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.

Watch your step! In 2018 more than ever.

It’s a cold, sunny day, and you’re strolling alone on a sidewalk in an unfamiliar neighborhood in an unfamiliar town. Enjoying the new sights and sounds, you don’t notice the black ice patch until it’s too late. You hear your forearm break as you hit the frozen concrete. You cry out.

The fracture is compound. There’s a new bend just above your wrist. The pain hasn’t yet hit, but you feel sick.

The sound of hurried footsteps offers some relief, as you try to breathe and gather your thoughts.

You look up to see a person quickly approaching. He looks a bit panicked and before you can warn him, he too slips on the ice. Thankfully he isn’t hurt and is quickly back on his feet, but when he sees your injury he gets woozy and takes a knee.

Another person arrives. This one is a bit circumspect. She too kneels next to you, but her countenance is one of calm and concern. She looks you in the eye and asks if you have injured anything other than your arm. Thankfully, you don’t think so.

She then removes her coat and wraps it around your shoulders. She directs her attention to the other person, asks him if he’s OK, tells him to take some deep breaths and then directs him to attend to you while she gets her car.

Now, in case you haven’t guessed, this is a bit of a parable. In the context of Animal Help Now, it can be read rather literally, which is to say if you come upon an emergency, keep your head. But I mean it also in a larger sense.

Person walking with AHNow logo
AHNow: Dispassionate, Considered, Expert.

An argument that the entire world is in a state of emergency is fairly easy to make (wars, famine, ocean plastic, catastrophic climate change, etc.). As to Animal Help Now’s particular corner of the world – the interface between humans and individual wild animals – this argument is easier still. Billions of wild animals are injured or killed in the United States alone every year, from cat and dog attacks, window strikes, vehicle strikes, etc. And as humans continue to leave their mark on the planet, wildlife impacts still do not factor in as they should. Witness this deliberate construction of a bird death trap.

Your broken arm is best addressed through dispassionate, considered, expert care. Helping a bird injured in a window strike is best addressed through dispassionate, considered, expert care. Helping address the myriad and increasing anthropogenic threats to wildlife is best accomplished through dispassionate, considered, expert care.

While concern for others is the font of so many good acts and good efforts, untempered it can lead to incautious and inexpert action.

Which is all simply to say, to those of you who act on your concern for others, please join Animal Help Now in our pledge to do our best in 2018. Watch your step! Those “others” are counting on us like never before.

Happy New Year!

There’s a 911 for Wildlife, So Why Aren’t More People Using It?

People who encounter injured or distressed wildlife often don’t know where to turn for help. Some go straight to 911. Some call their vet. Others call a national animal advocacy group or search the web for help.

There’s really only one place to go, though. And that of course is AnimalHelpNow.org (AHNow.org, for short). None of the other options is consistently effective. Not one. (For a comparison of AHNow against other approaches, click here.)

But Animal Help Now is a long way from being a part of the public consciousness the way 911 is for human emergencies. People will be visiting unhelpful websites or calling vets and animal orgs and law enforcement dispatch – and getting unacceptable assistance – for the foreseeable future.

injured squirrel
Every minute can matter during an emergency.

Now, this isn’t an intractable problem. In fact, AHNow educates vet clinics, animal orgs, law enforcement dispatch and wildlife emergency professionals about how to use AHNow so they can in fact effectively assist people who visit their websites or call them about injured or distressed wildlife.

Our latest effort in this regard is a six-minute video showing how to use Animal Help Now as a referral tool. This video is a must-see for anyone who fields wildlife emergency calls.

Do you know someone who works for a vet clinic, an animal advocacy organization, an animal shelter, a wildlife rehabilitation center, or an animal control or law enforcement dispatch agency? If so, please share this post or the video with them.

In doing so, not only will you save lives and reduce animal suffering, you also will help these people do their jobs better and help increase awareness about Animal Help Now among the U.S. public.

Knowing how to use Animal Help Now in a referral capacity is useful even for your everyday average member of the public, especially those of us who care about wildlife, because one day the phone may ring, with a friend contacting you for help with an injured wild animal.

Watch the video.

 

When the Police Do the Wrong Thing

On Monday of this week, in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, a police officer stopped at the scene of a wildlife emergency. A mildly injured raccoon stood by the side of the road.

A compassionate person already had pulled over to try to help. Elizabeth had been there for several minutes and was at a loss as to what to do. “The raccoon extended his injured paw to me, as if asking for help,” she said. “I called every number I could think of.”

Her relief at seeing the police officer arrive was quickly replaced by fear, as he told her something to the effect of “raccoons have no value” and asked her to leave so that he could shoot the animal.

She complied with his request. And, according to reports, this mildly injured raccoon, for whom help was available at a wildlife rehabilitation center just 20 minutes away, was indeed killed.

Mercilessly. Unnecessarily. Raccoon babies

And probably leaving behind friends or a mate; possibly also dependent young, who would in turn likely die, and not without suffering. We’ll never know.

Elizabeth was unaware of Animal Help Now when she pulled over to help the raccoon. Now she’s familiar with us, though. And the next time she encounters an animal who needs help, she’ll open the Animal Help Now app and avail herself the best available list of local helpers, giving the raccoon or the squirrel or the bird, or whomever it is Elizabeth is assisting, her best chance of surviving.

As to the powers that be in Fitchburg, we are encouraging people to contact the mayor and the chief of police to ask that all Fitchburg first responders be trained in appropriately managing wildlife emergencies.Fitchburg WI Police badge

Mayor Steve Arnold:
Steve.Arnold@fitchburgwi.gov, (608) 278-7700

Police Chief Thomas Blatter:
Thomas.Blatter@fitchburgwi.gov, (608) 270-4300

We’ve posted a video on this incident on our YouTube channel. It contains no graphic images, but it does contain a 20-second recording of Elizabeth’s voicemail to a local wildlife emergency professional, which some people may find disturbing due to the despair and desperation in her voice.

Click here to watch the video.

It wouldn’t hurt to contact law enforcement and first responders in your area to find out how they trained to deal with wildlife and domestic animal emergencies.

Any US Wildlife Emergency – from Anywhere: The Long Arm of Animal Help Now

The Dallas/Fort Worth Wildlife Coalition Hotline receives dozens of calls every day. While the hotline volunteers can handle most of those, they do receive numerous inquiries from outside their service area. After all, people find the hotline through web searches, and so the calls do come in from Portland to Portland, and points in between.

Sometimes the hotline staff can dispense with such out-of-area calls quickly: “Because the fawn’s mother is close by, and the fawn is not in obvious danger, you should leave the fawn alone.”

Other out-of-area calls require more work. And when a hotline staffer needs to find a rehabber in another area – say Portland, Maine – he or she is trained to use Animal Help Now to do just that.

It’s easy. The staffer simply opens AnimalHelpNow.org, enters the caller’s address in the You Are Here box, and clicks Wildlife Issue.

YouAreHere

Of course, if the caller has web access, the hotline staffer can simply give the caller the Animal Help Now web address.

As with other hotlines and many rehabilitation centers, the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline provides the Animal Help Now URL on its outgoing message.

Pretty nifty. Especially when compared with the alternative.

Now we just need to get this tool into as many hands as possible.

Please help us spread the word. Share this post with your neighborhood vet clinic, any municipal or county officials you know, and of course with your area wildlife rehabilitation centers. We’ll take care of the rest.

Animal Help Now’s referral functionality is covered in its webinar for animal emergency professionals. The next scheduled webinar is December 7, 2015. Click here for more information. To view previously recorded webinars, visit our YouTube channel.

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.