“There are lots of snakes.”

This was 1998 or so. At the time I had a half hour commute between my home in Boulder, Colorado, and my workplace in Golden. Highway 93 provided a relatively quick shot between the two, with just three stoplights (where now there are eight).

Still, the highway holds on to a bit of its wild feel, as it runs parallel to untrammeled foothills, with much of the in between land set aside as open space.

But this was 17 years ago, and I was on my way home, northbound on the two lane highway, in the valley south of the quarry…

I am minding my own business. I see a coiled up rope in the southbound lane. And then as I get closer the rope becomes a snake. A big snake. Big.

I am not one to not help an animal in distress. I immediately pull over and run over toward the snake, thankful for the lull in southbound traffic. She doesn’t welcome my approach. A raised head. A rattle.

I am H.I. in Raising Arizona after knocking Leonard Smalls off his Harley. Sick with the sudden reality of my situation. Over my head.

Today – with much more traffic and with much less patience among the commuting public – a person probably couldn’t get away with what I did next.

I step into the southbound lane and wave my hands at the oncoming traffic. The first car stops, and so do the cars behind it. “What is it?”, the driver of the lead car asks. A snake, my reply. A pause. “There are lots of snakes”, his eventual rejoinder.

Yet he is willing to keep his car parked in the road while I attempt a rescue.

Back at my Subaru, I hurriedly and ineffectively duct tape two golf clubs together. (According to the internet, rattlesnakes cannot jump, but they can lunge – about half the length of their bodies.) But it’s 1998, and I don’t know much about rattlesnakes. I wouldn’t believe they could jump, but I don’t know if I can outrun them. I approach warily.

A northbound car slows. “What’s up?”, the driver asks helpfully.

“There’s a rattlesnake in the road.”

Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker
Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker

“Oh. OK.” And away he goes.

Deep breath. To my right, the cars coming to a stop in a long and growing line. A honk. Another. To my left, curiosity slowing and occasional screeching tires.

A foot closer. A slight prod of the snake with my flaccid implement. No response. Another, and then a rattle. And me there, with barely controlled terror, trying to formulate thoughts. Looking back, I probably could have taped several more clubs together. There would have had to have been more overlap, to avoid the arcing effect…

And then – a helper! Misery’s company. “What can I do?”, he yells, his car pulled over on the shoulder behind mine.

Oh, thank you! I ask him to try to warn the northbound traffic to slow down. He grabs a large piece of cardboard from my open trunk and starts waving it.

To some effect. Probably because people are trying to read what is taped to it: A poster reading, “Would Jesus be killing prairie dogs today?”

I’m an animal advocate, in case you didn’t already know.

Nevertheless, he’s doing his job, standing on the center line, waving his sign, and I’m in the southbound lane yelling at the snake, pounding my feet, waving my arms and the golf club thing.

Long story short. I can’t compel the snake to move off the road. The guy in the lead car says, “Can we just go around on the shoulder?”

I say, that’s not going to work. I’m at wit’s end.

And then as if on cue the snake slowly uncoils and slithers off the road, to the west, into the open space, toward the foothills where she belongs. And the three of us watch, mesmerized.

And the guy in the lead car smiles and says, “Wow. That’s beautiful.”

Strength in Numbers

I’m always grateful to live in Boulder County and never more so than during giving season when AHNow participates in Colorado Gives Day, an annual statewide campaign to increase philanthropy through online donations.

Colorado Gives Day logo

Last year, generous individuals and companies gave a record-breaking $26.2 million to 1,677 nonprofits on Colorado Gives Day. I hope all of our supporters will help make this year’s Colorado Gives Day, December 8, even more successful than last year’s by making a special donation and encouraging your friends, families and colleagues to do the same.

It’s super easy to participate. You simply visit AHNow’s Colorado Gives page on December 8 (or any day between November 1 and December 8) and make your contribution. You can save two birds with one app by donating on December 1, #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving.

As we approach this year’s season of giving back, I am incredibly grateful for every one in the Animal Help Now community – the donors, advisors, staff and volunteers – who are, like me, passionate about our mission to help injured and distressed animals by providing the public with immediate access to emergency care professionals. I cannot thank you enough.

Pitying Predators, Pitying Ourselves

spiderA spider built a beautiful web on my front porch three days ago and took up residency at the center. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t snared any prey, and in fact the web already is in disrepair and seems to be about a third its original size.

Still she sits at the center, awaiting a reprieve from what I imagine to be her increasing hunger and concern.

Another spider did the same thing in my garage over the summer, apparently dying of hunger before successfully catching a meal.

Surely this happens all the time all over the world to predators – carnivores and omnivores alike.

We animal advocates tend to sympathize with the prey. I think that’s because so many of us reject the idea that might makes right, or at least we reject the way humans have perverted this axiom by taking it to its extreme. So we end up wanting to warn the rabbit about the hawk overhead.

But the hawk must eat, as must the spider, as must we all.

People say nature is cruel, but killing and eating is an act of survival, not cruelty.

Sadly, the human approach to eating animals is fraught with cruelty, both directly – as is the case with intensive confinement operations – and indirectly – in the devastating effects of intensive animal agriculture on wildlife habitat and the climate, and indeed on our fellow humans, an obscene number of whom go to bed hungry every night even in the United States because of the inequity and iniquity of our food systems. Might makes wrong here, no two ways about it.

It’s the animal advocate’s job to accept that nature involves killing. Becoming comfortable with natural animal behaviors allows us to more clearly identify (and thus eliminate) the aberrant behaviors of our fellow humans, to save our energy for effective and meaningful advocacy and, quite frankly, to stay sane.

If you must choose to pity the rabbit who dies in the hawk’s talons, pity too the spider who sits waiting in her tattered web for a meal that will never come.

But I recommend against expending your pity on either. Pity instead the victims of human callousness and disregard. But don’t swim in it, you know? We are surrounded by pain and suffering that can easily overwhelm us. Be mindful with your emotions. We have to take care of ourselves.

My good friend Dyne told me years ago, “Dave, you can’t take on all the world’s suffering and pain.” Those words possibly saved my life, and they certainly enabled me to remain effective in my advocacy.

We love rodents! Now tell us a story.

A success story from the field:

Winchester, VA, 10/6/15. David W writes: Last night some children found an injured squirrel and brought it to us for attention. I called the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center but their vet was out. I pulled up Animal Help Now on my iPad, found a local rehabilitator, called her and delivered the squirrel for safe keeping. Not sure if the squirrel will survive, as she has head trauma, but at least she is in a warm spot where she can get care and attention. Asked the Wildlife Center to put AHNow on their voice mail to help people get the right response to their wildlife emergencies.

Three good things here:

  • David got the help he needed.
  • He set a good example for children and gave them a lesson in resourcefulness.
  • He went the extra mile to make it easier for the next person to get help.

Thank you, David!

We count this among our successes. Even though this squirrel’s prognosis is not good, she was quickly provided care, so her suffering was minimized. We succeed when we save lives or reduce suffering. Sometimes a humane death is the most a rehabilitator or veterinary professional can provide.

Imagine the alternative. Imagine, say, being in a bad car accident and having your would-be rescuers wringing their hands and staring at their shoes because they simply don’t know whom to call or what to do.

Let’s hope this little rodent – and we love and respect rodents, from rats to prairie dogs to beavers – gets through this and once again finds herself among her squirrel friends, digging up nuts, chattering at dogs, and jumping from limb to limb in an oak tree. These things are, after all, her birthright.

coyote in leghold trap
MA coyote in un-anchored leghold trap.

In the past week Animal Help Now has been involved with an owl rescue in flooded South Carolina, a coyote in an unanchored and illegal leghold trap in Massachusetts, an infant wild hog rescued from a Texas slaughterhouse, and an injured duck in MO.

And these are just the ones we know about, because they came to us by phone or Facebook.

We are heartened that AHNow is becoming part of the wildlife emergency landscape. It can’t happen soon enough! The app continues to get scores of visits every day, in ever-increasing numbers.

Still, there’s no easy way for us to get details on the hundreds of times AHNow is used each week. This is why it’s all the more important for you to take David’s lead and tell us your Animal Help Now story.

Note: Animal Help Now is easy to find on the web and in the Apple and Android stores. For instructions on downloading Animal Help Now to your iPad, click here.