A hidden crisis, an abundance of opportunity

(They’re safe.) 

Another baby/busy season is well under way, and again we at Animal Help Now are deluged with reminders that even in an age of increasing appreciation for wildlife, the critical work of wildlife rehabilitation remains woefully under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded. 

You’re a young raccoon in the State of New York (not that you’d call it that), and you’re out for the night with your mom and sibs, learning to find food. You come upon a roaring river, but there’s no water. Just a lot of lights and dark masses zooming by. Mom is being extremely cautious in getting you across. She waits and waits, and then she goes. But – no! – she shrieks and is violently taken by a dark mass that roars by so close you could touch it. You see her far away. She is struggling to move. She’s crying. You and your sisters go to her even though it’s not safe. But the dark masses keep coming and they strike. They strike your sisters. They strike your mother. And now none of them are moving. Mom is not moving.

She is gone. They are all gone.

You stay close, by the side of the road. The violent masses continue to roar past. You’re filled with fear, you’re dizzy, disoriented. You stay there hoping somehow something will change. You have never felt alone or scared, and now this is all you feel.

At some point the sky lightens and one of the masses slows to a stop. Something scoops you up, bundles you, and then you are carried off on a roar for who knows where, … 

If you’re this raccoon – again, this is just a very small sample of what’s happening around the country and world every day – the chances right now are very good that your life is over, that you may feel a few loving hands, but eventually you’ll hear soft voices, and then you’ll feel a short sharp pain and then your world will end.

Every day right now in New York perfectly healthy orphaned raccoons are killed not by motor vehicles, but by people who are trained to save lives. That’s because the facilities that are equipped to rehabilitate these youngsters – preparing them for life in the wild and then releasing them when they’re ready – are almost all at capacity. They cannot take more animals. And that’s because of (a) human activities result in so many wildlife injuries and deaths and (b) wildlife rehabilitation is under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded.

Some people will use the term euthanasia to name the killing of a healthy orphaned raccoon under these circumstances. I won’t. Though it is better to have the animal killed than to release her into the woods to fend for herself.

These are terrible options, and they exist only because wildlife rehabilitation gets short shrift while wildlife agencies focus their attention on the hunting and fishing dollar.

The two babies pictured here? Let’s call them lucky, with an asterisk. And the asterisk is the two loving hands they landed in belong to Diane W. Diane is a former wildlife rehabilitator, and she’s more resourceful and diligent than most of us. 

When Diane ended up with these guys, she accessed AHNow to find help. None of the nearest rehabilitators could help her. They either were full, or they weren’t equipped/trained to accept raccoons. She used our animal filter, selecting Small Mammal, which removes from the results all rehabilitators who don’t accept small mammals and also extends our app’s search radius. Again, everyone she called was either full or, despite being able to accept small mammals, was not equipped/trained to accept raccoons.

Diane had pushed our service pretty close to the limit. What she really needed was a list of all raccoon rehabilitators in the State of New York. (For what it’s worth, transferring raccoons across state lines is illegal in most if not all states.)

Diane did the smart thing and contacted us directly. We want the public to contact us if they need us, but only after they exhaust the excellent self-service options we provide.

We produced and provided Diane with a list of rehabbers in New York that may be willing and able to accept baby raccoons.

Diane found one, and these little ones are now in good hands.

At AHNow we’ll be taking a close look at Diane’s experience as we develop our next generation user interface.

One more thing. Diane’s no longer rehabbing. She is terminally ill. Doctors have given her just a year to live.

We’re hoping Diane, like the little ones she saved here, defies the odds. We are so grateful to her and so many others like her who do or have done their best to leave this world better than they found it.

If you care to help cover the costs of transportation ($200), please click here. (Enter “raccoon” or “Diane” in the Donor Note.) Anything we raise above that amount will either will go toward something to thank Diane for all she has done and continues to do for our wild friends or will be donated at Diane’s direction to support wildlife emergency services.

When millions of years of evolution aren’t enough

Yesterday on my way into Boulder on Highway 36 I noticed a person with a net looking through deep grass off the road’s shoulder. I figured she was looking for an animal of some sort, so I stopped to offer my help.

And there was my friend and fellow advocate, Nicole. And sure enough, she was looking for animals – specifically, ducklings. She had been on that stretch of road earlier in the day and saw a mother with eight or nine babies, walking along the shoulder. By the time she could turn around and get back to where they were, the mother and several of the babies had been hit and killed.

Nicole, at the incident scene.
Nicole, at the incident scene.

Like so many thoroughfares, Highway 36, which links the Colorado cities of Denver and Boulder, becomes a gauntlet of death for wildlife each spring and summer.

No safe wildlife crossings are to be found, and those who attempt to cross must navigate 4-6 lanes of incessant traffic. Even birds and foxes and other nimble animals who have adapted to high speed vehicles are likely to die when faced with the reckless driver traveling 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.

At this time of year especially I try not to schedule anything that absolutely positively requires me to be on time. This allows me to keep my eyes open for anyone who has been injured or is trapped along a median, and to stop and try to help when needed.

The Young Housewife poem, William Carlos Williams
This incident brought to mind this poem, for its indictment of silent violence. [Emphasis added for effect.]
I’m not virtue signaling. I don’t relish this in the least. I hate that animals who have evolved over millions of years – even dinosaurs, for Christ’s sake – are getting violently injured and killed by the millions on our roads each year. I hate that their deaths are barely noticed, if noticed at all, by their killers and by passersby. I hate that the person who hits a deer is more concerned about the damage to their vehicle than the pain, the death, the injury they caused, or the fact that the mom or dad or sibling or friend who went out that morning will never be seen again, leaving at best an emptiness that humans can and should understand – and at worst dependent young, robbed of their birthright and sentenced to a frightening and protracted death.

I hate that humans have normalized being in a hurry and that our own evolution has led to an insane separation from nature and an all-costs pursuit of comfort and convenience.

duckling survivor
One of the four survivors, safely away from the road.

Millions of years of evolution will not prepare a vulnerable animal for an encounter with an uncaring human.

Nicole was able to save four of the ducklings, delivering them into the good hands of a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center. Because she cares so deeply, she had returned that afternoon to see if she could find any others who may have survived. After a thorough search, she was packing up when I arrived. She hadn’t found any more ducklings, but she wasn’t leaving empty handed, as she’d picked up some recyclables, likely tossed from vehicles by uncaring humans.

Here’s to you, Nicole, and to all with wide and welcoming circles of compassion. You are this planet’s hope.

Notes
If you encounter a wild animal who needs your help or if you have a “conflict” with wildlife at home or work, use Animal Help Now to find the nearest assistance.
It’s always smart to have a box or carrier of some sort in your vehicle. Click here to see what Animal Help Now recommends for a full rescue kit.
To support Animal Help Now’s work, please visit www.AHNow.org/donate.php.

 

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.