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.

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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.