A hidden crisis, an abundance of opportunity

(They’re safe.) 

Another baby/busy season is well under way, and again we at Animal Help Now are deluged with reminders that even in an age of increasing appreciation for wildlife, the critical work of wildlife rehabilitation remains woefully under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded. 

You’re a young raccoon in the State of New York (not that you’d call it that), and you’re out for the night with your mom and sibs, learning to find food. You come upon a roaring river, but there’s no water. Just a lot of lights and dark masses zooming by. Mom is being extremely cautious in getting you across. She waits and waits, and then she goes. But – no! – she shrieks and is violently taken by a dark mass that roars by so close you could touch it. You see her far away. She is struggling to move. She’s crying. You and your sisters go to her even though it’s not safe. But the dark masses keep coming and they strike. They strike your sisters. They strike your mother. And now none of them are moving. Mom is not moving.

She is gone. They are all gone.

You stay close, by the side of the road. The violent masses continue to roar past. You’re filled with fear, you’re dizzy, disoriented. You stay there hoping somehow something will change. You have never felt alone or scared, and now this is all you feel.

At some point the sky lightens and one of the masses slows to a stop. Something scoops you up, bundles you, and then you are carried off on a roar for who knows where, … 

If you’re this raccoon – again, this is just a very small sample of what’s happening around the country and world every day – the chances right now are very good that your life is over, that you may feel a few loving hands, but eventually you’ll hear soft voices, and then you’ll feel a short sharp pain and then your world will end.

Every day right now in New York perfectly healthy orphaned raccoons are killed not by motor vehicles, but by people who are trained to save lives. That’s because the facilities that are equipped to rehabilitate these youngsters – preparing them for life in the wild and then releasing them when they’re ready – are almost all at capacity. They cannot take more animals. And that’s because of (a) human activities result in so many wildlife injuries and deaths and (b) wildlife rehabilitation is under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded.

Some people will use the term euthanasia to name the killing of a healthy orphaned raccoon under these circumstances. I won’t. Though it is better to have the animal killed than to release her into the woods to fend for herself.

These are terrible options, and they exist only because wildlife rehabilitation gets short shrift while wildlife agencies focus their attention on the hunting and fishing dollar.

The two babies pictured here? Let’s call them lucky, with an asterisk. And the asterisk is the two loving hands they landed in belong to Diane W. Diane is a former wildlife rehabilitator, and she’s more resourceful and diligent than most of us. 

When Diane ended up with these guys, she accessed AHNow to find help. None of the nearest rehabilitators could help her. They either were full, or they weren’t equipped/trained to accept raccoons. She used our animal filter, selecting Small Mammal, which removes from the results all rehabilitators who don’t accept small mammals and also extends our app’s search radius. Again, everyone she called was either full or, despite being able to accept small mammals, was not equipped/trained to accept raccoons.

Diane had pushed our service pretty close to the limit. What she really needed was a list of all raccoon rehabilitators in the State of New York. (For what it’s worth, transferring raccoons across state lines is illegal in most if not all states.)

Diane did the smart thing and contacted us directly. We want the public to contact us if they need us, but only after they exhaust the excellent self-service options we provide.

We produced and provided Diane with a list of rehabbers in New York that may be willing and able to accept baby raccoons.

Diane found one, and these little ones are now in good hands.

At AHNow we’ll be taking a close look at Diane’s experience as we develop our next generation user interface.

One more thing. Diane’s no longer rehabbing. She is terminally ill. Doctors have given her just a year to live.

We’re hoping Diane, like the little ones she saved here, defies the odds. We are so grateful to her and so many others like her who do or have done their best to leave this world better than they found it.

If you care to help cover the costs of transportation ($200), please click here. (Enter “raccoon” or “Diane” in the Donor Note.) Anything we raise above that amount will either will go toward something to thank Diane for all she has done and continues to do for our wild friends or will be donated at Diane’s direction to support wildlife emergency services.

High-Tech Wildlife 911

This article was originally published in New Mexico Vegan.

Think fast. Your neighbor’s cat has injured a bird. You’ve managed to scare off the cat, and now it’s just you and the bird, who’s dazed and bleeding slightly.

What do you do?

Many of you know the answer. And not only do you how to get to your local wildlife rehabilitation center, you also have the center’s phone number on speed dial, just in case.

But what if you’re out of town and away from your known resources?

Or what if you’ve encountered an animal that your local center won’t accept – say, an injured bobcat, perhaps?

Animal Help Now is the country’s first wildlife emergency application. It’s available for free on the internet at www.AnimalHelpNow.org (www.AHNow.org, for short) and as both an Android and iPhone app.

Think of Animal Help Now as a high-tech wildlife 911.

Injured Wildlife

You open the app and tap Wildlife Emergency. The app quickly lists the contact information for the nearest wildlife emergency professionals. You tap a phone number, and you’re on your way. It’s that easy.

The list of helpers includes state-licensed wildlife rehabilitators, federally licensed wildlife rehabilitators, wildlife rescues and hotlines, and – in many states, including New Mexico – government agencies that may assist with wildlife emergencies. (If you see orphaned ducklings frantically running along a highway, for instance, you will want a sheriff or state patrol.)

Some of you at this point “get it”. You’ve encountered injured or distressed wildlife, and you know that at that moment nothing is more important than finding the right help right away.

You may be like me, in that animals in need tend to throw themselves into your path. I’ve helped scores of injured and distressed wild animals, especially since moving to Colorado in 1991. Rattlesnakes, pigeons, geese, mice, voles, prairie dogs, … Even a red-tailed hawk.

I used to carry a golf club to euthanize animals whom I could not otherwise help. A snake with a broken spine on a long, hot stretch of eastern Colorado road comes to mind. I didn’t know what else to do.

I actually still carry the club, just in case, but I no longer struggle to find assistance if it is indeed available. I’ve used Animal Help Now dozens of times since we created it. The club? Not once.

It was not just my personal experience that revealed to me the need for an easy-to-use animal emergency app. (And, yes, in its first incarnation and actually up until last year, Animal Help Now could also be used for domestic emergencies – including cats, dogs, cows, chickens and pigs.) My professional experience clearly confirmed the need. As long-time executive director of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, a now-defunct (but very effective in its time) Colorado-based animal rights organization, I saw day-in and day-out that people who encounter animals in need do not know what to do to help. They just don’t know.

And even my colleagues and I in the RMAD office would often have to do a lot of legwork to help out if people were calling us from outside our Front Range comfort zone.

Some significant anthropogenic threats to wildlife, such as catastrophic climate change and conversion of wildlife habitat to human use, are essentially outside the purview of Animal Help Now. The animals we are able to help are those who people encounter in their day-to-day lives: the bird who hits a window, the baby rabbit injured by the neighbor’s dog, the raccoons by the side of the road whose mother has been killed by a car.

Here are some startling statistics, though we do note that the second and third figures are the subject of significant variation:

  • One billion birds are estimated to be killed in window strikes in the United States each year. A billion is a hard number to imagine, so, as difficult as it may be to believe, a billion a year is 30 fatal window strikes per second.
  • About four times that many are killed by cats and dogs.
  • About a half billion are killed by motor vehicle strikes.

The number of animals injured from these same causes is likely in the billions, as well.

It is no wonder that usage of Animal Help Now has doubled nearly every year since we launched. Last year we assisted in an estimated 26,000 emergencies.

Animal Help Now is but one component of the field of wildlife emergency response and treatment. This community includes wildlife rehabilitators and veterinary professionals, and the people who support them, including donors, administrative staff and others. In some areas, the wildlife emergency community it includes in-the-field rescuers and wildlife transporters.

Several parts of the country are served by volunteer-based wildlife hotlines. The Dallas/Fort Worth area has an excellent one, as does (jointly) Missouri and Illinois. Many of the coastal stranding and entanglement hotlines are run by volunteers or government agencies. Animal Help Now lists these helpers to users in those areas. If you use our app on any coast anywhere in the United States, you will be given quick access to whichever marine animal hotlines serve that coastline, just in case your emergency involves a sea turtle, a stranded dolphin or even an oil spill.

Animal Help Now has an added benefit for dispatch operators, animal shelters, vet clinics and other entities that occasionally or frequently field wildlife emergency calls. It is our “referral” functionality, which allows a person in one location to help a person in a different location. So if I’m working for New Mexico Wildlife Center in Los Alamos and I get a call from eastern Arizona for help with an injured coyote, I can use Animal Help Now to point the caller to people in her area who can help.

Animal Help Now is a vegan organization. Our policy states:

Animal Help Now respects and promotes respect for all animals. As such, the organization employs a vegan approach to its messaging and purchasing, including food purchased for meetings and events, and in its receipt of donated goods and services.

But as you know all is not well in the world. And as you also know, even if you haven’t articulated it, human-created problems often defy elegant solutions. (“Elegant” here in the sense of ingenious, clean, simple.)

Just today a person telling me about her use of the app said she felt bad about cutting up mealworms to feed to a Carolina wren she had rescued. I wrote back telling her I feel the same way. And I said it hits even closer to home for me in the case of carnivore rehabilitation.

This is where education and prevention enter the picture. The more we work together to mitigate the threats facing wildlife, the better our world will be.

Animal Help Now has an ambitious education program focused on helping humans be better neighbors to wildlife. For instance, on window strikes, did you know that affixing a bird sticker to a window has virtually no deterrent effect on bird flight behavior? The fix is easy, but it’s not quite that simple. See the Resources page on www.AHNow.org for the full story, and for other useful information, such as how to create your own wildlife rescue kit for your car or home.

This year we also completed the launch of our new functionality that directs people who need help with a wildlife conflict – squirrels in the attic, skunks under the porch, etc. – to humane wildlife professionals who can assist.

I encourage you to download our app (search stores for Animal Help Now) and bookmark our website (www.AHNow.org). Please give us a good review, if you’re so inclined. Check us out on social media. And even though we’re mostly volunteers, please consider a donation. You can claim to have been an early investor in the world’s first wildlife 911 system!

Finally, if you want to work for animals in hands-off ways but you don’t know what to do or where to start, please get in touch with us at Animal Help Now. There are about a thousand things that need to be done.

When millions of years of evolution aren’t enough

Yesterday on my way into Boulder on Highway 36 I noticed a person with a net looking through deep grass off the road’s shoulder. I figured she was looking for an animal of some sort, so I stopped to offer my help.

And there was my friend and fellow advocate, Nicole. And sure enough, she was looking for animals – specifically, ducklings. She had been on that stretch of road earlier in the day and saw a mother with eight or nine babies, walking along the shoulder. By the time she could turn around and get back to where they were, the mother and several of the babies had been hit and killed.

Nicole, at the incident scene.
Nicole, at the incident scene.

Like so many thoroughfares, Highway 36, which links the Colorado cities of Denver and Boulder, becomes a gauntlet of death for wildlife each spring and summer.

No safe wildlife crossings are to be found, and those who attempt to cross must navigate 4-6 lanes of incessant traffic. Even birds and foxes and other nimble animals who have adapted to high speed vehicles are likely to die when faced with the reckless driver traveling 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.

At this time of year especially I try not to schedule anything that absolutely positively requires me to be on time. This allows me to keep my eyes open for anyone who has been injured or is trapped along a median, and to stop and try to help when needed.

The Young Housewife poem, William Carlos Williams
This incident brought to mind this poem, for its indictment of silent violence. [Emphasis added for effect.]
I’m not virtue signaling. I don’t relish this in the least. I hate that animals who have evolved over millions of years – even dinosaurs, for Christ’s sake – are getting violently injured and killed by the millions on our roads each year. I hate that their deaths are barely noticed, if noticed at all, by their killers and by passersby. I hate that the person who hits a deer is more concerned about the damage to their vehicle than the pain, the death, the injury they caused, or the fact that the mom or dad or sibling or friend who went out that morning will never be seen again, leaving at best an emptiness that humans can and should understand – and at worst dependent young, robbed of their birthright and sentenced to a frightening and protracted death.

I hate that humans have normalized being in a hurry and that our own evolution has led to an insane separation from nature and an all-costs pursuit of comfort and convenience.

duckling survivor
One of the four survivors, safely away from the road.

Millions of years of evolution will not prepare a vulnerable animal for an encounter with an uncaring human.

Nicole was able to save four of the ducklings, delivering them into the good hands of a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center. Because she cares so deeply, she had returned that afternoon to see if she could find any others who may have survived. After a thorough search, she was packing up when I arrived. She hadn’t found any more ducklings, but she wasn’t leaving empty handed, as she’d picked up some recyclables, likely tossed from vehicles by uncaring humans.

Here’s to you, Nicole, and to all with wide and welcoming circles of compassion. You are this planet’s hope.

Notes
If you encounter a wild animal who needs your help or if you have a “conflict” with wildlife at home or work, use Animal Help Now to find the nearest assistance.
It’s always smart to have a box or carrier of some sort in your vehicle. Click here to see what Animal Help Now recommends for a full rescue kit.
To support Animal Help Now’s work, please visit www.AHNow.org/donate.php.

 

We Did It!

Friends,

A year ago, as we moved into December, Animal Help Now asked for your support for the year ahead, specifically toward our goal of doubling the number of people who use our app.

You delivered, and so did we.

Before this year is out, more than twice the number of people will have used Animal Help Now than did in 2015.

Historical usage

It’s not possible to determine the actual number of emergency uses of our program, but based on our updated analysis, we put that number, for year-to-date 2016, between 1,114 and 20,898. Our analysts are working to tighten up that range.

As to the doubling in usage: In 2015, our platforms hosted 46,400 sessions. So far in 2016, our platforms have hosted 94,847.

Indeed, the number of sessions on Animal Help Now’s four platforms – desktop web, mobile web, iPhone app, Android app – has increased exponentially each year since we launched the program in 2011.

Cedar Hill, TX.
Rue Ann used Animal Help Now to reunite this lost pup with his guardians. Cedar Hill, TX. August 2016.

Connecting thousands of people who need help with an animal emergency with people, businesses, organizations and agencies that can provide that help? Not bad for an organization with total annual expenses of about $100,000.

Can we double our usage again in 2017? We intend to, but we can do so only with your support.

Can we count on you again this year? If you haven’t contributed before, will you please consider adding Animal Help Now to your list of favorite nonprofits?

Animal Help Now is arguably one of the most effective, cost-effective, and innovative animal advocacy organizations in the country.

In just the past few days, Animal Help Now has successfully assisted with:

  • A House Finch trapped in a chimney (Colorado)
  • An electrocuted Great Horned Owl on the ground in a residential neighborhood and unable to fly (Georgia)
  • A domesticated raccoon cruelly released into the wild to fend for herself (Illinois)

Your donation:

  • Helps maintain and improve Animal Help Now’s lifesaving program.
  • Raises awareness of the availability of Animal Help Now.
  • Improves the quality of life for people who care about animals and who are willing to help those in crisis.

Donate text box

With your support, Animal Help Now also raises awareness about the threats leading to animal emergencies and empowers the public to help mitigate those threats.

If you donate through our page on ColoradoGives.org, all processing fees will be waived and a small portion of your gift will be matched through the Colorado Gives program.

This is on top of the leverage your gifts already get from the combination of Animal Help Now’s amazing team of volunteers and the organization’s low overhead.

Please make your tax-deductible donation right now!

Leave injured wildlife alone?! On what planet???

Two writers for the Dear Science section of the Washington Post stated today that injured and “lost” wildlife should be left alone. The authors correctly write that many young animals who appear to be orphaned are simply being left alone while Mom is out getting food or distracting predators. They also correctly state that helping distressed wildlife can be dangerous and should involve professional help.

But somehow they convince themselves that a bird hitting a window is part of a natural process. Their conclusion references a quote by Don Despain, a retired National Parks Service ecologist. Here the authors liken a typical human urban environment with the relatively intact Yellowstone ecosystem:

In nature, an injured animal — say, the bird in your back yard with a broken wing — will become food for a predator — perhaps an owl. The remains that the owl doesn’t eat will go on to feed microbes that fertilize the soil, which in turn gives rise to new plants, which will feed the insects that become a meal for future birds. This whole system is the “wildness” that Despain speaks of. It’s worth thinking about the next time you come across an injured bird.

Rescue scenario of bird injured from window strike
                          Let him suffer and die? No!

Actually, it’s not worth thinking about. That’s time wasted that could be spent trying to save the bird’s life. Here’s our response, published in the comments section:

Dear Science, we couldn’t agree more about the dangers of “kidnapping” young wild animals whose parents are simply out of sight. And we couldn’t agree less about the conclusion you’ve come to regarding letting nature take its course. Prof Daniel Klem states in peer-reviewed literature that about one billion birds are killed by striking windows in the United States each year. Prof Klem estimates that another billion are injured. That’s 30 per second killed, and another 30 per second injured. Surely nature can’t be so out of balance as to benefit from this anthropogenic disaster. Another billion small mammals are killed by cats in this country every year. Two billion birds. And another 500,000 animals are killed in the U.S. every day by motor vehicle strikes. So we should let the millions of survivors suffer and die? No! We should try our best to help them. This country has an amazing network of wildlife emergency professionals who can help us. As you rightly point out, it’s very important to bring them in as soon as possible on an emergency. To help you find them, our nonprofit humbly suggests using our website (AnimalHelpNow.org) or our phone app.

The authors downplay the value of helping individual animals and instead regurgitate the tired assertion that conservation is about populations. Yet we all should know the unfortunate truth that a species’ long-term chance of survival usually depends at least to some degree on a human or group of humans ascribing value to it. Welcome to the Anthropocene, Science.