A Tale of Two Rescues


Your first clue that a bird in the road is alive is she’s moving or upright. Last week I was traveling with a friend on a highway in northeastern Iowa. I saw that dreaded “object” on the shoulder ahead, and as we approached I discerned a bird, and then I saw she was upright, just a foot or two from the road.

We pulled over, and with t-shirt in hand I approached her, positioned myself between her and the road, and quickly captured her. A cardinal. Beautiful, she was, with her telltale tuft.

Open your app, I said to my friend – an AHNow supporter. But he had removed it, so we opened it on my phone. The nearest help was across the Mississippi in Wisconsin. The person who answered the phone said she couldn’t accept birds from across state lines.

I examined the results. The nearest Iowa rehabilitator was an hour-and-a-half drive in the wrong direction. The nearest Minnesota rehabilitator was two hours in the right direction. We got back on the road.

And then I noticed the spot of blood on the t-shirt. She was bleeding slightly from her mouth. I googled “emergency vets” but the nearest one was a half hour away, in Minnesota. I called. The receptionist said by law Minnesota veterinarians cannot accept wildlife. We kept driving, unsure of our next move.

IMG_8388o
For more about cardinals, click here.

But then the bird went limp. Her eyes showed no life. She was dead. We pulled over, and I placed her beneath a tree away from the road.

What was her story?, I wondered. Did she have a mate? Had they been together for a year? Two years? Five? Did she have dependent young in the nest she’d built with him? Was he still alive, or had he also been killed on that treacherous path?

And what to make of the experience? Well, first, the Animal Help Now app takes up about as much room on a phone as a few photos do. (My friend had removed the app in a misguided effort to save space. He has since reinstalled it.)

The incident also further confirms what we already know:

  • The world needs more wildlife rehabilitators.
  • States prohibitions against transporting wildlife across state lines should be re-examined.
  • Minnesota should allow veterinarians to treat wildlife (if in fact that’s not already the case).

It’s probably also true that several people chose to drive by that helpless bird, feeling they probably could do nothing. I’m not certain that my intervention didn’t add stress to the bird’s last half hour of life. I can only hope she sensed my intentions.

Less than a week later I had a very different experience. Driving in Colorado Springs on busy Delmonico toward busier Rockrimmon, I noticed a tiny bird in the middle turn lane of the five-lane road. Again, this bird was upright, meaning I should act fast.

I stopped my car, grabbed a cloth napkin that just happened to be within reach, got out and walked carefully toward the little bird, approaching from behind. Somehow all five lanes were quiet. I dropped the napkin over him, picked him up, and walked toward the nearest trees.

He seemed OK. Just young. No sooner had I set him down on the grass a safe distance from the road than his father appeared, landing right next to us. I backed off quickly, seeing his mother also alight as I did. If he can just fly, I thought, things are going to be fine.

(c) Kelly Colgan Azar
The rescued bird was a fledgling yellow-rumped warbler. Photo of adult male, courtesy Kelly Colgan Azar.

I scooted back to my car to get my phone for a picture, but when I returned – not 20 seconds later – everyone was gone. Just a little talk from the trees was all that remained.

It was the perfect rescue. So very very different from the likely outcome had an observant and compassionate person not come along. I didn’t need Animal Help Now on this one. But I probably will on the next.

 

 


Torture, Love and Liberation


I’ve often thought people who support torture should submit to it. Not necessarily to the extent Christopher Hitchins did, but at some level. Stand in a cold shower for five minutes, or tear off a fingernail, or poke your armpit with an exacto-knife.

Of course, these actions hardly simulate torture, because you are in control. But they at least would provide one with a tiny little taste of the physical pain associated with many torture methods.

Pierce your armpit with an exacto-knife, and I’ll put some credence in your support of torture.

tortureIn my early years of animal activism, I developed a fantasy – a common one, turns out – of subjecting people to the same tortures they perpetrated on animals. If you forced animals to live in hopelessly cramped spaces, if you took their children from them, if you forced chemicals into their eyes or down their throats, I imagined doing the same to you.

Somewhere along the way – a good 12 years ago or so – I dropped the fantasy. It wasn’t good for me, carrying around that vengeance. And it wasn’t compatible with my compassion, my reverence for life, my love. And my faith in love, because that’s where my hope lies. In love.Esther the Wonder Pig

If broadcast media are left leaning, if Hollywood is progressive, then why are torture, vengeance and capital punishment the tools/traits of so many of our fictional protagonists?

I can’t begin to answer that question, but I do think that books and TVs and movie screens are too often vehicles for fantasy retribution.

To make matters worse, this constant messaging makes it harder – and all the more important – to separate fact from fiction and to form our values and beliefs on reality.

We need to be able to defend our beliefs and take responsibility for our actions.

Those of us who support torture should be OK when our own troops, friends, family members – our own selves – are tortured. Those of us who do illegal drugs should be OK with people being viciously murdered in Mexico and Central and South America to support the drug trade. Those of us who buy Tide should be OK with putting chemicals in a restrained rabbit’s eyes. Those of us who buy inexpensive goods without regard to labels should be OK with children working in sweatshops. Those of us who sit down to bacon for breakfast should be OK with keeping pigs in crates (which arguably is the same as keeping dogs in crates) and slaughtering them before they reach what would in human years be their teens.

The smart trade of years is wisdom. One of the advantages of getting older is freeing ourselves from fantasies that not only don’t serve us but in fact disserve us – and disserve, or much worse, others.

 

Acknowledgements (paraphrasing here and there)
Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.
Shaw: Tradition will accustom one to any atrocity.
South: Walk a mile in my shoes.
Steve, Derek, and Esther: Esther the Wonder Pig (EstherTheWonderPig.com).
Esther photos: TheThinkingVegan.com, LushUSA.com, HuffingtonPost.ca

 


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.


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.