Death and Deception in Steamboat Springs

On December 27, Colorado Parks and Wildlife killed a juvenile male mountain lion in Steamboat Springs ostensibly because he was fearless and preyed upon a family’s dog.

I say “ostensibly” because I really can’t rely on Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to tell me the truth. And although I despair at saying this, I can’t count on the media to do so, either.

In the case of CPW, communications are very carefully crafted to further the agency’s hunting and fishing goals and to maintain the illusion that there’s a firm line distinguishing humans from the other animals on the planet.

As to the media, they’re simply not serving their historical role as protectors of democracy and watchdogs of government. They thrive on conflict, they are politically and monetarily influenced, and the role of editing and cautious reporting has been virtually eliminated by the 24/7 news cycle.

CPW’s media release on the tragedy is really quite telling for a reader with a critical eye. Certainly the most galling element of it is the use of the word “euthanasia” to describe the killing of the lion. Euthanasia (Greek: easy death) is the act or practice of killing individuals who are hopelessly sick or injured. The common synonym is “mercy killing”. It doesn’t take a critical eye to see that this killing was not done to a sick or injured animal, nor did it involve mercy.

Perhaps as appalling was CPW’s contention, right there in the headline of the release, that the mountain lion was “fearless”. Really?? Who’s to say? Perhaps he was terribly scared. That sort of wild assertion is reckless for an agency that claims to be science based.

permission to use this image, but we don't care. This is the last known photo of this beautiful animal.
This is the last known photo of this beautiful animal, who doesn’t seem to be at all “fearless”, the term applied to him by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

But the Steamboat Pilot played right along. The lead: Maison was a sweet, crazy, lovable and protective dog for the Kortas family of Steamboat Springs.

What? As opposed to the vicious killing machine? For all we know, the mountain lion was sweet, crazy, lovable and protective, too.

But wait. There’s more.

When the release was written, CPW knew the mountain lion was male, but the agency, as usual, used “it” rather than “he” (or “she”) to refer to the animal. This isn’t a small point when viewed in light of the larger issue here.

There’s also CPW’s near-hysterical language. The area wildlife manager is quoted by CPW as stating, “Our priority is human safety. Small children in the area and the animals [sic] unwillingness to relocate demonstrated profound risk.”

I wish they’d have said more about that profound risk, because to my knowledge, only three people have been killed by mountain lions in Colorado over the past 100 years, and only one of them was not an adult. Mountain lions aren’t interested in humans as prey.

I’m almost done.

CPW’s media release failed to mention two substantial facts:

  • The family left the dog outside alone for an hour.
  • The family’s house apparently borders mountain lion habitat. According to a Steamboat resident, “They are the last house in Brooklyn, backing up to the entire Emerald [Mountain Park], and have only one neighbor.” This resident goes on to say, and we completely agree, “It’s a sad day when we lose a pet, but living on the edge of town, and next to such a large open space, encounters with nature should be expected.”

And of course both the Steamboat Pilot and the Denver Post, and probably every other media outlet that carried the story, simply regurgitated CPW’s contention that the killing of the mountain lion was euthanasia.

For what it’s worth, I have asked the Denver Post reporter and her editor to be more careful with their use of the term “euthanasia” and to be more diligent in their roles as guardians of the language.

As to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, if the agency truly believes killing a mountain lion who has killed a dog is justifiable, then let’s call it just that – we killed him – and do away with the disingenuous language.

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.

“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.

The Cost of Effective Advocacy (It’s Pretty Good News)

I’ve been involved in more than a few exchanges on this topic – especially of late, as there’s a movement afoot to quantify and normalize the effectiveness of advocacy efforts so that a person can say “this organization impacts this many lives for this much money.”

I have serious concerns about the methodology and the language of this endeavor, as well as the virtually impossible task of quantifying intangibles such as how much an organization might raise public awareness on an issue or inspire individuals to act. And I’m mortified by the current endgame, the declaration that “all donor dollars should go to this organization because it impacts the most lives” – I do applaud the effort, for at the very least if done right it will provide another way to measure the effectiveness of advocacy organizations.

I’ll probably go deeper into this effort another time. For now, I bring up the cost of effective advocacy because it’s front and center for Animal Help Now. We’re at the end of our first online fundraiser of the year. We’ve secured the promised matching funds, and we have less than $2000 to go before midnight, Weds, 9/30. We need your support.screen568x568

Effective Advocacy
Animal Help Now is the world’s first reliable nationwide service a person can use to get help with a wildlife emergency. As many of you know, in Colorado and Texas AHNow also provides help for any domestic animal emergency.

The program is being used about 10,000 times a year. That’s a lot of lives saved and suffering reduced.

The Cost
We keep it low. Of our 30 staff members, 24 are
volunteers, together contributing on average more than 200 hours per month. Corporate partners provide services such as legal counsel and accounting expertise free of charge. Everyone works from home or at a coffee shop, so we have very little overhead.

But the cost includes paying our staff a living wage. It ensures we keep our data current, innovate with our software and get the word out on our lifesaving program.

expense pie chart

Animal Help Now is built for expansion. Canada in 2016? Why not? Domestic animal emergency functionality across the United States? Why not?!

Animal Help Now was created educate, inspire and empower. Of course building windows can be more bird friendly. Of course roads can be safer for wildlife.

Of course we can create a world in which we can act upon our compassion at all times. Imagine not being the only person to stop to help an injured animal by the side of the road. We won’t be alone because people will know what to do and will be empowered to do it.

Have You Hugged a Wildlife Rehabilitator Today?

I used to really really really like thunderstorms. Thoroughly immersed myself in them. Unmitigated enjoyment. Drenching rain. Flash-count-Bang!

And then of course I adopted a few animals who not only didn’t share my enthusiasm but who became downright terrified as the distant, pounding storms swept in. Somehow I managed to live 40-plus years not knowing that my favorite weather was so unpleasant for so many. The feeling now is far from exhilaration, but I do hold on to a thread of thunderstorm joy.

Spring and summer are like that for many of the tens of thousands of people across the world who devote themselves to wildlife rehabilitation. Where once the arrival of these seasons carried wonder and adventure and unlimited possibility, their arrival now carries a very heavy weight.

You see, spring and summer are the busy seasons for wildlife emergency professionals – and for domestic animal emergency personnel, as well. Babies are born. Wildlife is on the move. People are on the move, too – traveling, trimming trees, letting out the cats and dogs. This combination of activities bodes poorly for our wild friends. And for domestic animals, too.

Take black-tailed prairie dogs, as a particularly poignant example. Each May or June, the juvenile males leave their coteries, in search of a new home. Prairie dogs used to move in synergy with bison, the woolly mammals grazing down grasses, the prairie dogs moving in, aerating the soil and enriching the plant life. And on and on it went. For thousands of years. Starting long before there was a May or a June.

And then the West was “won.” And everything changed. The bison are gone, and prairie dog colonies now are mere relics of what they once were. Sliced and diced, fragmented and isolated by roads, malls and waaaaaaayyyyy too much land being used in what surely is the world’s most inefficient food system – raising crops to feed animals to feed people.

What wasn’t lost is the ancient urge that compels juvenile black-tailed prairie dog males to move on. Off they go, into a hostile world. Some get lucky and find a new home. Many – most? – end up killed on roads, lost in labyrinthine subdivisions, or taken out by predators during their futile, exhausting search for a new place to call home.

The ones who survive the car strikes or the days in a window well are taken to our friends, the wildlife rehabilitators. And the rehabilitators, if they have room and license, do their best to get the animals nursed and doctored back to health and eventually returned to the wild.

Every time I see a hug-a-hunter television commercial, I think no, I’d rather hug a wildlife rehabilitator. These dedicated people are almost all volunteers. It’s illegal in fact to charge a fee to take an animal into rehabilitation. In all 50 states and DC, if I’m not mistaken.baileyneedperm2

Some rehabilitation facilities are incorporated as nonprofits, which gives them a better chance to treat more animals and at least a decent chance at sustainability.

But most rehabilitators work at home, as volunteers, making themselves available to the public, but more importantly to the robins, the rabbits, the turtles and the raccoons whose very lives depend on these caregivers.

And there are other unheralded helpers. The veterinary professionals who allow injured wildlife to be brought to their clinics. The hotline volunteers, who go through training every year and do their best to help people who are dealing with wildlife emergencies.

I suddenly realize I’m in over my head here. I can’t begin to tell you the trials endured by wildlife emergency professionals. Funding issues, space issues, zoning issues, come-get-this-animal-I-don’t-have-time-to-bring-him-to-you issues. Rehabilitators are the ones who administer the euthanasia fluid to the bat who just is not going to make it, to the broken winged goose, otherwise perfectly healthy, who according to state regulations must be killed because she will never fly again and can’t be returned to the wild. Rehabilitators are the ones who ensure the baby raccoons in their care get fed precisely every two hours, 24/7.useneo and trin getting a litle bigger (3)

The geese, the prairie dogs, the bats – they of course pay the ultimate price for this world made so hostile to them by human hands. But wildlife emergency professionals themselves pay a very high price. The unrelenting workload, the heartbreaking losses, and the ignorant or apathetic public.

Of course it’s not lost on me that wildlife rehabilitators also get to see the best in people, and they get to observe, occasionally laugh at, and learn from their charges. And they get the satisfaction, certainly sometimes exhilaration, that accompanies the return home of a successfully rehabilitated animal.

My hope for wildlife rehabilitators is that they feel appreciated for their work, that they see changes in society that indicate people are wanting to live more harmoniously with wildlife, that they train and pass on their knowledge to a successor, and that they forever hold on to at least a thread of the joy nearly all of us know or once knew with the coming of spring.

In the meantime, enjoy the off-season, my friends. (I know, I know. You’ll be busy with related matters.) But thank you. Thank you, thank you for yet another job well done.

 

Every Animal Deserves Access to Emergency Care

It’s a beautiful morning in the summer of 2008 and I’m driving with a friend and her two dogs on Highway 12 into Crested Butte, Colorado, after an overnight at the Lake Irwin Campground.

There’s activity in the road ahead, in the shadow of overhanging trees. I slow down. It’s animals. Birds. Small ones. On the road.

Reaching the scene, I see two young birds flitting about the flattened bodies of three others.

I pull over, grab a towel from the trunk and quickly survey the situation. Two of the dead are adults – likely the parents. The other is young and, like the survivors, probably the offspring of the adult pair.

The pummeled bodies indicate this scene has been playing out for several hours. The fledglings are panicked and exhausted. They’ve been dodging the vacation traffic for some time, moving back and forth from the side of the road to the bodies, their parents the only touchstone they have ever known.

Despite my cautious approach, one of the fledglings keels over, dead. Thankfully, I capture the other and get her safely into my car.

As would be the case with so many of you at this moment, my sadness at the tragedy is matched by my resolve to do my best to help the little survivor tucked into a towel in my lap.

She deserves a chance to fledge, a chance to fly. She deserves it especially because her siblings never will. Especially because her parents likely died in an attempt to save her life.

Especially because this tragedy is the result of a road being built through her neighborhood by my forebears. Because this tragedy is played out a million times a day on roads throughout this country, and people don’t even slow down.

Especially because flying is her birthright, a compact with this planet’s inconceivably complex and lengthy evolutionary history to take her hollow bones airborne, above and through the aspen, spruce and pine. To bask in the warm alpine summers and cuddle up with a partner through the cold white winters. To raise a family of her own.

I spend the next hour in Crested Butte looking for help, which is difficult enough without my traveling companion holding firm to the idea we should have “let nature take its course,” notwithstanding my objections that nature doesn’t build roads through a forest and drive SUVs.

I finally track down a veterinarian at a gym. She probably needs a healing workout as much as I need help with a bird, but she acquiesces and agrees to meet me at her clinic. There, she takes the bird and promises to do her best to care for her. And I drive away.

That was kind of the trigger for me on this whole Animal Help Now thing. I’m one of those people whom injured and distressed animals throw themselves in front of. If you’re one, too, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve probably encountered 60 animal emergencies during my 25 years in Colorado. Ducklings stranded in the median on Highway 36. A prairie dog lost and imperiled in urban Boulder. An injured butterfly on the road in Coal Creek Canyon. A cat on a telephone pole in the alley behind my house. An injured, scared dog running loose for weeks in my neighborhood and the surrounding open spaces. A rattlesnake on Highway 93 near Golden. An injured goose, a poisoned pigeon, a paralyzed squirrel.

Photo of author
Dave and his beloved Sadie.

When I was in or near Boulder, I pretty much knew where to go for help when I encountered these emergencies. Though of course in some cases, you do your best on your own. I’ll tell you the rattlesnake story another time. It has a happy ending.

When I was away from Boulder, however, I had no idea what to do with most of the animal emergencies I encountered. And this little bird in Crested Butte was the proverbial straw.

The lack of an emergency, 911-type service for animals – and for wildlife, in particular – was even more evident at my day job, working with Rocky Mountain Animal Defense. Almost every day we would get calls from people who were trying to help with this or that animal emergency.

And here they were, seeking guidance from the person who’d tracked down a vet in a gym. Sure, it worked for me, but not everyone has that kind of compulsion or time, or luck.

The fact is – and I’m confessing I didn’t know this, despite my position working in the upper levels of an animal advocacy organization – there are a lot of resources available for people who need help with injured ducks and orphaned rabbits, distressed deer, even stranded dolphins. Not enough, mind you, but a lot.

Thousands of home-based wildlife rehabilitators dot the United States from coast to coast, each tending to wildlife emergencies in her or his backyard. More than 250 wildlife rehabilitation centers can be found throughout the country, with one in DC and at least one in 46 of the states. Thousands of veterinary clinics treat at least some types of wildlife. Marine animal hotlines cover the entire US coastline, and well over a dozen wildlife hotlines cover areas ranging from cities such as Dallas to entire states.

So there it is: A massive community of people looking for help with wildlife emergencies, and a substantial community of people who can provide such help, … and no apparent service to connect the two.

Or there it was. Because that’s what Animal Help Now does – It connects people who need help with wildlife emergencies with people who can provide help with wildlife emergencies. Coast to coast. In many cases, 24/7.

In Colorado and Texas, Animal Help Now also covers the full range of domestic animal emergencies, directing you to help when you find a lost pet, need an emergency vet, witness animal abuse, etc.

Animal Help Now also helps you prepare for animal emergencies, determine if an animal really needs your help, properly capture and transport animals, etc.

I’m thrilled to have played a role in creating this service, and I have about 1000 things I look forward to sharing with you in this blog, including:

  • The latest Animal Help Now rescues and updates
  • Tips on living better with wildlife, including making your windows bird-friendly and being prepared for the next vehicle-injured animal you encounter
  • Animal Help Now smartphone app super-user tips

On behalf of the whole team here at Animal Help Now, thank you for reading. We are excited to have you along for the ride.