07/10/2015 12:52 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Tribute to dead Toronto raccoon goes viral; spurs donations to wildlife centre

TORONTO - This was a raccoon to remember.

A day after residents constructed a makeshift memorial to a furry critter found dead on one of Toronto's busiest streets, those behind the tribute and countless others were keeping the animal's story alive as it made headlines around the world.

Harnessing the momentum behind the #DeadRacoonTO movement on social media, the trio of men who started the sidewalk memorial to the animal called for donations to the Toronto Wildlife Centre in memory of the critter who has been dubbed "Conrad."

"Such a simple thing has taken on a life of its own," said Geoff Nielson, one of the group which called themselves "the brains behind the operation."

"It's very easy to trivialize this as just another silly Internet fad, which, don't get me wrong, we're aware that it is, but for us it's really nice to use something like this for a greater social good."

It all started when Nielson, Dave Splindler and Sean Burkett, all co-workers at a downtown tech company, spotted the dead raccoon, belly up on the sidewalk at Yonge and Church street on Thursday outside their office and notified the city that the animal needed to be removed.

When the critter was still around at lunch time, the group decided to buy a condolence card from a nearby store and leave it beside the fluffy corpse.

"This raccoon was still there and this is kind of sad and depressing, so we thought what's a way we can put a more positive spin on the situation," said Spindler. "We wrote to the raccoon, 'hang in there, love the gang,' and then it kind of took off from there."

A little later, someone else from their office put a rose beside the dead raccoon.

After that, the gang decided to liven things up by printing out a picture of a raccoon, putting it in a frame lying around their office and placing it beside the dead critter, who was now starting to draw considerable attention.

"Crowds were forming around it, big groups of people were stopping to take picture. We can see all of this from our office window," recounted Neilson.

At that point, another co-worker ventured outside with a piece of paper bearing the hashtag #DeadRacoonTO, setting social media abuzz.

By nightfall, a lit religious candle, votives, more flowers and cards surrounded the deceased creature. Someone even gingerly placed a joint between his — or her — tiny fingers, digits more commonly used to deftly open the green bins and garbage bins of long-annoyed Torontonians.

"I think I knew his sister," wrote one jokester on Facebook. "My condolences to the family, who I think were dealing with their grief by strewing my garbage through my yard last night — totally get that."

On Friday, even after the raccoon had left the sidewalk, a chalk outline of his body adorned the area where he had rested.

"I was blown away by how big the reaction got," said Burkett. "What I'm taking away from this is just how much people are able to run with this and just fortunately it ran in a positive direction."

City councillor Norm Kelly endorsed the group's efforts to raise money for the Toronto Wildlife Centre, sending out a tweet which featured a photo of a sweet-faced young raccoon peering into the camera, an amber-hued Toronto sunset as the photo's backdrop. The animal is described as: "Friend. Neighbour. Raccoon."

Earlier in the day, Kelly tweeted out his condolences to the raccoon's family -- complete with a photoshopped picture of him chatting with a man-sized raccoon in a business suit.

The raccoon raised $505 for the wildlife centre Friday evening, with staff saying they were continuing to receive donations with messages like "R.I.P. Conrad."

"This particular situation is certainly quite unique for us," said Nathalie Karvonen, executive director of the centre which rescues and treats raccoons in the course of its work.

"I think if people feel bad for the raccoon or sorry for the raccoon and would like to help raccoons I think that's fantastic."

Link: http://torontowildlifecentre.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1078937&lis=0&kntae1078937=DA6C3BBD77B7496F80E6D815F204AA23&supid=424591992


The outpouring of raccoon love caught the attention of media beyond Canada's borders.

Here are some of the headlines:

A Raccoon Dies, and the World Seems a Bit Colder Today — Minnesota Public Radio News (blog).

Conrad the Dead Raccoon gets Candlelit Street Vigil in Toronto/We will Forever Remember the Day the Good Citizens of Toronto Paid Tribute to a Dead Raccoon — Britain's The Telegraph.

Dead Raccoon in Toronto Collected, Legend will Live On — My Fox Atlanta.

Dead Raccoon in Street gets Bizarre Candlelit Vigil to Shame Council Clean-up Team — Britain's The Mirror.

Dead Raccoon gets a Sarcastic Candlelit Vigil Complete with Flowers, Cards and a CIGARETTE after Council Workers Ignored It for 12 Hours — Britain's Daily Mail.

How a Dead Raccoon got a Sidewalk Memorial and a Hashtag — The Washington Post.

Dead Toronto Raccoon Draws Sidewalk Memorial, Internet Fame — New York Daily News.