A mischievous raccoon with a penchant for chocolate drops is causing chaos across Harrogate.
Young raccoon Zella, aged just six months old, is the latest addition to a children’s pet party company which is based in the town.
But she’s been stopping traffic as she takes her long walks along the Stray, getting thrown out of Argos, and causing just about everyone who sees her to stop and do a double take.
“We never get very far, we get stopped all of the time,” said her owner Liz Kirby who runs Noah’s Ark Exotic Pet Parties.
“We took her to Scarborough once, and tried to take her to the beach. But we couldn’t get near the sea, she was stopped by so many people.”
Reports of a raccoon on a lead in Harrogate first started appearing on local Facebook pages and Twitter streams about a week ago.
But Mrs Kirby, 48, who has run Noah’s Ark for six years, says they’ve had Zella since she was a baby last August.
“We used to have a pet shop,” she said. “We shut the shop to do the parties, and have kept them going.
“It’s a lovely job. It’s educational, fun, and the children love it.”
Zella goes for a daily walk with Mrs Kirby’s partner Phill, along the Stray and through Starbeck, and her appearance always makes people smile.
“She’s a bit like a dog - she needs to be walked,” said Mrs Kirby, who has 20 pets including a skunk called Pebbles, an owl called Nigel, a monkey called Taboo, a tortoise called Catch-Up and an 11-month-old Jack Russell called Toby. She also has three cats.
“They all live in my house - and they’re like pets,” she said.
“Even the skunk is very well behaved. The tortoise wonders around with the cats and dogs, we’ve certainly got a house full.
“The most tricky is the raccoon - she’s like having 20 puppies.
“But then, she just loves sitting on your knee and having her tummy tickled.”
Zella is very loving and friendly, she said, although she is very cheeky at times.
“She purrs like a cat when she’s happy - and growls like a dog when you pinch her favourite treats - chocolate drops,” said Mrs Kirby.
Zella’s name means dark, mysterious and very mischievous, says Mrs Kirby, and that’s exactly what she’s like.
“She’s very headstrong,” she said. “Very clever. She can get into everything, jam jars, drawers.
“You have to have eyes in the back of your head, or she’ll be going through your pockets.”