Yes, I am a skeptic.
But Dana Miller, an animal communicator, asked me to keep an open mind, and I'm trying.
There was a St. Francis of Assisi, so why can't there be a St. Dana of Sunland-Tujunga?
I went to see Miller, you may recall, in an act of desperation. Raccoons and skunks have torn up my yard too many times to count, and none of the remedies have worked, including coyote urine and mothballs.
I asked Miller, who says she can "connect" with lost animals and help guide them back home, if she could connect with my raccoons and skunks and tell them to go bother somebody else.
Within 24 hours of our meeting, she called to say she had "made contact." She needed to drop by and see our yard, though, to fill in some gaps.
My wife, who had grown more than a little curious, juggled her schedule because she wanted to meet the animal communicator.
"She looks and sounds completely normal," I told her, and after our meeting with Miller, my wife agreed.
Miller examined our yard that night, then said she needed a little more time before meeting with us again to relate what the animals had to say about why they have chosen to torment us time after time while letting most of our neighbors live in peace.
The suspense was killing us. Miller had said something about an "energy" on our property.
Were we bad people? Was there some kind of hex on us, our home or our property? Had we committed sins against the animal kingdom?
Miller instructed us not to continue sprinkling urine, cayenne pepper and ammonia in our yard to ward off the critters. She suggested we hold off on buying the dancing motion-sensor Santa Claus a reader had recommended, at least until she completed her communication with our tormentors.
In the meantime, battalions of readers weighed in with their own war stories and battle strategies, as they always do when I write about this under-reported crisis facing Los Angeles.
"Use a large plate of strawberry jam and powder-ize some over-the-counter sleeping tablets into it, " wrote radio reporter Pete Demetriou, who said his friends had good results with sedative-laced jam. "Set it out as food, the critters eat it . . . and pass out."
Melissa Faber said she was driven mad by destructive raccoons, which were bold enough to enter her house on occasion. She tried scaring them off with night lights, and here's what happened:
"I'm convinced they went over to my neighbor's, Billy Crystal, because after they were gone from my lawn . . . Billy was on a talk show carrying on about marauding raccoons in his yard."
Faber and others advised me to get rid of my lawn or poison the grubs. I have poisoned the grubs, to no avail, and I don't have much lawn. Besides, the critters are not partial to grass. They gouge up rocks and turn over paving stones. Should I get rid of those, too, and live on a patch of dirt?
"Late last summer and fall we were invaded by raccoons," wrote Susan Marchese of Playa del Rey. "Every night groups of them partied in our backyard. They completely destroyed our landscaping -- the vegetable/herb garden, flowers, trees and lawn. If we entered our yard at night, they would stand up on their hind legs, wave their front paws, approach us and attempt to interact. We were stunned and retreated into our home."
Yep, I've been there.
"The situation escalated from bad to worse," wrote Marchese, who said that "in one week, 13 raccoons, three opossums and two squirrels were caught in cages and relocated to a state park by a private animal control company."
This, of course, did not help.
"It became apparent that no amount of animal control would stop them. There were hundreds."
It would be funny, Marchese said, except that raccoon feces can contain dangerous parasites.
Did you catch that, all you readers who suggested I feed the fuzzy creatures and befriend them?
Here's what Marchese found out about those parasites:
"They easily infect birds, squirrels, pets and humans and cause . . . symptoms like fever, confusion, visual disturbance, loss of muscle coordination and include life-threatening infections that can result in brain damage, inability to walk or talk and possible death."
Her solution? She completely fenced off her property.
Before becoming a prisoner in my own home, I wanted to give Dana Miller a shot, so my wife and I met with her at a coffee shop in Montrose last week. My wife had already decided we shouldn't tell any East Coast relatives about the meeting or they'd know we've been living in California too long.
Miller had transcripts of her conversations with an animal spirit she said she had made contact with. I tried to keep an open mind, per her instructions, as she read the communication.
"Live and let live," the animals were telling us, but their more important message was about death.
I took a sip of coffee.
The reason the animals keep hitting our yard, Miller said, is that their ancestors are buried there.
"It's hallowed ground," they told her, and no amount of cayenne pepper or coyote urine will keep them from honoring the spirits of their dead.
Before our meeting, Miller told me I was going to need to suspend disbelief. That's a tough command for an ink-stained wretch and professional skeptic.
But I'm trying. And as I told Miller, I'll attempt to be more aware that we share this land with animals who preceded us. That alone, Miller said, might, or might not, be enough to keep them away.
My editor, who is less evolved, irreverently suggested I put a gravestone in the yard. I fully intend to ask Miller to pass that suggestion along to the raccoons and skunks, along with my editor's address.