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.
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.
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.
Before adopting, think carefully about your reasons for wanting to adopt.
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.
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).
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.
* 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.
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.”
The Opossum “Drop ” in North Carolina pits rural folks against people in urban and suburban communities. Advocates would be wise to keep this in mind.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Co-Authored with Kathleen McCurdy, Concerned North Carolina Citizen and Member of Team Millie. Team Millie is a cooperative effort led by Animal Help Now and The Opossum’s Pouch Sanctuary, Rescue and Rehabilitation, seeking year-round protection for opossums in North Carolina.
A young, wild opossum spends hours suspended in a box above a group of New Year’s Eve revelers in a small town in western North Carolina. It’s still a few hours till midnight, at which time she will be lowered to the stage, in a misguided attempt to add a local flavor to New York’s Times Square “ball drop” tradition.
She is no doubt stressed from the cold and rainy weather, the loud music and fireworks, and most importantly the festering wound in her front left leg. According to a veterinarian who later examined and treated her, she would be in this box on this miserable night with a snapped bone in her leg, with blood flow to her foot severely restricted, and with an infection growing in the accompanying flesh wound. Rescuers who later that night got the opossum to safety said they could smell the infection from several feet away.
Although North Carolina law normally prohibits such treatment of wildlife, what is happening to this opossum is legal, because it is the New Year holiday. See, the North Carolina state legislature passed a law several years ago stripping the species of all protections over the New Year, all so that one family could have the go-ahead to continue profiting from a sad and cruel little western NC tradition called the “possum drop.”
It’s almost a year now since the injured and sick opossum was left dangling in the noise and cold for hours above that stage. Thanks to caring people who attended the event just to help the opossum, she received urgent veterinary attention shortly after her ordeal. The shy and gentle animal we now call Millie survived the abuse, though she will never recover from her injury. Her leg was amputated 10 days into the new year, despite her veterinarian’s every attempt to save it.
Millie 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 to see the sad, but not graphic, video of Millie in recovery.
Millie also is slowly learning to trust her caregivers, which is important, as she will live out her life in a wildlife sanctuary, unable to ever return to her woodland home.
It’s worth noting here that publicity for the event states it’s OK for people to enjoy themselves because the animals aren’t harmed. Right.
Compassionate people and animal advocacy organizations have been working for years to put a permanent end to this practice, either legislatively or by convincing the organizers to abandon their anachronistic “fun.” The event has alternately traumatized, injured, and killed animals throughout its 25-year history. The fate of most animals will never be known, because after they’ve been captured, held, and subjected to a raucous crowd, they tend to be simply tossed back into the wild. Some have surely not survived and likely suffered prolonged deaths, including the one who was blinded in one eye during the five-day ordeal before being discarded.
Millie may change all of that. She is the proverbial smoking gun. She is living, surviving proof that what happens at opossum “drops” is anything but good, clean fun.
We are hopeful that Millie’s experience will help North Carolina legislators come to their senses and ensure that what happened to Millie will never happen to another animal. Certainly the appalling treatment of Millie is the reason more than one 150 thousand people signed the petition calling for the repeal of the state’s inane “Be Cruel to Opossums” law.
In the meantime, a member of the Logan family has communicated to us that there will be yet another opossum drop this year in Brasstown.
Euthanasia is defined as a kind death, generally applying to animals outside our own species, mostly to our animal companions, whom we deem to no longer have (or to soon no longer have) an acceptable quality of life, due to injury, illness and/or advanced age. Euthanasia is mercy killing.
Another “eu” word is euphemism, defined as the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.
Euthanasia is often used as a euphemism. An example of the euphemistic use of euthanasia is when a dog or cat is killed because an animal shelter is at capacity. Another is when a black bear is killed for rummaging through human garbage. And another is when a perfectly healthy raccoon or squirrel is killed because (for whatever reason) the animal cannot survive in the wild. (Most US states require wildlife rehabilitators to kill such animals.)
These are not mercy killings. They often are done as humanely as possible, but they are not mercy killings.
People are using euthanasia as a euphemism so often that now we’re starting to see the term humane euthanasia. Please. No.
I’m almost more saddened by humane euthanasia than by the euphemistic use of euthanasia. Almost.
To the quiz. Do the authors of the paragraphs below use the term correctly?
Raccoons are listed in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “furbearer” category, along with red/gray foxes, otters, beavers and bobcats. A permit is required from ODFW in order to capture and euthanize any of these animals on your property. Homeowners can also contact a licensed wildlife control operator to remove and euthanize the animals. Excerpted from What to do about uninvited diggers in the garden.
As soon as it can be determined that sick or injured wildlife is not likely to recover within 180 days, it must be euthanized, unless prior Division approval is given for extended care, provided further, however, that the Division may authorize the transfer of any raptor determined by the Division to be recovered, but non-releasable, to any person in possession of a valid federal permit issued for the express purpose of conducting conservation education. Excerpted from an exemplary (in the second sense of the term) state wildlife agency regulation.
Life was good for everybody until she broke into that building. Who knew there were rules? Humans. Grizzlies have been protected since the 1970s. We have rules about keeping our properties clean, but nobody holds us accountable. “Windfall” paid the price because this time, we didn’t. Our bear resistant garbage cans weren’t locked. We were too proud to install electric fences so Windfall would have been wary. What were we thinking? On the day that officials euthanized Windfall, we cried. Some of us are still crying. Excerpted from Swan Valley residents mourn loss of grizzly bear family.
Quiz Answers: Not one of the above uses the term correctly.
Just the same way we can speak up when we hear humans use animal references to insult one another – They say, So-and-so is a pig! We respond, I’ve never met a pig I didn’t like! – it’s important that we keep ourselves and others honest and mindful about what is a mercy killing and what is not.
Let me be very clear. As a rule, the people who are tasked with the actual killing of healthy animals are not at fault. Shelter workers, wildlife rehabilitators, and veterinarians, among others, end up with the terrible task of killing healthy animals because they’ve stepped forward to do their best to help any animal they can, and they’ve done so in a society that treats animals poorly.
The shelter workers, wildlife rehabilitators, and veterinarians, the sheriff deputies and other law enforcement officers who must shoot the injured deer by the side of the road because they have no options: they are to be thanked and honored, they are to be treated compassionately, they are to be supported, they are to be given access to mental health professionals who can help them deal with the stress and trauma of their work.
Societal changes are required and overdue. We need to value other species much more than we do. We need to treat all animals with respect. We need to work harder to eliminate anthropogenic threats to animals. We need to direct more resources to wildlife rehabilitation, animal shelters, and rescues.
And we need a term for the kind death of an animal who shouldn’t have to be killed. I don’t know what that would be. Humane killing, perhaps? Situational euthanasia?Malthanasia? Dysthanasia? At least according to my dictionary, the term is definitely not euthanasia in and of itself.
When euthanasia is used euphemistically, it is almost always hiding the “unpleasant” fact that human action or inaction or incompetence led to the killing.
Until we face this fact, until we call this spade a spade, the inexcusable killing of healthy animals due to a lack of political will or resources will not receive the public attention it so desperately deserves. It is only through such attention that we will eliminate this gross injustice.