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.

“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.”