Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You've Found an Animal that Needs Help. Now What?

It’s very tempting to think about keeping an animal that needs rescuing. I’d like to warn you that it doesn’t usually end well. While I know of a few people who have raised a wild rabbit or a squirrel, I still don’t think it’s a good idea. For one, it’s illegal in most cases that involve native species, but laws vary from state to state.  It’s also very difficult to feed a baby that’s lost its mother because you just can’t replicate the nourishment it would receive. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but there’s definitely a measure of dedication required.

I tried to raise a baby mockingbird once when I lived in Florida, but it lived for only a week because I wasn’t feeding it right. I also tried to hand feed a baby mouse. It died too. This was before all the exotic animal studies. I had success hand rearing four baby cockatiels and two Patagonian conures using the tried and true methods of the time (over 20 years ago) which included syringe feeding a mixture of baby bird hand-feeding formula and Gerber baby foods. This is good training for anyone who wants the experience of having a newborn because those birds had to be fed every few hours around the clock.

When my neighbor came to let me know he’d just found a nest of baby squirrels under the hood of the car he was working on, I already knew I would have to make some phone calls to find the best place for these four little naked babies. My usual policy, and the main thing we used to tell callers to the animal hospital, is to leave the babies where they were found or return them to their nest so the parents can finish their job. In this case, that wasn’t possible. The car had just been towed from a suburb over thirty miles away and it wasn’t going back. The best option would have been to take the nest back to a safe location near to where the car was parked. I imagined a mother squirrel frantically searching for her babies. The next option was to find a wildlife rehabilitator in my area and ask if they’d be willing to take them. You never want to assume they’ll just open their doors to everything. Most of these non-profit organizations have limits to what they can handle depending on how well funded they are.

Our local American Humane Society happens to have an offshoot program for wildlife so I made an appointment to bring the squirrels to their licensed wildlife rehabber. She was gracious enough to let me come to her property. She could have just asked me to meet her somewhere which I would have totally understood because once somebody knows you care for injured or sick animals, cardboard boxes with of moving surprises tend to show up on your doorstep.

The rehabber seemed to already have a plan for the babies as soon as she got a look at them. I’ve forgotten the details, but she said she would do this and that and then they’d be released onto her property which included several wooded acres. It obviously wasn’t the first time she’d had squirrels. I was thrilled to have the foursome in good hands and offered a donation of $35. I knew it wasn’t much, but she seemed satisfied and even a little surprised. I’ve had to leave stray kittens at county animal shelters a couple of times and I always try to make a donation. I know it will go to good use and, frankly, it helps with my guilt for having to pass on a problem. Even if you can’t offer money, you can at least offer to volunteer (and follow through with it) or purchase something on their Wish List.

So off the squirrels went. I never called to check on them, but she was kind enough to send our family a holiday card and a note that said all the squirrels were successfully released. We’re on the mailing list now and get a newsletter every year that chronicles just a portion of the animals they’ve helped over a year.

On the drive home from dropping off the squirrels, I thought about how easy it would have been to keep one. Heck, I’m an exotic animal keeper and trainer. I should be able to handle a squirrel, right? What fun it would be. Well, I quickly came to my senses realizing even just one would be more than I could handle with all my other animals and family responsibilities. I decided to just be grateful for the opportunity to put them in the hands of the right person. I hope you’ll have the same opportunity when it’s your turn to act as an advocate for an animal in need.

I deposited the squirrels and the nesting material with which they were found into this medium sized Critter Keeper. They had just a little fuzz and their eyes were still closed so I'm guessing they were maybe close to ten days to two weeks old.

This is what those squirrels might have looked like a few weeks later. Here in northern Illinois, we have an abundance of fox squirrels. Some folks think they're pests and thiefs and some, like me, enjoy watching them. This looks like it might be a gray squirrel, also common in neighborhoods and parks in Illinois.

No comments:

Post a Comment