), explained Andy Blue, Project Wildlife Ramona Campus Director.

He said the baby raccoons come from all over the county, from ultra-urban areas to the far reaches of the backcountry.

“The raccoons first go to the San Diego Human Society’s Pilar and Chuck Bahde Wildlife Center for their initial examination,” Blue said. “Then they usually go to a carer, as they need to be bottle-fed 24 hours a day.”

Baby coons are usually fed formula until they are around 8 weeks old. In the wild, they start eating solid foods at around 8-9 weeks, and by 4 months they are completely weaned.

In Bahde, once the raccoons eat formula and get out of the bottle, their next stop is to be taken to the Raccoon House on the Ramona campus.

The 4,000 square foot raccoon nursery has several indoor enclosures for the little inhabitants, as well as numerous outdoor enclosures, where hand-raised orphans learn to grow into true wild animals.

From providing enrichment to washing the raccoons, Cross and Schreiber are happy to do their part in caring for the animals.

Just minutes after being released, some baby raccoons found a safe place in a nearby tree.

Just minutes after being released, some baby raccoons found a safe place in a nearby tree.

(Courtesy of Craig Schreiber)

“They are so smart and playful. They’re like little toddlers,” Cross said. “They love any type of challenge, whether it’s finding food hidden in their enclosure or exploring something new that’s been placed there.”

“Raccoons have a bad reputation. But they are very social and very intelligent, and it’s easy to identify with a raccoon,” Schreiber added.

Neither partner is a stranger to helping animals. Their two pets – Callie, a Chihuahua and Cusca, a Malinois mix – were rescued by the couple. Callie came from the Devore shelter in California, while Cusca was one of many dogs they helped rescue from Peru.

In the past, the duo have volunteered at Frosted Faces Foundation, a rescue in Ramona focused on senior dogs, and Lions, Tigers and Bears, an exotic animal rescue in Alpine.

They loved their experiences in both groups and said they wanted to focus more on wildlife rehabilitation. This desire led them to volunteer at the Bahde Center in May 2022, as it was nearby at 5433 Gaines St. in Linda Vista.

After waiting six months for the opportunity, they were among the first group allowed to volunteer once the center reopened after the COVID pandemic.

The couple had become familiar with the center several years earlier, after rescuing a baby seagull at Pacific Beach and bringing it there.

From Bahde, they found themselves on the Ramona campus working entirely with raccoons – and they haven’t looked back.

Together for 15 years, the duo said they consider themselves married. They still work their Sunday shifts together.

“It’s more fun to work together; we volunteer as a team,” Cross said.

Although the two work together, they each have their own favorite responsibilities.

“I love seeing their little faces and knowing that they wouldn’t have survived without Project Wildlife,” Cross said. “And it’s true – raccoons use their front paws as hands and wash their finds. I never get tired of watching them.”

Schreiber said he especially enjoys hiding enrichment items for furry youngsters.

    left to right, Craig Schreiber, Tami Cross and Angela Hernandez-Cusick, smile after letting go of a raccoon stare.

Pleased with the release of several of their furry loads, left to right Craig Schreiber, Tami Cross and Angela Hernandez-Cusick smile after letting go of a raccoon stare.

(Courtesy of Craig Schreiber)

He said whether it was a new plant he included in today’s find, or a hidden peanut or grape the creatures discovered, “their faces light up and they are so excited about their treasure”.

In addition to their animal charges, the couple also enjoy working with campus staff.

“Project Wildlife is really well organized and the staff are super friendly. They really care about their volunteers,” Cross said.

“We feel like they really took us under their wing,” added Schreiber.

Angela Hernandez-Cusick, senior wildlife care specialist on campus, said Cross and Schreiber are “awesome. They are great to work with and will do any task we ask of them. They are very meticulous and understand very quickly.

David Sabordo, also a wildlife care specialist on campus, also works closely with Cross and Schreiber.

Even though their busy careers only allow them to volunteer one day a week, Cross feels compelled to encourage others to help if they can.

“Volunteering gives you a different mindset. You meet new people and you find a new identity. And once you help, you find it very empowering,” Cross said.

Schreiber finds another form of enrichment in their volunteer efforts.

“With work, money often becomes your main motivation. But giving your time to help others helps expand your soul,” he said.

By the time baby coons are 6 months old, most are ready to be released into a safe environment where they can thrive.

From left to right are Tami Cross, Craig Schreiber, an unidentified ranger and Ross Hernandez.

It takes a whole village to safely raise and release baby raccoons. From left to right are Tami Cross, Craig Schreiber, an unidentified ranger and Ross Hernandez.

(Courtesy of Craig Schreiber)

The couple noted that they had just emerged from a group or “look” of raccoons that they had helped rehabilitate. They described watching animals grow from helpless babies to independent and free youngsters as a major motivation for them to continue their work.

“Although it’s very easy to get attached, Tami and Craig understand that we need to keep nature in wild animals,” Blue said.

Cross and Schreiber said volunteering adds tremendously to their lives. And they plan to continue their wild weekends far into the future.

For more information about the San Diego Humane Society, the Pilar and Chuck Bahde Wildlife Center, and the Project Wildlife Ramona campus, visit sdhumane.org or call 619-299-7012.

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