This year’s rehabilitation season has been, as the Queen put it, 'annus horribilis.'
It started in the winter, not that we had babies in January, but the mild winter caused problems in the wildlife cycle of life. In January, here in Tillsonburg, the temperature got up to almost 10 C. Bees and bats were seen. Of course the temperature plummeted and they froze. February’s temperature broke records at 13 C. Guess what happened?
Every month had warm spells, every month the animals said: 'Yo! It’s spring! It must be mating season! Let’s go play!’ Then it got cold again. But the damage was done.
Usually when the phone calls start coming they are for squirrels first, then raccoons, then skunks and then opossums, fawns, turtles, etc. This year, at the beginning, there was a flurry of calls for squirrels, raccoons and skunks. I think they all mated early. Things settled into the old routine fairly soon after that. But the orphaned raccoon calls have never stopped coming.
I have an email network, which has virtually all the wildlife rehabilitators on it. So, when you call and say you have three baby raccoons rescued from the side of the road where they were trying to nurse off their dead mother, I get your name, location and try to ascertain an approximation of the babies’ age and send it out to all the rehabbers. If a rehabber can help, they call you directly. This saves you from three days of phoning every name in the MNRF and ontariowildliferescue.ca sites. It works very well as long as the rehabbers have room available. That is when the difficult times start.
Rehabbers feel very guilty when they can’t take the orphan you have, especially if it is their specialty or from their own town. Telling you that after doing your exceptionally good deed of rescuing and keeping those babies alive for several days until a rehabber could be found, that you should now have it put down humanely makes most of us cry. It is devastating for the rescuer to hear.
There are so many more orphans than there are rehabbers, and for two reasons. Most of us do educational gigs and make people aware of the plight of our wildlife. We take their homes, land and food, then get upset when they move into our sheds, porches and attics. When people understand that humans are pushing the extinction rate up 1,000 times the normal rates, they start paying attention to the world around them. So, more and more people are treating all animals (including lizards, reptiles spiders, etc.) with more respect and care. They now stop and pick up the orphans and try and find rehabbers.
The second reason is because there are fewer wildlife rehabilitators. The MNRF (Ministry of Natural Resources & Forests), under whom we volunteer, did not get involved with us until about 1999. They gave us rules, nothing more. In 2006, they were going to change some rules and we rose up to fight for some we wanted changed. The most important was that as Authorized Wildlife Custodians, we have no right of appeal. That’s right, the MNRF can say and do whatever they want to us and we cannot fight it. A lot of rehabbers quit immediately, when they could not change it. I was told we originally had about 200 rehabbers. We now have 61 listed on the MNRF web site. (There are some who do not want to be listed, but not that many.)
Hundreds of animals are being killed because of one rule the MNRF won’t change. If we were licensed not authorized, then like a hunter we could have the right to appeal!
Weeks of telling people to put down the animal they helped is very trying. This year we have rabies back in Ontario, so that is a big concern, and distemper is rampant everywhere.
My first litter of baby skunks, early ones, seemed to be coming along fine. Then suddenly nose-dived and within hours one was dead. The next day they were all put down with distemper. A week later I got a single. My next litter of four came in looking pretty good. Dehydrated, but without a lot of parasites, which was strange. The second day, my eyes-closed baby’s eye was moving, which is very strange. I spent between 6-8 hours totally over two days pulling maggots out of their eyes and ears. Yes, that is even grosser than you are thinking. One died, I had two put down and one lived, although the maggot poison stopped him from growing for over two weeks.
I was terrified to take any more. I started second guessing myself and thinking I was getting too old for all of this stress. But when I saw the sweet little face of the next orphan looking up at me, knowing I was going to help it, I discovered I could give it another go. So far? So good.