Monday, June 8, 2009

It's that time of year again.

The time of year when I start getting the dreaded phone calls. They all start out differently:

"I found an orphaned (fawn, rabbit.)" "I found a (bird, squirrel) out of its nest." "We picked up a (turtle, frog, salamander) from the woods."

Then, the kicker, the question that all these calls have in common: "What do I feed it?"


"What do I feed it?" depends on the exact age and species of the critter in question, which most people don't know. It is practically impossible for the average person to concoct a balanced diet for any wild thing, even when they know exactly what they have.

"What do I feed it?" ignores the bigger question, "How do I house it?" Besides food, every species of wild animal has specific habitat needs - the right temperature, humidity, amount of daylight, contact with their own kind, etc., etc. - none of which you can replicate in your home.

"What do I feed it?" means that some well-meaning but ignorant person has just kidnapped a wild animal and taken it home. It means that the wild animal is doomed to die, usually a slow painful death caused by malnutrition, improper habitat, stress, and exposure to environmental hazards. Even if it does survive, it will never lead a normal, wild, free life, but will be kept artificially for however long it lives.

So, once again, from the beginning:

When you find an apparently orphaned animal in the wild, LEAVE IT ALONE. Most babies are NOT abandoned. Does, both rabbits and deer, are working moms. They care for their babies in the early morning, then they go off to work, leaving their young in a safe, sheltered place. They come home at night, after feeding and avoiding predators all day, to feed the kids their dinner. How would you like to go to work in the morning only to come home and find your children had been stolen while you were away?

If you find young, feathered birds hopping around on the ground, they are fledglings. They are supposed to be there, and you can bet their moms (and maybe dads, too) know where the kids are, so LEAVE THEM ALONE. Corral your cats, dogs, and human children and walk away.

If you find birds or squirrels that are obviously too small to be out of the nest, try to find the original nest and PUT THEM BACK. If you can't find the nest, use an appropriate sized plastic container to make an artificial nest. Punch drainage holes in the bottom and line it with DRIED grass or leaves. Wire the nest to the tree or bush as near to the original spot as you can find, put the babies in it, then LEAVE THEM ALONE.

While it is cool to pick up a box turtle or garter snake, or to scoop up a crayfish, tadpole, or amphibian in a clean container for brief observation, DON'T take them home and put them in a tank. How would you like it if aliens swooped down on you during the course of your normal day, took you to the Mother Ship and kept you confined?

If you find an injured baby or adult wild animal, call a wildlife rehabilitator or your local game warden. DON'T call your dog and cat vet. Rehabbers are required to have state and/or federal permits to keep and care for wild animals, and most of us vets aren't qualified to do this work. In some cases, it is illegal for us to have them in our buildings, and we definitely aren't allowed to keep and treat them.

"But" you say, "what if the animal is sick or injured and I can't find someone to take care of it? It will die."

Yes, it will die. Nature is not kind. Many wild things die. If they didn't, we would be up to our eyeballs in rabbits. Most of the wild things you pick up and try to hand raise are going to die, too. The difference is, when it dies in your care, it will go to the landfill. When an animal is injured in the wild, it goes to feed predators or scavengers. Snakes, owls, hawks, and vultures have familes to feed, too, you know.

The incident that started this rant happened today. Someone came by with a "puppy" they found this weekend. It was in a box that was tossed out of the car ahead of them as they drove through the state park. They pulled over, opened the box, and found a "skinny, brown puppy" that they named "Pickle" and took home to their cat and small child. Funny thing is, this "puppy" was not a dog. It was a young coyote, about 8 to 12 weeks old by its teeth (assuming coyote pups shed their baby teeth on the same schedule as dogs.)

Because this pup was not afraid of people and was used to eating dog food, I hypothesized that it had been in captivity for some time. Given the story I was told, I concluded that someone else had picked up this baby at 4 to 6 weeks old, taken it home, and then either a) discovered that they had a coyote, not a dog or b) knew it was a coyote from the beginning, but had second thoughts or got caught with it. Either way, they decided to dump it. Nice.

Enter the rescuers. When I told them they had a coyote, I also told them they couldn't keep it. Now, it becomes MY responsiblity to deal with it. The pup was too young and too imprinted on people to just turn it loose, so I called the Ohio Dept of Natural Resources regional office, hoping to push my problem off on the authorities. Turns out, no one wants your orphaned coyote pups. There is an open season on hunting coyotes, and no one wants to rehab an animal that is imprinted on people only to turn it loose to be killed by hunters. Great.

Bottom line, the ODNR guy instructed me to euthanize it. Double great.

So, thus ends my day and my rant. Do me a favor. Don't pick up wild things, but if you must, don't call me.

Edit: Tues. Yet another phone call - People who picked up and raised an orphaned litter of squirrels, who aren't calling with a "What do I feed it?" question, but instead are asking "What do I do with it now?" Well, now you are in trouble, because your squirrels are A) Imprinted on people and B) Completely unable to fend for themselves. Now, you have to teach them how to be squirrels, including to be afraid of people.


Mary said...

Awww, Kathi. This is the part of your job that really sucks. Damn.

(Otherwise, great, informative post. Thank you.)

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Oh, Kathi.
I'm so sory that you have to deal with the consequences of people's ignorance/foolishness. Such a hard thing for you to have to do.
Sorry. {{{hug}}}

Beth said...

I'm so sorry you had to deal with that Kathi. Sometimes people can be so hurtful and ignorant. Thanks for teaching us. Maybe that is the good that comes from this terrible event.

Beth (wishing you light and love)

Susan Gets Native said...

I would like to interject, :
"And if you find an injured hawk, owl, falcon, eagle or osprey, and live in the Tri-State area, call RAPTOR at (513) 825-3325. Don't feed it or try to capture it yourselves. You're gonna get hurt. "

People try to do a good thing, but with no knowledge of what they are doing, they do a bad thing. It sucks. We deal with it all the time.

Real call:
"I found this cute baby owl and have been keeping it in a cage for the past 3 weeks and feeding it raw, boneless chicken breast. But it's just laying on its side and it's feathers are all broken and I think it's sick."

No. You have DEPRIVED this owl of the proper diet of bones and internal organs it needs to grow and develop properly and the bird cage you are keeping it in is breaking its feathers and it is now imprinted on humans and we will have turn it into an education bird if it has the temperament, or euthanize it if it doesn't.
PEOPLE. Think before you do something! Make a call first or do a Google search for WILDLIFE rehabbers!

I could fill up this space with so many stories..."I've got this hawk in my barn and I have been feeding it wet dog food and I want it to go away but it won't leave."...and so on and so on.....

See Kathi? I can rant too.

dguzman said...

Wow. Heartbreaking.

We have a very vocal and dedicated wildlife rehabber in my town, and I'm glad she's around--but now I feel even more sorry for her than I did before. She's not the most pleasant person to deal with, but maybe now I've got a little more insight into why.

It must break your heart every time you have to euthanize an animal. I'm sorry some people are so stupid.

Anonymous said...

Ah Kat Doc,

Great blog post. It should go in every newspaper every spring, in my humble opinion. So sorry for your having to pick up the pieces of someone else's ignorance.


dAwN said...

oh damn..I feel so sad for you and mad at those who do these dumb things!

KatDoc said...

Thanks for all the tea and sympathy. Sometimes, it just helps to unload all this crud. In all fairness to the coyote people, they didn't have a clue what they had done. It is the first people, the ones who first took the baby home and then dumped it, who really frost my shorts.