Where to turn when rescuing a wild animal
Most compassionate people find it hard to turn away from a suffering and obviously incapacitated animal, whether it be domestic or wild.
With domestic animals though, at least you know where to turn.
Local animal shelters such as the Lycoming County SPCA are staffed and ready to help with those situations. But with wildlife it is often perplexing if not downright difficult to find anyone to help.
The SPCA and similar organizations aren’t licensed or equipped to deal with wild animals. The state Game Commission often doesn’t have the staff resources for cases involving small wild animals that are called into their offices. It isn’t that they don’t want to help, it is that they don’t have the personnel to respond to many such calls. So, what does a caring person do?
There are licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers in various counties in Pennsylvania. They accept injured and sick wildlife and rehabilitate them for return to the wild whenever possible. They euthanize those that are suffering and won’t survive. Those they can save that can’t be released are found suitable placement in licensed education facilities. All of this is a tremendous service and a ton of work and most of these places operate through volunteers and donations. If you ever want to see kindness in action and feel rejuvenated by the GOOD people can do, arrange to visit a wildlife rehabilitation center.
All that said, these centers are not always close. In Lycoming County for example, we often transport animals to Centre Wildlife Care in Port Matilda (Centre County). Rehabilitation centers don’t have the staff in many cases to go out and fetch the animal. For many rehabilitation centers, it is a full time job caring for the animals they already have … so they depend on the public or volunteers to bring the animal to their doors for care.
There is an awful lot to know about when it is appropriate and when it isn’t appropriate to rescue an animal. There is also a lot to know about how to catch it safely (for you and the animal), how to handle it when it is caught and then how to transport it. Let me discuss a few of these issues briefly.
A fawn that you come upon nestled in the grass, with no mama in sight, is likely stashed there by mom so she can go and eat. The fawn will instinctually lay without moving and it has no scent at that age to attract predators … so disturbing it is actually interfering and may deter the mother from finding her baby as she intends to. Similarly lots of baby birds go through a fledging period out of the nest where they can’t exactly fly and mom and dad feed them until they can. This is nature’s way of helping them grow up. If you “rescue” this baby bird you are actually kidnapping it and depriving it of the care and training only its parents can give. So, how do you know when to intervene and when not to …. advice is but a phone call away.
Catching an animal can require stealth, athleticism, a knowledge of the animal’s behavior, herding instinct on your part, equipment such as nets etc. These animals are wild – they are afraid of you – humans are their natural predator. From their perspective getting away from you is life and death. And these critters have beaks and teeth and nails and talons and they know how to use them. Not only can you hurt the animal, it can hurt you. And of course some species can be vectors for rabies such as raccoons, bats and others. So what is a person to do …. help is but a phone call away.
And once the critter is in its box, how do you transport it? Does it need to be warmed and how would one do that? What will contain it properly so it doesn’t escape in the car? Do you understand not to feed it or give it water as it “needs a hospital not a restaurant”… and do you know that you can cause more damage feeding/watering incorrectly? Do you have the time and energy to take it where it needs to go? So how do you get this animal from where you are to a rehabilitation center …. help is but a phone call away.
Pennsylvania recently was “gifted” a network of people dedicated to capturing and transporting sick and injured wildlife to licensed rehabilitation centers and licensed wildlife veterinarians. This relatively new organization called W.I.N. – Wildlife in Need was spearheaded by Sue DeArment, a retired wildlife rehabilitator who saw a need and was determined to make a difference. There is now a 24/7 telephone dispatcher available at (877)-239-2097. Anyone can call anytime and the dispatcher will connect you with a trained and licensed “Capture/Transport” person that volunteers with WIN. They will help you determine what needs to be done or not done. They may assist in capture and they may recruit volunteer transporters as well if need be. All of this work is going on across Pennsylvania day-in and day-out with the help of volunteers. It is a huge task made lighter by many hands.
WIN is already making a positive difference for sick and injured wildlife and for people who care about them. However, WIN really needs additional volunteers for transport and/or capture in order to remain sustainable. Would you like to help? I for one, am a transporter. I determine my availability and area of coverage and I am called as the need arises. Let me tell you from the heart, this work is gratifying. If you love animals and if you want to help wildlife in a “hands on way” this is a wonderful volunteer opportunity for you. WIN will help you get started. If you would like to know more visit www.winemergencyresponse.com
Joan Sattler is a long standing Board Member of the Lycoming Audubon Society. The Lycoming Audubon Society is a chapter of the National Audubon Society with responsibility for members in Lycoming and Clinton counties. Information about the society and events can be found at http://lycomingaudubon. blogspot.com. The public is invited to share local sightings and join discussions at www.facebook.com/groups/lycomingAudubon.