by Jenna Such
2005 turned out to be quite a year! And most of it I spent raising eleven foster kits! Yes, that's KITS, not KIDS! I finally did something I've been thinking about for years I became a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator!
Once I'd made the decision to follow through, I was surprised at how easy the process actually was. First I called the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, who directed me to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Permits section. I spoke with Diane Waller, who runs the department. She was most helpful and friendly and sent me a package of papers and forms to fill out for my application.
Next I needed a sponsor, as I wanted to become a Category 1 permit holder, which means I can house and take care of wildlife at my home. In order to do this I would need to be an apprentice for two years under the watchful eye of an experienced wildlife rehabilitator. I was lucky as I had already met the best in the business, Erika Yery, and she agreed to sponsor me. I had first met Erika on line when I was trying to find some answers to a problem of swollen feet I was seeing in the wild raccoons that I have running around my property. I wanted to see if there was anything I could get and put out for them to eat that might cure the swelling.
As I wanted to care for raccoons, I had to get my pre-exposure rabies shots. Like most people, I'd heard wild stories about the shots; pain, after effects, etc., all the usual gossip. None of it is true. I went to my doctor. I explained why and what I needed and he ordered the three shots. They were painless and I had no after effects. The important thing is to keep to the schedule for each injection: Day 1, Day 7 and Day 21. Nothing to it.
Next came the visit from a state game warden, something I was a little apprehensive about, as I didn't know what to expect. I shouldn't have worried as it turned out to be a very pleasant experience and I learned a lot. The state game warden, Susan Alger, asked where I was going to house the animals; I showed her. We talked awhile; we signed forms stating that I had complied and met the states standards and requirements, and that I understood all I was, and was not allowed to do. I was approved and Susan was gone! A week later I had my first license! The license, good for one year, is renewable each January, with proof of 6 hours of continuing education completed during the last year, and current rabies pre-exposure immunization.
Having been born and bred in England, I didn't meet my first raccoon until I was in my forties. It was love at first sight! But it took me a good many more years before I finally took the plunge. The time was right. Suddenly, instead of just watching these very intelligent creatures in the wild, I was going to be taking care of them. Foster mother to tiny babies, until they were about six months old and could be released back into the wild. Wow!
Now came the hard part I had to wait until the spring arrived, before taking on my fist charges! They finally arrived in May, and were eight weeks old. I named them Lilly, Lightness and Dark Boy! As this little family was my first, they were both a challenge and a joy, not to mention an extremely rapid learning experience! They took up residence in my kitchen nook, housed in a very large dog crate, until they were about four months old, had been weaned, and could be moved outside to an enclosure. My whole life was turned upside down and I had to do some serious reconfiguration of my days! Having always been self-employed, I was used to doing things on my schedule. Suddenly, that was no longer the case: I had a new boss! Three actually!! I learned very quickly that this is not a job for the fainthearted as it is time consuming and very demanding. However, if you have the time to dedicate, the rewards are boundless. These little guys need to be fed on their schedule, not yours! Social plans are out the window for a while because when they are very young, feeding can be as often as every few hours, day AND NIGHT!! I needed help!
And that's when I met Sherry! Without her help I could not have become foster mum to eleven little critters in my first official year, without tearing out my hair!!! Sherry comes in twice a day and helps me feed and clean cages and dish out lots of love to these helpless little orphans. We met at a Wildlife Rescue League meeting. Sherry was interested in volunteering as a Category 4 care giver. A Category 4 care giver is not licensed to house animals at home but rather goes to other rehabilitators and helps out there. These people are like gold dust and you do not want to let a good one slip through your fingers!! They are the life support to the whole rehabilitation system and I was so lucky to meet Sherry at the right moment. We started talking and found we lived close to each other and that was the clincher. After the meeting we talked via e-mail. I helped her through her licensing process and the rabies shots and she quickly became part of my family!
The Rescue League is a local non-profit organization that supplies much of our support, and medical provisions. I could not be doing this without their help. Before releasing raccoons and other wildlife, we immunize them against commonly found viruses in the wild and, in the case of raccoons and other rabies vector species, (bats, groundhogs, skunks and foxes); they also get a three year rabies shot. This makes for a healthier wildlife population and greatly helps reduce the threat of rabies.
When our first family was about four months old, they moved outside to a fabulous enclosure built by Richard Thorpe, a guy with a big heart for all wildlife, who likes to build things! Again, someone I couldn't have done without. Another lifesaver was Tom, a friend of mine who just happens to be in the building trade! He donated most of the wood Rich used to construct the enclosures and I thank him for his generous supply of 2 x 4's and other building materials. This is all volunteer work and we lean heavily on the generosity of people who are willing to donate anything from old newspapers to fur coats! Perfect to keep little ones to keep warm and cozy!!!
I could spend pages telling you about all the endearing qualities of my little charges, but there is neither the time nor the space, so let me just say that they are the most intelligent and loving little creatures. Most of them know their names and will come running when called!! Unless it's time to return to their cages, in which case they become quite deaf and will totally ignore us. They have a never ending curiosity and nothing is too much of a challenge for them. I love to just sit and watch as they explore and play together. They use their hands to do much of their exploring, not looking at what they're feeling, but preferring to gaze into the distance, or maybe watching a bird outside! The soft leathery pads of their hands are so sensitive that they don't need to see what they're investigating.
When they're young, they are bottle fed three or four times a day. The really young are fed for the first few weeks even more often! My kits play around the kitchen floor for about an hour each feeding time. They are easy to litter train, thankfully! In their play habits they're very cat like and the floor is always awash with toys, which makes walking around my kitchen rather hazardous for Sherry and me!! So far, no damage done!!
FIVE LATE ARRIVALS!
For three weeks my kitchen was quiet, clean and rather boring! I missed the little patter of feet and all the mischief.
Towards the end of October, I took charge of three more little guys! We named them Penny, Pound and Sixpence! They had been abandoned when they were only about a day old and would not have survived had it not been for the loving care of my sponsor, Erika. She did the hard part, caring for them and feeding them every few hours, day and night, and only handed them over to my care when she was sure they would live, at about eight weeks old. Sadly a fourth, a little girl I named Farthing, did not make it.
I thought they would be the last arrivals of the year but late in November I got a call from Erika, asking if I could take two more in need of a good home. Of course, I said YES! I took over the care of two poor little girls, Pearl and Emerald, (Emmy). Both were extremely malnourished when they arrived, and had some other problems too. For the first couple of weeks they were a constant worry to me, and quite a challenge, but each day they improved and the difference in three weeks was quite amazing and very rewarding. Now they run around and play with the bigger three, as little ones should, and enjoy a healthy appetite.
These five will be with me through the winter, as we don't release when their natural food is scarce. Penny and Pound are now outside in an enclosure. Sixpence was slower in development so he moved in with the two little girls and the three of them still enjoy the warmth of my kitchen. They too, will be outside within the month and, after getting their rabies shot, will be released in the spring.
It's been a most rewarding year! I've learned so much but know I've only scratched the surface and it may just take me the rest of my life to perfect this task!! I'm hooked! Devoted to these little guys and their welfare. I know some people say we should not interfere, but when a tiny wild animal is abandoned for whatever reason, and there are so many different reasons, how can we not reach out a hand to give Mother Nature some help? By building new homes in their neighborhoods, we are, after all, the ones causing many of the problems in the fist place.