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Brown Pelicans, Glittering Snakes, and a Two Foot Long Baby Raccoon, or: Just Another Week in the Wild Life of a Rehabilitator

Reprinted from Summer 1995

Monday: After a rather uneventful weekend, I'm being optimistic that things are slowing down. . . it's about time! As I start preparing the food for various critters, the phone rings. It's just past six a.m., so I know that it can't be good news. A frantic woman tells me she found an injured crow and is keeping it in a shop nearby. I give her several names of bird rehabbers and ask her to call me back if she can't reach any of them. I start feeding and cleaning and--after three hours--find time to make coffee.

There are now several messages on my answering machine. The lady with the crow is one of them. She said Brigitte Lindberg will take the crow, but can't pick it up. I call her to tell her I will find a driver and get back to her. I call Brigitte. She is in high-stress gear; she already has several crows, plus many other birds that need intensive care, and is not wild about getting another one.

I decide to pick up the crow. It's near Ft. Belvoir, in a shopping center. . . under the desk next to the cash register of a beauty shop. The wing is limp and the crow has lost lots of blood. I should be home for the next feeding schedule, so I debate what to do. I decide to stop at Alexandria Hospital to see Dr. Slack, hoping she's there. Luck has it, she is. After examination and x-rays, the prognosis is very poor. The crow will never fly again and being a permanent cripple is no life for her. We make the decision to euthanize her. Dr. Slack has a fledgling bird and a bunny that were dropped off at the hospital by concerned citizens. She asks me if I can take them. Of course I can.

Rabbit

Home again, feeding time, and six messages on my answering machine. I have no time to go through the messages--got to feed and find homes for the bird and bunny. Barbara Prescott is willing to take the bunny, but can't pick it up. I call all bird rehabbers and finally reach one: Nora Missell. As usual, she is willing to take the bird of as-yet-unknown species. I call several drivers. . . some, I can't call because they have driven for me so much lately, and others are not available. Finally, Lida! She says, "Of course I will take the bird to Nora." I don't have the nerve to ask her to take the bunny to Barbara; I just take it there myself and stop on the way to pick up my new glasses. (They were ready over two weeks ago.)

It's feeding time again, and I still haven't listened to all my messages. I have to answer the WRL phone messages, too. Christie Huffman normally takes care of that, but she is out of town. Several injured bird calls; a skunk mother was killed by a dog and its babies are under the porch, and the owner of dog and porch is not willing to dig under the porch to get the babies out. I can't go; have to feed, it's already five p.m., and there will be rush-hour traffic. I frantically call several friends and ask them to check the situation and bring the babies to me. Finally, I work it out and wait for them. Three babies arrive that evening; a fourth one is still under the porch, but is out of reach and will not come out. The babies are dehydrated; I give ringer's, check for other problems, and feed diluted formula.

Now it's time to prepare formula for tomorrow. I listen to phone messages and call some people back. It's after ten p.m., and I haven't eaten all day. A quick sandwich, then off to bed. I have to read up on skunk rehabilitation. I wake up at two a.m., sitting up in bed. Never got past the first page of the manual. I turn off the light--only four hours till the next feeding. Could have been a worse day!

Tuesday: Feed, clean, do laundry--one load of diapers alone, not to mention all the towels and sheets. The phone rings: a lady wants a fox family evicted from under her deck. I explain about foxes. I beg, plead, and she finally agrees to let them stay till the babies are old enough to move on. Interview magazine calls from New York. They want to do a piece on reuse of fur--how discarded fur is used in rehabilitation. I explain what wildlife I have and how I use furs. I set up an appointment for the reporter and camera crew to come down from New York on Saturday. I never heard of Interview magazine, but a sophisticated friend tells me it is a glossy publication in NY.

I call Dale Bartlett, the Fur Campaign Coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. He tells me to expect more calls because USA Today had an article about fur used in wildlife rehabilitation. I remind him of the day in March when CNN did a program on the subject. Dale and I spent the better part of a day with the crew from Miami, discussing the reuse of furs. They filmed an injured raccoon reclining on a mink jacket. On camera, I cut up a $4,500 mink coat (with matching hat and scarf) and explained how fur is used as bedding material for orphaned and injured wildlife. Dale demonstrated the leg hold trap and talked about the HSUS program where people turn in used furs and get a tax write-off. I agreed to the interview because I felt I could plug wildlife rehabilitation and explain about leg hold traps, fur farms, and other disgusting and inhumane practices connected with furs. But very little was used, and I felt used.

Skunk

Anyway, perhaps this will be another opportunity. I answer the WRL phone messages: painted turtle with problems and more injured bird calls. I call the lady to bring the turtle over. Feed, clean, feed, clean. . . skunks doing OK. I know even very young skunks can spray, but I want to know more about skunks. I call Doris Jaeger, a very experienced rehabber who has cared for many skunks. She tells me in all the years she has handled skunks, she was only sprayed twice, and it was her fault because she scared them.

A knock on the door: another baby skunk from the same litter, more dehydrated but in fair shape. A call comes in: will I take a baby robin? I give the caller the names and numbers of bird rehabbers. She tells me she has to place the robin right away because she is going away the following day. She can't bring it--too busy. She had the robin for over four weeks! I ask more questions; she tells me that she clipped all his feathers, because she does so with her domestic birds. I ask her why. She says she had no choice. I ask why. She says because the robin would have flown away. I get hot under the collar and tell her "Yes, you had a choice. You should have given the bird to a licensed rehabilitator right away!" She hangs up. This is it--I call Bell Atlantic and order Caller ID.

I feed and clean and feed and clean. The lady with the painted turtle arrives with her daughter, who does not want to give the turtle up. I give her a pep talk and tell her it is best for the turtle to be released after it is well. Its shell has a terrible fungus. I make an appointment with Dr: Slack for the following day. A chimney sweep calls to say he has four baby raccoons. I ask for details. . . he tells me he had babies one day; later, it becomes two, then three, and finally, four days. I ask where the mother is.

He tells me, "Oh, I chased her out of the chimney." I ask, "Why didn't you let her move the babies?" He never heard of that. I explain what he should have done and ask for the address of Chimney Sweep Guild magazine. (I've wanted to write an article on raccoons in chimneys for the past few years and never got around to it. Got to add this to my To-Do list for this winter). He tells me he can't bring them right away. I tell him it is imperative to get them to me ASAP!

Raccoon

I pick up the WRL messages: injured bird, and someone interested in becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. I call and ask for an address to send a WRL pamphlet. The chimney sweep arrives with a huge box, no towels or newspapers, only half an orange and four very frightened raccoons. I check each one, weigh them, deflea them, and give them worm medication. Four males all the same size, who look alike except for one, which I start calling the watchdog. He has floppy ears and a white half-moon marking under his eyes. He goes into attack mode every time I try to touch one of his brothers. . . very protective! I ask the chimney sweep what he fed these animals for four days and was told bread and water. I make up a smorgasbord of goodies. There goes my guest room!

Outback magazine calls, wants to do an interview on fur use in wildlife rehabilitation. They will have a writer call later in the week. Eleven p.m., and I have to update my wildlife records and my To-Do list for tomorrow.

Wednesday: Clean and feed, do laundry. . . a call comes from Safeway, asking me to pick up grapes and apples. (The produce manager very graciously gives away fruit and vegetables that are normally thrown out.) I get dressed and pick up three boxes of fruit. Home again the phone rings: It is the Fairfax Shelter, asking if I can take a baby raccoon. Of course. . . I call Dorothy Tella to pick it up, but feel embarrassed, as she has picked up several animals in the past few weeks. I answer the WRL phone: someone would like to attend a training session. . . I call back and send them WRL pamphlet. The phone rings: a lady has had a box turtle for over twenty years, and wants me to turtle-sit for two months. I tell her I will, and she informs me she has to bring the turtle over within the hour. I ask her to bring it in the afternoon, as I am expecting an animal shortly.

I sort the boxes of fruit and vegetables, and start washing the grapes. Barbara calls to tell me about a lady who brought her an injured bunny, noting that it was the lady's cat that did the damage. Barbara has just received a thank-you note written on cat stationery. We have a good laugh. A knock on the door: It's Dorothy with the baby raccoon. . . very thin, fly eggs, and a deformed front paw.

As I work on the raccoon, there is another knock on the door and the lady with the turtle arrives. I tell her again that it is not convenient now. She ignores me. I take her and the turtle out in the yard, show her around, and ask questions about the turtle. A long list of "dos and don'ts" comes with the turtle: it can't be out in a storm, it has to come in at night, and on and on. The turtle is very small--huge body, tiny shell, infected eyes. I promise I will take good care of it. I work on the baby raccoon. . . hopefully, all the fly eggs are gone. I feed diluted formula and let her rest.

Bat

Off to Dr. Slack. Might as well take both turtles. The painted water turtle gets scrubbed with Nolvasan, and I have to continue that treatment twice a day for three weeks. Baby-sat turtle needs lots of sun and to be kept outdoors; also, its eye infection has to get medicated three times a day. The vet's technician comes in and asks if I can take a baby bat. I take it of course. It weighs three grams, is not furred, and its eyes have just opened. It will have to be fed every two or three hours. I start out by wrapping a thin strip of gauze in a roll, inserting it into a one-cc syringe, and filling it with Esbilac formula. Luckily, the bat is a great nurser.

I fix various formulas, then feed and clean. The phone rings: Alexandria Shelter--could I take a baby possum? I say I will until I can get it to Dinah Flynn. More ringer's for female raccoon. I check her front paw; I am really worried, can she climb? Can she even exist with that type of condition? One finger hangs limp; otherwise, her paw seems all right. I make an appointment with Dr. Owel for Friday. The Alexandria shelter van arrives with the possum and a fledgling mockingbird. The possum is from hell. . . about eight inches long, but hissing like a dragon. (Better you than me, Dinah!) I call her and she is delighted to take the possum. She will stop by after work.

OPossum

I feed the little dragon and then feed the mockingbird, who is a very fussy eater. I feed the bat; it has been more that three hours. I call various bird rehabbers and finally get Bev, who is in the middle of cooking dinner. Linda is out. Bev agrees to meet me at Hechinger's near Baileys Crossroads. I go as I am (remembering my mother saying "What if you have an accident?" and hoping that nobody sees me.)

Bev is already there. Thank you, thank you! Time to feed and clean, check and treat both turtles, feed the bat, and check the WRL answering machine. A wildlife center in Louisiana wants to know what WRL does for funding, George Watson, a rehabber in Franklin, calls and wants to know about chimney swifts. I give him names and numbers of our experts on the topic and agree to send him the material I have. We exchange wildlife tips.

Mr. Watson tells me he has many bunnies and has had a great success rate in feeding goat's milk. He is interested in joining the Wildlife Rescue League and would like to attend our meetings; he has several apprentices working with him and all are interested. I send him WRL material, then I get out the Virginia map and look up Franklin; it is way past Norfolk, on the North Carolina line. Interesting--people from that far away want to be part of our group and come to our meetings, and so few of our members who live in this area can attend.

Feed and clean; do laundry. Dinah comes by and picks up the possum from hell. She is used to possums and does not mind. I feed the bat. It is past 11 p.m. I make formulas for tomorrow and update my To-Do list. I really must read the skunk material!

Thursday: I feed the bat. It seems to be doing fine. I treat the turtles, feed and clean, feed and clean, do laundry. A call from Dale Bartlett: HSUS has two large boxes of furs. I ask him to send most of them to Patricia Whiddon for her foxes. I tell him about the Outback magazine interview. A call comes in from a lady who found a baby raccoon in her yard. I just can't go and pick it up. I ask her to call Animal Control. She wants to know my address. I ask her not to touch it, to just watch so cats and dogs can't harm it. I ask her how big it is and she says at least two feet long. (Biggest baby I ever saw!) Oh, well. I start on my To-Do list and stop to feed the bat. He is doing well. I really must read up on bats today.

I check the WRL messages: a veterinarian in Maryland asks if we have material on how to care for baby birds and mammals; several bird calls; and an opossum in a trash can. I call everybody back and then feed the bat. A knock on the door: two ladies with a ferret sitting on the shoulder of one. They tell me they are bringing the baby raccoon. I control myself, ask them to fill out the usual paperwork, and then tell them that it is a ferret. They don't believe me and leave.

The ferret looks friendly, so I put him in one of my bathrooms until I decide what to do with him. I answer a call from Pohick Nature Center about a baby crow. I give them Barbara's number, as she is much closer. Interview magazine calls; they will be here at two p.m. on Saturday. I feed the bat, clean and feed. . . make formula, bake 10 pounds of chicken.

Barbara calls: Pohick delivered the baby crow, which turns out to be a grackle! The Alexandria Shelter's van pulls up. A baby raccoon fell from a tree in someone's yard and the owners refused to let the mother pick the baby up. Mother and the other babies are in a nest in a big tree in their back yard, and surely the mother will come down to get the baby. The people say they will kill the mother when she comes down. The warden gives them a stern talk.

I would like to go there and try to make them change their mind, but there is no time. I feed the bat and then I'm off to my appointment with Dr. Owel to check on the baby raccoon with the crippled paw. As I had hoped, Dr. Owel thought that amputating the limp finger would do the trick and that the raccoon would be fine. I make an appointment several weeks hence to give the raccoon a chance to gain strength before surgery. I pull in the driveway and see a huge box of sheets and towels from my friend Colby, who goes to yard sales and always thinks about our wildlife friends. I stuff it all in a comer of the garage.

I feed and check on the ferret; it seems fine. I feed the bat and check messages: an injured turtle, a question about how to get rid of groundhogs under a porch. I call back; I will take the turtle. I give tips on humane methods on evicting groundhogs from under a structure. I ask people to call back if it doesn't work. I call my apprentices to see if they need anything, do inventory on WRL supplies, and send two birthday cards. A friend calls to invite me to dinner. Before I can reply, she laughs and tells me it is great to invite somebody who never accepts. I don't know if I find that amusing. . .

I feed the bat, treat the turtles, check on the ferret, feed and clean, then add items to my To-Do list. It's past 11 p.m. I read the bat material, then sink into a deep sleep. It's now past midnight. The phone rings and I stumble in zombie fashion to the phone. An angry voice tells me I stole his ferret and I'd better give it up. I start waking up and try to explain what happened. He says he will pick it up in the morning. Another short night.

Friday: I feed the bat, treat the turtles, feed and clean, answer WRL messages, do laundry. The ferret owner calls; he is on his way to pick up the ferret. Another call: Outback magazine wants to do a phone interview. I spend close to an hour talking to two writers. I have to see what that magazine is like! Barbara calls and tells me she had a call from Quantico Marine Base asking if she could take a brown pelican. What next? She refers them to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Fox

The lady with the foxes under her deck calls and tells me the foxes have to go because they defecate on her deck and she is tired of cleaning up after them. I tell the lady I would love to come by to look at the situation and talk to her. I make an appointment for Saturday morning. A call from a lady working in Crystal City: she found a pigeon with a problem, but can't bring it to me because she can't get away from work. My friend, Pat, and I decide to run over and pick it up. I call Joan Parker to see if she can take it. Of course she can.

We get there and park illegally under an overpass, waiting for the lady to bring the pigeon. She and several other people come out and tell me they can't find the pigeon. They had it in a box in the hall. A man comes out and we ask him if he saw the bird. He says yes, he released it across the street. Great! We look everywhere; lots of traffic, still illegally parked. . . finally, we find the pigeon. We don't examine it; no need to stress it out twice. I drive to Joan's.

Joan looks at the pigeon and tells us it is a victim of Roost-No-More, a product that is used by apartment and other buildings to stop pigeons from settling in the buildings. Supposedly, it is not harmful to the birds. Wrong!! Birds who have come in contact with this product will die a slow and horrible death if they are not found and treated in time. Joan has received several birds suffering from contact with Roost-No-More. She is hopeful that we got this one in time.

I drive home and call the people in Crystal City to give them an update and thank them for caring for and saving the animal. The irate ferret owner arrives and picks up his pet without saying "Thank you" or "Have a nice day." Chicken is on sale at Giant for 39 cents a pound. I go and buy 40 pounds, then go home and bake 10 pounds of it. I compile material for various people who called and wanted information on WRL and what to do about wildlife problems.

I drive to the post office to mail the information and, while I'm out, buy fruit, vegetables, and 50 pounds of peanuts. Home again, I feed the bat. Call from New York: Interview magazine will do a phone interview and send a photographer on Saturday. Great--that will save time, I hope.

Feed and clean, do more laundry. I've got to do some yard work, and letters are piling up. Why do I get newspapers? No time to read them, but they are great for lining potty boxes. I feed the bat, then take the bat material and go to bed. I fall asleep immediately.

Saturday: I feed the bat, treat the turtles, feed and clean, answer WRL messages, do laundry. I drive to Lake Barcroft to check out the fox situation. I look at the area were the foxes den and it's a huge section under her deck that runs the whole length of the house. I ask questions and tell her unless the area is completely sealed up after the foxes leave, other foxes will move in--if not foxes, other animals, possibly skunks or groundhogs, even rats.

I tell her about Becca Schad, offer to contact her, and assure her that Becca would do a great job without hurting the foxes. The lady agrees to let the foxes stay. I ask her to call me at any time if she has questions or if there is a problem. I feel hopeful.

I go home quickly and get ready for the Interview magazine photographer. I feed the bat, get out the mink hat, and put the baby raccoons in it. They love it; I hope they will stay in it for the pictures. I use fur only for bedding outdoors during cold weather. I call Becca, explain about the foxes, and ask her to call the lady to make sure she will not change her mind--that she will let the foxes stay if Becca promises she'll correct the problem as soon as the foxes have left.

The photographer arrives and has a million questions. He is a great talker and tells me all kind of weird tales about wildlife. He drags in more equipment than my living room can hold, then finally starts taking pictures. The hours pass, and I have to feed the bat. The photographer wants to take pictures of the bat on the fur bedding. I tell him I don't use fur for bats. He finally departs and promises to send prints.

It's time to feed and clean. The phone rings: a lady in Great Falls is in sheer panic. "Please come right away" she pleads. "There is a large glittering snake in one of my trees." I ask for details and all she tells me is that the snake is large and very glittery, but it looks sick. I tell her to call Greg Zell of Long Branch Nature Center or Carolyn Seitz, both snake experts. She wants me to come NOW. I try to explain, but she tells me it is my job and I get paid for it!

I try to explain that we are volunteers and I have no experience with reptiles and again ask her to call Greg or Carolyn. I'm tempted to check out the glittering snake, but just don't have the time. Another call: "Is this Dr. Yery?" I tell her I am not a doctor. She ask me if I could see her gerbil anyway. He has not been eating. I refer her to Dr. Slack, hoping that this is the last call for the day and week. Feed, clean and feed bat once more. I make up list of everything I absolutely must do, and should have done during the week. I go to bed and begin reading about bats.

bird

Sunday: feed, clean, feed, clean, do two loads of laundry, check WRL messages: someone found a baby bird; an injured squirrel in someone's yard. I call and leave messages. (How did we do it before, answering machines?) I start to update my wildlife records. The phone rings: a lady has a neighbor who has a dead deer in his yard. He called the shelter, the police, and the "Dead Animal Pick-up" number indicated on one of our old rehabilitator lists. He was told, "If it is on your property, you are responsible for removal." Now he wants me to move the grown deer!

I tell the lady I can't do it, but will check to see what can be done. I call the "Dead Animal Pick-up" number, identify myself and it turns out that 703-631-9611 is the number for the Virginia Department of Transportation. They will remove dead animals if the animals are on roads and highways in Virginia counties, but not if the dead animal is in cities like Alexandria or Falls Church, or on private property. I call the lady back and explain. I check my supplies to see what I have to order.

Squirrel

Another call: The garden club president, who is very angry because squirrels are digging in hers and another member's gardens. I try to give her tips on how to discourage this, but know they will not work. I get into lengthy discussion about wildlife in general. She loves wildlife, but does not want her garden messed up.

I hang up and the phone rings again: It is the DC Humane Society. They received a baby bunny and want to know what to do. Somebody will take it the next day but they have to take care of it now. I explain and promise to send them the "General Care for Baby Mammals" information sheet. I find one and get it ready to mail.

Feed, clean, feed bat again, and go to bed. I reflect on, the week's events. I am grateful that all my animals are well, that Barbara was not away and so I did not have to answer her calls, that Christie is coming back next week and then I will not have to monitor the WRL answering machine, that the lady seems to be willing to put up with the fox family under her deck, that I did not get any "injured animals on road" calls and most of all, that I did not get any beaver calls! That reminds me--I have to write an article on beavers in my "spare" time. Another week will start tomorrow and I hope it will be "uneventful," as Patricia Whiddon would say.

Monday: It is 6 a.m. and I decide to start the week off right by staying in bed another 15 minutes. The phone rings...