Helping Wildlife During Hurricane Michael and Beyond

With Hurricane Michael hammering the Florida Panhandle and surrounding areas, we’re facing yet another harsh reminder of the fragility of life. We know you join Animal Help Now in our hopes that those in the hurricane’s path can make it to safety and ensure that their dependents do, too.

Sadly, we were reminded just last month that many animals are simply left to die, including not only dogs and cats, and fishes in aquariums, but also and on a much, much larger scale, pigs and chickens and other “food” animals, whose anonymity dooms them.

As to wild animals and wild places, even with their millions of years of evolutionary toughening-up, many can offer no contest to the violence of today’s storms.

Great Blue Heron killed in Hurricane Harvey.
Many shorebirds seeking shelter in local wetlands, like this great blue heron, were devastated by storm surge in Hurricane Harvey (Port Aransas, TX). Many of those who were found alive and rescued were taken to the Texas Sealife Center for medical attention and rehabilitation. Photo: Tim Tristan.
Rescued green sea turtles.
Green sea turtles transported to the Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi after Hurricane Harvey. More than 50 sea turtles were housed and cared for at the facility. Photo: Tim Tristan.

The climate is changing, and the impacts are larger and coming at us faster than almost anyone predicted. As the International Panel on Climate Change reported last week, we need to act now, as in now, as in right now. Today.

As to today: at Animal Help Now, we recognize the huge role that human food systems play in climate change. Choosing to eat lower on the food chain is perhaps the single most important thing a person can do each day to positively impact the climate. When we farm to feed humans directly instead of farming to feed cows and pigs and chickens to then feed to humans, we use less fossil fuel and we require less farmland. I can almost hear a rainforest saying, Thank you.

Inundated factory farm.
Millions of chickens and thousands of pigs suffered terribly and died during Hurricane Florence. This is about as close as cameras are allowed. Photo: USA Today.

What’s that, coral reef? Plant-based diets also benefit coral reefs, not only from a global warming perspective, but also by rejecting factory fishing and its concomitant destruction of marine biodiversity.

Discarded fishing line and nets alone are reason enough for Animal Help Now to exist.

Brown pelican.
Through the unparalleled devastation of Hurricane Harvey, some animals remained resilient. Here, a surviving brown pelican. Photo: Tim Tristan.
Bunnies orphaned during Hurricane Harvey.

But the maelstrom of human misbehavior has much larger consequences, as we are now witnessing in the Gulf.

This week Animal Help Now has been busy ensuring our list of wildlife experts in and around the Florida Panhandle is up to date so we can best serve people who encounter wildlife in need as the storm moves through.

Of course, most area wildlife rehabilitators have rightfully left for higher ground, serving as a final jolting reminder that each of us needs to act today to mitigate the severity of storms of the future. If we don’t, we’ll all soon find ourselves in a constant state of retreat.

Use Animal Help Now (website, iPhone app, Android app) to find assistance right now for injured or distressed wildlife.

“History repeats itself.” I coined that!

People advocate for animals in so many different ways, but ever popular is the protest. Make some signs. Alert the media. Congregate. Educate.

Actually, protests went out of favor following 9/11. If you were objecting to pretty much anything happening in the United States, you were labeled anti-American. No surprise that the media played along.

But protests are back. And that’s a good thing.

What’s not so good is that young advocates – certainly in the animal rights movement but probably in many movements – fail to avail themselves of the knowledge and experience of those who stood on protest lines before them. And to some extent, that those who have gone before fail to share their wisdom with their successors.

Not that the predecessors were infallible. Far from it. They made many mistakes. That’s the idea here. Let’s learn. Let’s register our lessons. Here are a couple.

Focus on the Common. If I’m an animal counting on you to free me, and you’re letting some petty disagreement with a colleague consume your time and focus and energy… well, thanks but no thanks. You’re failing.

Remember that handy fact we activists have wielded so consistently to advance our cause – the fact that humans and chimpanzees share 96% of their DNA? In the animal activism world, two people can share 96% of their philosophies, but the 4% that divides them – say one believes feral cats should be trapped and killed and the other believes feral cats should be trapped, neutered and released – this 4% is all too often what’s focused on. To the point where those two activists may never speak to one another again.

Do you understand what I’m saying? If we want people to focus on our 96%, we better learn to focus on the 96%.

Share the Wisdom. A recently created advocacy organization held a four-hour protest last weekend regarding a municipality’s plan to kill prairie dogs. That’s a good thing to protest. But four hours is too long. It spreads thin the turnout, which makes less of an impact in whatever media coverage they get. Plus it burns out the activists.

Love. Participants also engaged in unpleasant exchanges with passersby. That’s not what the animals need. They need constructive exchanges. It’s pretty obvious when someone is trying to provoke a protester. It’s the protester’s job to not engage. It’s the organizer’s job to ensure the protesters know this.

Think Big (Picture). Animal advocacy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And the roots of animal suffering feed many other injustices. Poverty. Environmental racism. Habitat loss… The best hope for the animals is that we advocates recognize this. It’s tremendously empowering. Ours are not voices in the wilderness, after all.

Fortunately, many good books have been written on effective advocacy. Here‘s a nice selection.

What did us older activists learn from decades of prairie dog advocacy? A lot. Way too much to go into here. But we do need to organize that information and get it in front of the right people.

It’s time for the animal rights movement to grow up. It’s time for each of us to do a little accounting and figure out what we can do better. So many animals have suffered because of our hubris and ineptitude. That has to stop. We’re better than that. And our cause is just!

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.

 

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.”

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.

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.