Nobody Cares! … or do they?


A desperate chorus rises each year as spring turns into summer, and wildlife rehabilitators across the country approach or reach capacity.

It can be nearly impossible in many parts of the United States to find help for wildlife emergencies at this time of year (wildlife baby season and migration). This is tragic for the animals who need help, and it’s tragic for the good humans who are trying to help them.

A familiar refrain of frustration returns to social media, email inboxes, and voicemail messages from the would-be rescuers: Nobody cares!

We created Animal Help Now specifically because of the difficulty of finding wildlife emergency assistance in the United States (though, to be sure, it’s a planet-wide problem). With our app we have solved the problem of finding the closest and most appropriate help for wildlife emergencies – and conflicts! – but that doesn’t mean more help is available. It doesn’t mean this country has suddenly developed an appreciation for wildlife rehabilitation. It doesn’t mean wildlife agencies are making it easier to rehabilitate wildlife. It doesn’t mean government funding is available to support rehabilitation centers and hotlines.

It doesn’t mean our communities have come together to develop systemic approaches to mitigating the ubiquitous anthropogenic threats (cat and dog attacks, window strikes, motor vehicle strikes, poorly executed “nuisance” wildlife control, etc.) that result in millions of wild animals getting injured and killed in the United States every day.

Wildlife ambulances should not be the stuff of science fiction.

As your stomach turns and you jump into action after hearing the dreaded thump of a bird hitting a window, seeing a bleeding and broken-shelled turtle in the road, encountering your neighbor’s outdoor cat with a bird in her mouth, you know instantly that you will need help as quickly as possible. And it is gut-wrenchingly tragic (to the empathetic among us) that sometimes there simply is no help. When no help is available, when your only option might be to find a veterinarian who will euthanize the animal, you are rightly anguished, sad, angry….

And you may lash out. Nobody cares!

But of course that’s not true. You care. The hundreds of people looking for help for another animal in need in some other place but at the exact same time you are – they care. The volunteers who do the work to get licensed to rehabilitate wildlife and who often work out of their homes, covering their own expenses, doing their best to get phone calls returned between feedings, having compromised sleep for months on end – they care. The paid staff and volunteers serving wildlife rehabilitation centers, rescues, and hotlines care. The veterinarians who are willing to stabilize wildlife care. Many wildlife and law enforcement agents care.

AHNow’s volunteers, paid staff, and financial supporters care.

It may be fair to say that more people care than do not!

We simply must make this a safer world for wildlife and lift up wildlife rehabilitation where it belongs. Animal Help Now lays it out in its vision statement.

Animal Help Now envisions a world in which humans:

  • Respect wildlife
  • Are familiar with threats facing wildlife and act to minimize them
  • Are educated about wildlife emergencies and empowered to effectively help orphaned, injured and distressed wild animals
  • Are educated about living in harmony with wildlife and empowered to effectively and humanely resolve human/wildlife conflicts
  • Place high value on the services provided by wildlife rehabilitators, humane wildlife conflict operators and other wildlife experts

This is going to take a society-wide effort, from businesses to HOAs to all levels of government. State legislatures and state wildlife agencies and the commissions that direct them, in particular, can and must do better. More than enough people care. More than enough to effect such changes, that is. We just have to be better organized, better directed, and a bit quicker about it.


Pre-treating Trash and Recyclables for the Benefit of Wildlife


As we barge through these first decades of the anthropocene – anthroobscene? – we’re getting reminders every day of the damage humans are doing to the planet and to our fellow earthlings. Who isn’t sickened by the sight of a starving polar bear, elephants rummaging through trash, or a crushed turtle in a road left to slowly die?

Photo of herd of elephants rummaging through mound of trash.
Elephants forage for food in a Sri Lankan landfill.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the melting ice caps, ever-increasing light pollution, the ongoing destruction of rainforests, coral reefs, prairies and other wildlife homes to feed the ever-widening maw of homo sapiens, … These obscenities require COVID-level crisis response. They’re not getting it.

Monied interests of course tend to be quite comfortable with the status quo. Bayer/Monsanto will fight like hell to keep RoundUp on the market. Oil companies will fight like hell to build new pipelines. Plastics manufacturers will go so far as to blame consumers for the plastic that has found its way into the air and indeed into our bodies.

Some of us have the time, energy, and inclination to fight big fights. Some of us do the best we can with limited time, energy, or inclination. Whichever group you’re in, you can be a part of the growing effort to make your trash and recyclables less hazardous to wildlife.

Duck caught in six-pack ring.

It started with the plastic six-pack rings, of course, when we saw the malformed bodies of reptiles ensnared in them from an early age. Now many of us automatically slice up these rings before discarding them.

And that’s a good thing, unless of course that makes them more appealing meals for seabirds and marine animals, but that’s another story. Either way, we need to do a lot more. Most of us cannot be sure that our trash or our recycling won’t end up exposed to wildlife in a landfill or even in a body of water somewhere. So before you toss anything into the trash or recycling bin, think twice about whether it – like an intact six-pack ring – may pose a threat to wildlife.

Here are some we’ve identified:

Graphic showing trash and recycling that can pose threats to wildlife. Contact AHNow.org for details.

Note: The content of this graphic is by no means set in stone. If you have any input on how we can improve it, please let us know!

Limit your purchase of single-use materials! Buy bulk when you can. Reuse bags, boxes, twist ties, and the like.

Finally, we’d be remiss to not mention fishing line. Animal Help Now constantly gets reports of animals, mostly waterfowl, ensnared in discarded fishing line. If you spend anytime near areas where humans fish, be on the lookout. The tool you carry to snip discarded masks may very well help you remove this threat from the homes of our wildlife neighbors. And if you see someone discard a line, either confront that person or take good notes of the time, location, person’s description, license plate, whatnot, and contact law enforcement.


Opossum Drops Remain a Threat


Two years ago tonight – on the eve of 2019 – an #opossum with a broken and severely infected leg was hoisted up in a plexiglas box from a #NorthCarolina stage in a thunderstorm, while a band played raucous music to a raucous crowd, then lowered at midnight, continuing a sick tradition in the vein of diving mules and bicycle-riding bears.

Millie was rescued after the event, but she lost her leg – it couldn’t be saved. In the time since, she has recovered through loving care at The Opossum’s Pouch Sanctuary, Rescue and Rehabilitation and has learned to trust humans again. Sadly, though Millie’s caregiver and The Opossum’s Pouch director, Beth Sparks, tells us this gentle survivor is nearing the end of her life, with late-stage congestive heart failure.

Recurring claims, including recent ones from trusted animal organizations, that opossum “drops” have been outlawed in North Carolina are unfounded.

So much hatred is directed toward opossums. There’s a lot to unpack around that. Efforts led by Beth, (ItsMe)Sesame, and others are making progress, but it’s up to all of us to go to bat for these shy and gentle animals.

Animal Help Now, The Opossum’s Pouch, and our partners will continue to fight for the abolition of this anachronistic “tradition” again in 2021, with, as she is especially today, Millie in our hearts.


Tax-deductible contributions: Learning along the way


I’ve been directing small nonprofits for 25 years, and I’m finally accepting the reality that fundraising is an essential aspect of the work of a small nonprofit’s executive director.

This is a bark and bite thing. The bite is not so bad, in large part because Animal Help Now offers popular and effective services on a shoestring budget.

Like you, I imagine, I’m seeing a lot of year-end appeals for funding, most of them mentioning CARES Act provisions dealing with contributions to nonprofit organizations. Having never really fully understood tax deduction, I was compelled to reach out to a CPA friend for guidance on this. I am compelled to understand taxes as they relate to Animal Help Now and our supporters, because I need every angle I can get to make a honest and compelling case for donations to our lifesaving nonprofit.

With that, here’s where I am today. Many of you will find nothing new in these paragraphs; they’re written more for people like me who are confused about the whole charitable tax deduction thing.

Donations made to nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations such as Animal Help Now may be tax deductible, meaning under certain circumstances the amount of the donation – or some percentage of that amount – can be subtracted from your taxable gross income. These deductions are not available to taxpayers who take a standard deduction (i.e., those who do not itemize).

The CARES Act has changed things a bit for 2020. Taxpayers who take a standard deduction may take an additional amount of up to $300 for qualifying contributions made to nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations. Taxpayers who itemize deductions may deduct contributions made to nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations up to 100% of adjusted gross income. (versus the standard 60%).

Donating to nonprofits never saves a person money under standard methods of accounting, but smart giving certainly can stretch the good you do with your donor dollars. Please see your tax adviser for specific guidance on how to make the most of your charitable contributions.

Be smart out there! And safe!

Donation button

Guest Blog: Animal adoptions are up. Considering one? Read this first!


All around the world, people are spending more time at home. So it only makes sense that so many people are considering adding a dog, cat, or other animal companion to their families. After all, having an animal companion can be a win-win: the animal gets a home, and everyone gets love. As an added benefit for humans, especially during a pandemic, is the proven stress relief “pets” can provide. A stay-at-home order also gives us extra time to help new arrivals adjust to their new homes. 

Now, if you want to help wildlife, Animal Help Now has all of the resources you need. However, if you are thinking about adopting or fostering a domestic animal, the following FAQs should be helpful.

Foster? Adopt? Other?

From adopting to fostering to volunteering, there are countless ways to make a positive difference in the lives of dogs, cats, and other companion animals. 

Guidelines

How Can I Prepare My Home and Life for an Animal?

Whether you adopt or foster, you will need some basics to keep that new pet healthy and happy. 

How Can I Deal with Common New “Pet” Problems? 

Animals can take time to adjust and learn routines, so be prepared to stay calm and patient. In addition:

Helping a homeless animal can give you such an extra sense of purpose during the pandemic. Whether you have the time and resources to adopt, foster, or volunteer, consider making room in your life for animals in need.

Author: Aurora James, DogEtiquette.info

For further reading, see https://www.directline.com/pet-cover/magazine/rescue-animals.

Photo Credit: Pexels


What to Do When You See an Opossum in Trouble on the Road


Help! There’s an injured or possibly dead opossum in the road. What should I do?

If you can safely do so, it’s generally a good idea to stop when you find an animal in the road, whether the animal is dead or alive. Helping a live animal off the road and getting the animal into care – even if the only care option is euthanasia – is the right thing to do. Moving a dead animal out of the road will decrease the chances that animals scavenging the body will themselves become victims of a vehicle strike. (It’s important to always have sturdy gloves in your car for just this need.)

Opossums present a special case, as they are marsupials. In fact, they’re the only marsupial in North America! As such, an injured or dead opossum may be a mother with babies in her pouch.

If the opossum is in the road, move him/her to the shoulder.

If the animal is alive, get him/her into a box or other carrier and use Animal Help Now’s wildlife emergency service app to find the nearest emergency assistance.

If you are uncertain whether or not the animal is alive, gently touch the animal’s back feet and eyes and face, check for any movement as you do so. If the animal is alive, get her into a box or other carrier and use Animal Help Now’s wildlife emergency service to find the nearest emergency assistance.

If the animal is dead and has a pouch, check for babies in the pouch. You can do so by gently lifting up the skin on the pouch and peeking inside. If there are babies in the pouch, you will need to take the mom’s body as is to a rehabilitator.

Note: If for some reason taking the mom’s body is not possible, you can transfer the babies to a warm container or carrier with a towel or blanket, but this is an extremely delicate procedure.

We suggest keeping an animal rescue kit (https://ahnow.org/kits) in your vehicle.

Animal Help Now makes finding a wildlife rehabilitator easier than ever. AHNow’s wildlife emergency service is available on the web at www.AHNow.org and as a free smartphone app (iPhone and Android).


Helping Injured, Potentially Orphaned, or Distressed Wildlife in the Time of COVID-19.


Animal Help Now (AHNow) is in a unique position in the world of wildlife rehabilitation. The very nature of our work gives us more access than anyone to US wildlife rehabilitators.

Today we approached our focus group – a diverse cross-section of the country’s rehabilitators – asking them whether or not the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them; if so, how; and what changes, if any, they have made to their daily routines.

Their responses were reassuring. First and foremost, they seemed in agreement that the virus was not adversely impacting the US public’s willingness to assist injured, potentially orphaned, or distressed wildlife. This is good and right, as there is no known coronavirus transmission risk for people safely handling wildlife anywhere in the world, let alone the United States.

Of course, members of the public should always practice universal precautions for handling wildlife*, for the safety of both the human animal and whatever animal the human is helping.

The respondents pointed up the need for wildlife rehabilitators to be cautious when interacting with a member of the public who brings an animal to a facility. States rehabilitator Judy P: “[W]ildlife rehabilitators [may designate] only one small area for intakes, which can be disinfected after each use; have the public use hand sanitizer upon entering the premises; etc.” Judy adds, “I will be doing intakes on my porch – I work at home – and won’t let people inside the house.”

Rehabilitators at Nature’s Nurse have added (and recommend) the following safety measure for babies: “We place a carrier with a heating pad under it on our porch. We ask the finder to place the babies in the carrier and take all boxes and towels with them when they leave, and then immediately text or call, at which point we will come out and grab the babies.”

Rehabilitator Arianna M states, “We’ve doubled up on deep cleaning and routine cleaning of our center.”

As to the risk of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread.”

Which is to say, with what we know now, and in accordance with what you’ve been told, the human animal is the threat.

We’d be remiss to not end this piece with a reminder (verbatim from Johns Hopkins): Prevention involves frequent hand-washing, coughing into the bend of your elbow, and staying home when you are sick.

With hand sanitizer in high demand, you might benefit from this DIY guidance.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers additional information, particularly with regard to protecting domestic animals, in this guide for veterinarians and these FAQs.

* As to universal precautions on handling injured, potentially orphaned, or distressed wildlife, AHNow advises:

  • To protect yourself from disease and injury (1) never approach or attempt to rescue an animal who is behaving abnormally (circling, staggering, etc.) or shows signs of disease (salivating, discharge from the eyes or nose, etc.) and (2) always wear thick gloves whenever handling wildlife.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling wildlife.
  • Especially when respiratory risk is high, such as during this pandemic, wear a mask and protect your eyes when handling wildlife.
  • Exercise caution and good judgment and consult with the experts we’ll direct you to before handling, transporting, or otherwise disturbing a wild animal. Refer to our resources page for more information.


With a Million Species at Risk of Extinction from Human Causes, What’s an Individual to Do?


Note: This piece was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 24, 2019.

The recently released summary of the upcoming UN report on nature describes a biosphere rapidly degrading under the profoundly deleterious influences of Homo sapiens. (Yes, the upright species with the opposable thumbs and magnificent brains.)

Most of us have seen the headlines covering one of the study’s more frightening conclusions – that humans are putting a million animal and plant species at risk of extinction. That’s one in every nine.

The summary’s key messages:

  • Nature embodies biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Nature sustains and inspires humans.
  • Nature is deteriorating at an increasingly accelerated rate at human hands, and in turn is increasingly less able to sustain and inspire humans.
  • “Transformative change” is required to effectively address this crisis.

The authors define transformative change as “a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Transformative change is a rather tall order in a world of conflict and competition, diminishing resources and increasing human population – where one human’s disappearing ice caps and starving polar bears are another’s emerging trade routes.

Spoiler alert: the humans who value nature over wealth acquisition are the only ones who can guide us out of this mess.

The good news, I suppose, is that with one in nine species at risk of extinction, we don’t have to fly to Africa or bus down to the zoo to see endangered animals. They’re right in our backyard! The study essentially asserts they’re actually inside our homes, too – get up close to a mirror to see one.

The assessment’s authors rank the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. They are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use (2) direct exploitation of organisms (3) climate change (4) pollution and (5) invasive species.

It will not surprise you, reader, that our species is singularly to blame for these adverse impacts … though I do fault prairie dogs, too; more on that below.

I think it was Einstein who said, “Transformative change cannot be achieved by the same ninnies who created the need for transformative change.” Maybe not verbatim. The good thing is that change can happen in a generation. Perhaps we’ll lose only a half million species!

In the meantime, it’s high time for us – each of us – to get right. Those deleterious changes in land use? We’re fattening up animals to fatten up ourselves when we should be feeding our fellow humans. We need to eat lower on the food chain. More plant protein. More local. Same with “the direct exploitation of organisms.” The biggie there is commercial fisheries. Consuming more plant protein covers those first two, and arguably it’s the best thing you can do to combat climate change, not to mention that fewer wild horses and badgers and coyotes and mountain lions will be killed by ranchers and government agents in your name. And we need to buy less stuff. Stuff is not the stuff of happiness.

Now that we are surrounded by endangered species, our everyday actions can effect transformative change. This starts by valuing the wild animals and plants around us. Cherish and support pollinators. Keep cats indoors; better yet, give them access to the elements from inside a screened-in deck or porch. Domestic cats and dogs kill billions of wild animals every year in the United States. Make your windows bird friendly – a billion birds die in this country each year from window strikes. Drive carefully. Animals haven’t adapted to our highways and fast-moving vehicles. Don’t use glue traps – they are criminal, whether they ensnare a target or nontarget animal. If you see abandoned fishing line on your next hike, retrieve it. If you’re tempted to abandon fishing line/gear, just abandon fishing instead, please.

Be ready if you encounter injured, potentially orphaned or distressed wildlife. Downloading our free app. Hug your local wildlife rehabilitator. Hug a hunter, too, if you want to, but let’s modify the funding mechanisms for our state wildlife agencies so those of us who don’t hurt and kill wildlife have much more say in wildlife “management.”

Be humbled. We humans are not that great. We could be, but that would require … what’s the term? Oh yeah, transformative change! Read the nature study summary (bit.ly/IPBESReport) and the 14-page Green New Deal (https://www.brightest.io/green-new-deal).

Oh, and about those prairie dogs – I was just kidding. We have met the destructive pests, and they are us.


Beyond Name-calling: How Smarter Advocacy Can Better Serve Our Animal Friends


The Opossum Dropin North Carolina pits rural folks against people in urban and suburban communities. Advocates would be wise to keep this in mind.

Millie being lowered during the 2018 opossum "drop"

I understand that a human being can be OK with capturing a wild animal for a few days, putting the animal on display, and then releasing the animal back into the wild. I am not OK with it, and very likely you are not OK with it, but I understand that some humans are.

So when a group of people in Brasstown, North Carolina, get together every December 31 to celebrate the new year by hoisting a live opossum in a plexiglass box above a public stage and then lowering the animal at midnight (a la the Times Square ball), even though I’m completely opposed to the activity, I can see how they view this as harmless if not good clean fun.

Those of us who oppose such activities need to understand – there’s a lot at play here.

There’s the empathy gene thing, and we advocates are well served to always keep it in mind, because some people will never, can never “get it.” But a lack of individual empathy doesn’t explain Brasstown. It doesn’t explain dogfights, cockfights, horse racing. And it doesn’t help us stop them. Our efforts must be informed by a constant awareness that such activities are closely associated with culture and community type.

But first, a little background.

North Carolina’s Be Cruel to Opossums Law

The North Carolina legislature legally sanctioned the live opossum “drop” – there’s only one – in 2015 when, after a lawsuit effectively ended the event, state legislators passed a law that suspends protections for opossums from December 29 or each year to January 2 of the subsequent year.

We call this statute North Carolina’s Be Cruel to Opossums law because it not only enabled the Brasstown “tradition” to continue, it also opened a five-day window each year that completely removes legal protections for opossums statewide.

Note: The recently passed federal animal cruelty law does not apply to the opossum “drop”. You’ll find details on this here.

Effects of the Opossum “Drop” on Opossums

Opossum experts, including veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators, have testified about the harm done to the opossum before, during, and after the opossum “drops.” They state that stress cardiomyopathy, capture myopathy, and stress-related dermal septic necrosis are common in opossums and can be fatal. We know from the opossum “drop’s” history that the event almost invariably causes one or more of these conditions in the trapped opossum, who are by nature shy and timid animals and are afraid of humans.

Millie, post surgery to amputate her leg.

Community Type: The Locals Problem

We also know from experience these facts don’t compel your average Brasstown reveler. (Stressed? Traumatized?! You gotta be kiddin’ me!)

No surprise here. It’s a self-selecting group, after all. And perhaps no surprise really that there’s little apparent local opposition to the event. This is a small and somewhat isolated rural community in the Appalachian Mountains.

A recent PEW Research Center study offers valuable insights into how rural life differs from suburban life, and how each of these differs from urban life – alarmingly, in many ways these differences are increasing. Whether political, demographic, religious, or perceptive, such differences can create massive challenges when urban meets rural meets suburban meets urban.

Consider this finding from the PEW study:

About six-in-ten rural residents say the values of urban dwellers don’t align with theirs; 53% of urban residents say the same about the values of those in rural areas.

That’s a rough foundation upon which to build meaningful dialog on a divisive issue. Nevertheless, we tried last year when the event was held in nearby Andrews, but ultimately talks broke down.

Still, the town won’t be hosting another opossum drop anytime soon. Opossum “drops” are, under the best scenarios, bad for opossums; in Andrews last year, we saw the worst.

Millie’s Story

The opossum we now call Millie was injured and sick when she was hoisted into the air in the town’s Heritage Park at 10 pm on December 31, 2018, and dangled for two hours above the raucous Andrews crowd, while music blared and fireworks were set off. After she was haphazardly lowered to the stage at midnight, she was whisked away by two caring locals who had been promised by the event’s founder and organizer, Clay Logan, that they could take her. (Score a very small point here for Logan. Fun fact: he’s a county commissioner.)

Left untreated by her “handlers” before the event, Millie’s injuries led to an infection so severe that the rescuers reported they could smell it on the stage well before they even reached the box.

The veterinarian who treated Millie after the event stated that her injuries were consistent with those caused by leghold traps and snares. She had suffered both prolonged loss of circulation to her left front paw and a broken bone in her left front leg.

Amputation was necessary to save Millie’s life.

She is learning to get around on three legs, though you can still see her left shoulder joint at work in its futile attempt to move her phantom limb. (Click here for non-graphic video.)

Ending North Carolina’s Opossum “Drop”

An effective approach to fighting animal cruelty is to marginalize it. This shouldn’t be hard with the opossum “drop,” as it was already in the margins before the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) ill-advisedly legitimized it. The NCGA isn’t exactly a bastion of progressive politics, but animal cruelty – at least the non-institutionalized variety – is condemned by Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.

Just as roadshows featuring diving mules and chimpanzees on rollerskates have been pushed to the margins and off the page, so must and so will opossum “drops.”

This is not a Brasstown issue. This is a North Carolina issue, and surely a majority of North Carolinians will recognize their representatives should correct the mistake made by the General Assembly in 2015 and repeal SL 2015-73. Millie is going to help us in this regard. She is surviving proof of the injustice of this ridiculous law.

What You Can Do

First, keep in mind that name-calling won’t get us anywhere. We may never see eye to eye with people who have little respect for animals, but insulting and berating them is not going to help, and indeed it may result in their treating animals even worse.

Second, click here for a list of actions you can take to honor Millie and to relegate opossum “drops” to the dustbin of history.