I’ve been involved in more than a few exchanges on this topic – especially of late, as there’s a movement afoot to quantify and normalize the effectiveness of advocacy efforts so that a person can say “this organization impacts this many lives for this much money.”
I have serious concerns about the methodology and the language of this endeavor, as well as the virtually impossible task of quantifying intangibles such as how much an organization might raise public awareness on an issue or inspire individuals to act. And I’m mortified by the current endgame, the declaration that “all donor dollars should go to this organization because it impacts the most lives” – I do applaud the effort, for at the very least if done right it will provide another way to measure the effectiveness of advocacy organizations.
I’ll probably go deeper into this effort another time. For now, I bring up the cost of effective advocacy because it’s front and center for Animal Help Now. We’re at the end of our first online fundraiser of the year. We’ve secured the promised matching funds, and we have less than $2000 to go before midnight, Weds, 9/30. We need your support.
Animal Help Now is the world’s first reliable nationwide service a person can use to get help with a wildlife emergency. As many of you know, in Colorado and Texas AHNow also provides help for any domestic animal emergency.
The program is being used about 10,000 times a year. That’s a lot of lives saved and suffering reduced.
We keep it low. Of our 30 staff members, 24 are
volunteers, together contributing on average more than 200 hours per month. Corporate partners provide services such as legal counsel and accounting expertise free of charge. Everyone works from home or at a coffee shop, so we have very little overhead.
But the cost includes paying our staff a living wage. It ensures we keep our data current, innovate with our software and get the word out on our lifesaving program.
Animal Help Now is built for expansion. Canada in 2016? Why not? Domestic animal emergency functionality across the United States? Why not?!
Animal Help Now was created educate, inspire and empower. Of course building windows can be more bird friendly. Of course roads can be safer for wildlife.
Of course we can create a world in which we can act upon our compassion at all times. Imagine not being the only person to stop to help an injured animal by the side of the road. We won’t be alone because people will know what to do and will be empowered to do it.
I used to really really really like thunderstorms. Thoroughly immersed myself in them. Unmitigated enjoyment. Drenching rain. Flash-count-Bang!
And then of course I adopted a few animals who not only didn’t share my enthusiasm but who became downright terrified as the distant, pounding storms swept in. Somehow I managed to live 40-plus years not knowing that my favorite weather was so unpleasant for so many. The feeling now is far from exhilaration, but I do hold on to a thread of thunderstorm joy.
Spring and summer are like that for many of the tens of thousands of people across the world who devote themselves to wildlife rehabilitation. Where once the arrival of these seasons carried wonder and adventure and unlimited possibility, their arrival now carries a very heavy weight.
You see, spring and summer are the busy seasons for wildlife emergency professionals – and for domestic animal emergency personnel, as well. Babies are born. Wildlife is on the move. People are on the move, too – traveling, trimming trees, letting out the cats and dogs. This combination of activities bodes poorly for our wild friends. And for domestic animals, too.
Take black-tailed prairie dogs, as a particularly poignant example. Each May or June, the juvenile males leave their coteries, in search of a new home. Prairie dogs used to move in synergy with bison, the woolly mammals grazing down grasses, the prairie dogs moving in, aerating the soil and enriching the plant life. And on and on it went. For thousands of years. Starting long before there was a May or a June.
And then the West was “won.” And everything changed. The bison are gone, and prairie dog colonies now are mere relics of what they once were. Sliced and diced, fragmented and isolated by roads, malls and waaaaaaayyyyy too much land being used in what surely is the world’s most inefficient food system – raising crops to feed animals to feed people.
What wasn’t lost is the ancient urge that compels juvenile black-tailed prairie dog males to move on. Off they go, into a hostile world. Some get lucky and find a new home. Many – most? – end up killed on roads, lost in labyrinthine subdivisions, or taken out by predators during their futile, exhausting search for a new place to call home.
The ones who survive the car strikes or the days in a window well are taken to our friends, the wildlife rehabilitators. And the rehabilitators, if they have room and license, do their best to get the animals nursed and doctored back to health and eventually returned to the wild.
Every time I see a hug-a-hunter television commercial, I think no, I’d rather hug a wildlife rehabilitator. These dedicated people are almost all volunteers. It’s illegal in fact to charge a fee to take an animal into rehabilitation. In all 50 states and DC, if I’m not mistaken.
Some rehabilitation facilities are incorporated as nonprofits, which gives them a better chance to treat more animals and at least a decent chance at sustainability.
But most rehabilitators work at home, as volunteers, making themselves available to the public, but more importantly to the robins, the rabbits, the turtles and the raccoons whose very lives depend on these caregivers.
And there are other unheralded helpers. The veterinary professionals who allow injured wildlife to be brought to their clinics. The hotline volunteers, who go through training every year and do their best to help people who are dealing with wildlife emergencies.
I suddenly realize I’m in over my head here. I can’t begin to tell you the trials endured by wildlife emergency professionals. Funding issues, space issues, zoning issues, come-get-this-animal-I-don’t-have-time-to-bring-him-to-you issues. Rehabilitators are the ones who administer the euthanasia fluid to the bat who just is not going to make it, to the broken winged goose, otherwise perfectly healthy, who according to state regulations must be killed because she will never fly again and can’t be returned to the wild. Rehabilitators are the ones who ensure the baby raccoons in their care get fed precisely every two hours, 24/7.
The geese, the prairie dogs, the bats – they of course pay the ultimate price for this world made so hostile to them by human hands. But wildlife emergency professionals themselves pay a very high price. The unrelenting workload, the heartbreaking losses, and the ignorant or apathetic public.
Of course it’s not lost on me that wildlife rehabilitators also get to see the best in people, and they get to observe, occasionally laugh at, and learn from their charges. And they get the satisfaction, certainly sometimes exhilaration, that accompanies the return home of a successfully rehabilitated animal.
My hope for wildlife rehabilitators is that they feel appreciated for their work, that they see changes in society that indicate people are wanting to live more harmoniously with wildlife, that they train and pass on their knowledge to a successor, and that they forever hold on to at least a thread of the joy nearly all of us know or once knew with the coming of spring.
In the meantime, enjoy the off-season, my friends. (I know, I know. You’ll be busy with related matters.) But thank you. Thank you, thank you for yet another job well done.
It’s a beautiful morning in the summer of 2008 and I’m driving with a friend and her two dogs on Highway 12 into Crested Butte, Colorado, after an overnight at the Lake Irwin Campground.
There’s activity in the road ahead, in the shadow of overhanging trees. I slow down. It’s animals. Birds. Small ones. On the road.
Reaching the scene, I see two young birds flitting about the flattened bodies of three others.
I pull over, grab a towel from the trunk and quickly survey the situation. Two of the dead are adults – likely the parents. The other is young and, like the survivors, probably the offspring of the adult pair.
The pummeled bodies indicate this scene has been playing out for several hours. The fledglings are panicked and exhausted. They’ve been dodging the vacation traffic for some time, moving back and forth from the side of the road to the bodies, their parents the only touchstone they have ever known.
Despite my cautious approach, one of the fledglings keels over, dead. Thankfully, I capture the other and get her safely into my car.
As would be the case with so many of you at this moment, my sadness at the tragedy is matched by my resolve to do my best to help the little survivor tucked into a towel in my lap.
She deserves a chance to fledge, a chance to fly. She deserves it especially because her siblings never will. Especially because her parents likely died in an attempt to save her life.
Especially because this tragedy is the result of a road being built through her neighborhood by my forebears. Because this tragedy is played out a million times a day on roads throughout this country, and people don’t even slow down.
Especially because flying is her birthright, a compact with this planet’s inconceivably complex and lengthy evolutionary history to take her hollow bones airborne, above and through the aspen, spruce and pine. To bask in the warm alpine summers and cuddle up with a partner through the cold white winters. To raise a family of her own.
I spend the next hour in Crested Butte looking for help, which is difficult enough without my traveling companion holding firm to the idea we should have “let nature take its course,” notwithstanding my objections that nature doesn’t build roads through a forest and drive SUVs.
I finally track down a veterinarian at a gym. She probably needs a healing workout as much as I need help with a bird, but she acquiesces and agrees to meet me at her clinic. There, she takes the bird and promises to do her best to care for her. And I drive away.
That was kind of the trigger for me on this whole Animal Help Now thing. I’m one of those people whom injured and distressed animals throw themselves in front of. If you’re one, too, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve probably encountered 60 animal emergencies during my 25 years in Colorado. Ducklings stranded in the median on Highway 36. A prairie dog lost and imperiled in urban Boulder. An injured butterfly on the road in Coal Creek Canyon. A cat on a telephone pole in the alley behind my house. An injured, scared dog running loose for weeks in my neighborhood and the surrounding open spaces. A rattlesnake on Highway 93 near Golden. An injured goose, a poisoned pigeon, a paralyzed squirrel.
When I was in or near Boulder, I pretty much knew where to go for help when I encountered these emergencies. Though of course in some cases, you do your best on your own. I’ll tell you the rattlesnake story another time. It has a happy ending.
When I was away from Boulder, however, I had no idea what to do with most of the animal emergencies I encountered. And this little bird in Crested Butte was the proverbial straw.
The lack of an emergency, 911-type service for animals – and for wildlife, in particular – was even more evident at my day job, working with Rocky Mountain Animal Defense. Almost every day we would get calls from people who were trying to help with this or that animal emergency.
And here they were, seeking guidance from the person who’d tracked down a vet in a gym. Sure, it worked for me, but not everyone has that kind of compulsion or time, or luck.
The fact is – and I’m confessing I didn’t know this, despite my position working in the upper levels of an animal advocacy organization – there are a lot of resources available for people who need help with injured ducks and orphaned rabbits, distressed deer, even stranded dolphins. Not enough, mind you, but a lot.
Thousands of home-based wildlife rehabilitators dot the United States from coast to coast, each tending to wildlife emergencies in her or his backyard. More than 250 wildlife rehabilitation centers can be found throughout the country, with one in DC and at least one in 46 of the states. Thousands of veterinary clinics treat at least some types of wildlife. Marine animal hotlines cover the entire US coastline, and well over a dozen wildlife hotlines cover areas ranging from cities such as Dallas to entire states.
So there it is: A massive community of people looking for help with wildlife emergencies, and a substantial community of people who can provide such help, … and no apparent service to connect the two.
Or there it was. Because that’s what Animal Help Now does – It connects people who need help with wildlife emergencies with people who can provide help with wildlife emergencies. Coast to coast. In many cases, 24/7.
In Colorado and Texas, Animal Help Now also covers the full range of domestic animal emergencies, directing you to help when you find a lost pet, need an emergency vet, witness animal abuse, etc.
Animal Help Now also helps you prepare for animal emergencies, determine if an animal really needs your help, properly capture and transport animals, etc.
I’m thrilled to have played a role in creating this service, and I have about 1000 things I look forward to sharing with you in this blog, including:
The latest Animal Help Now rescues and updates
Tips on living better with wildlife, including making your windows bird-friendly and being prepared for the next vehicle-injured animal you encounter
Animal Help Now smartphone app super-user tips
On behalf of the whole team here at Animal Help Now, thank you for reading. We are excited to have you along for the ride.