One day a week, a Pacific Beach couple lives life on the wild side
Tamara Cross and Craig Schreiber help San Diego Humane Society raise baby raccoons for eventual release
From Mondays through Saturdays, Tamara “Tami” Cross and Craig Schreiber live relatively tame lives.
Pacific Beach residents for more than 20 years, Cross is a lawyer with her own firm; Schreiber has his own marketing company. When not working, they enjoy surfing, taking their two dogs out paddle boarding and all the amenities living in a beach town offers.
But nearly every Sunday, their life becomes a little wilder. Referring to it as their own “little road trip to the country,” they head for a small house tucked in the back of a unique Ramona property.
The home is full of occupants and the list of chores is long — folding laundry, cleaning, making meals and hiding enrichment items.
It’s all part of the work involved with their charges at the “Raccoon House.” The building is part of the San Diego Humane Society’s Project Wildlife Ramona campus.
“Enrichment can be anything from hiding food in their habitats, to putting new plants around the enclosures to getting new ‘toys’ out of a box,” explained Schreiber.
“We have to constantly do enrichment activities,” Schreiber said. “The campus takes in 60 to 100 raccoons a year. And they all need to be kept busy.”
The raccoons are typically orphans, usually discovered either when their mother is found dead (often hit by cars) or the babies are located somewhere they aren’t wanted (inside a shed or attic, for example), explained Andy Blue, Project Wildlife Ramona Campus director.
He said the raccoon babies 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 exam,” Blue said. “Then, they usually go to a carer’s home, because they have to be bottle fed around the clock.”
Baby ‘coons are typically fed formula until they are about 8 weeks old. In the wild, they begin eating solid foods by 8 to 9 weeks, and by 4 months old they would be completely weaned.
At Bahde, once the raccoons are eating formula and off the bottle, their next step is to be taken to the Raccoon House at the Ramona campus.
The 4,000-square-foot raccoon nursery has multiple indoor enclosures for the smaller inhabitants, as well as numerous outdoor enclosures, where the hand-raised orphans learn how to become proper wild animals.
Whether it’s providing enrichment or doing raccoon laundry, Cross and Schreiber are happy to do their part in taking care of the animals.
“They’re so smart and playful. They are like little toddlers,” Cross said. “They love any kind of a challenge, whether it’s figuring out how to find food hidden in their enclosure or exploring something new that was placed there.”
“Raccoons get a bad rap. But they are very social and very smart, and it’s easy to relate to a raccoon,” added Schreiber.
Neither partner is a stranger to helping animals. Both of their pets — Callie, a chihuahua and Cusca, a Malinois mix — were rescued by the pair. Callie came from the Devore shelter in California, while Cusca was one of a number of dogs they helped rescue from Peru.
In the past, the duo volunteered at Frosted Faces Foundation, a rescue in Ramona focusing on senior dogs, and Lions, Tigers and Bears, an exotic animal rescue in Alpine.
They loved their experiences at both groups, and said they wanted to focus more on wildlife rehabilitation. That desire led them to volunteering at the Bahde Center in May 2022, as it was close by at 5433 Gaines St. in Linda Vista.
After waiting six months for the opportunity, they were part of the first group allowed to volunteer once the center reopened after the COVID pandemic.
The pair had become familiar with the center several years earlier, after they rescued a baby gull in Pacific Beach and took it there.
From Bahde, they found themselves at the Ramona campus working entirely with the raccoons — and they haven’t looked back.
Together for 15 years, the duo said they considered themselves married. They always work their Sunday shifts together.
“It’s more fun to work together; we volunteer as a team,” Cross said.
Although the pair work together, they each have their own favorite responsibilities.
“I just 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 like hands and wash their finds. I never get tired of watching them.”
Schreiber said he especially enjoys hiding enrichment items for the furry youngsters.
He said whether it was a new plant he included in the day’s find, or a hidden peanut or grape the creatures discovered, “their faces just light up and they are so excited with their treasure.”
In addition to their animal charges, the pair also enjoy working with the staff at the campus.
“Project Wildlife is really well-organized, and the staff are super friendly. They really care about their volunteers,” Cross said.
“We feel like they’ve really taken us under their wing,” added Schreiber.
Angela Hernandez-Cusick, lead wildlife care specialist at the campus, said Cross and Schreiber are “awesome. They are amazing to work with and will to do any task we ask of them. They are very thorough and catch on really quick.”
David Sabordo, also a wildlife care specialist at the 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 find a new identity for yourself. And once you help, you find it’s very empowering,” Cross said.
Schreiber finds another sort of enrichment in their volunteer efforts.
“With work, money often becomes your main motivation. But giving up your time to help others helps to fulfill your soul,” he said.
By the time the baby ‘coons are 6 months old, most are ready to be released into a safe environment where they can thrive.
The couple noted they had just returned from releasing a group, or “gaze” of raccoons they had helped rehabilitate. They described watching the animals go from helpless babies to independent, free youngsters was a major motivation for them to continue their work.
“While it’s very easy to get attached, Tami and Craig understand that we need to keep the wild in the wild animals,” Blue said.
Cross and Schreiber said volunteering adds immensely to their lives. And they plan on continuing 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.