Newsletter Archive

Wild Bunch Newsletter – September/October 2007

Wild Bunch wishes to give you an update on our July and August activities. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Virginia organization devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native wildlife. 83 acres in the Northern Neck of Virginia near the Rappahannock River serve as our wildlife refuge. Our officers and directors are Erika Yery, Pat Crusenberry, Diana O'Connor, Charlene DeVol, and Bonnie Brown.

In July and August, Wild Bunch received 1 barn owl, 1 barn swallow, 1 black snake, 3 blue jays, 5 box turtles, 4 Canada geese, 2 catbirds, 7 chimney swifts, 3 Cooper’s hawks, 1 cuckoo, 1 duck (domestic), 1 great blue heron, 1 great horned owl, 4 grey foxes, 1 house finch, 1 house sparrow, 1 hummingbird, 1 kestrel, 10 mallard ducks, 2 mockingbirds, 2 mourning doves, 10 ospreys, 1 painted turtle, 2 pigeons, 1 purple martin, 16 rabbits, 18 raccoons, 1 racing pigeon 5 red foxes, 1 red headed woodpecker, 4 red tailed hawks, 10 robins, 1 screech owl, 2 skunks, 30 squirrels, 2 turkey vultures, 1 white throated sparrow, and 2 wrens.

The Scorching Summer Proves Challenging for Both People and Animals

Anyone, who has experienced Washington summers, knows how oppressive the high heat and humidity can be. The relentless heat of July and August, when temperatures reached the triple digits some days, combined with the high humidity, and annoying gnats and mosquitoes often made caring for the animals in their outdoor cages uncomfortable and exhausting.

But as miserable as this was for us, we know that our furry charges, which are in the outdoor cages 24 hours a day, must really suffer when the temperatures soar. We take a number of steps to provide them with some relief. To help the raccoons cool off, we add bags of ice cubes and blocks of ice to their pools and ice cubes to their water bowls. It never fails to amuse us to watch the raccoons fish the ice out of their pool, push it around the floor of the cage, and then see their puzzled looks when the new, cool toy disappears before their very eyes. A special summer treat for both them and us is to fill up the big cage’s pool by squirting a hose through the wire rather than by using buckets. The raccoons love to stand in the pool under the gentle, cooling spray. Some of their activities result in the person on the other end of the hose getting a refreshing soaking as well.

The birds, squirrels, and other wild animals that come to our yards also take advantage of cool, clean water that is put out for them during the steamy months (as well as throughout the year). The oppressive heat and lack of water especially add to the misery of the red foxes in our area that are suffering from a debilitating condition called sarcoptic mange. We receive daily calls asking how best to help them. We offer callers the necessary medication and detailed instructions on how to proceed. We also recommend that clean water and supplemental food be provided to help the foxes survive while they recover.

At the refuge, many of the streams have either dried up or become mere trickles due to this summer’s heat and lack of rain. It will certainly be a relief to all when this long, oppressive weather pattern changes.

Where Is Houdini Raccoon?

That was a question we quite often asked ourselves while most of this year’s orphans were still being cared for in the house. On June 1, Erika received a litter of 4 baby raccoons from an area animal shelter. They weighed about one pound each. When they grew a bit bigger, one of the babies began to exhibit great abilities as an escape artist. We named him Houdini.

The young orphan raccoons we care for at Erika’s begin their stay in the house. Family groups, like Houdini’s, are kept together. "Singles" are housed with others of a similar age and size. The most fragile ones, such as newborns, need frequent feedings and monitoring. These are kept on Erika’s main floor, housed in Lucite enclosures that sit partially on heating pads. As the animals get bigger and stronger and need more room and less attention, they are moved in their groups downstairs to Erika’s “animal room.� There, they often first live in multi room "condos" that we construct from several cardboard cartons which are linked together. During their weeks in the animal room, the groups of orphans move from their condos through a series of increasingly larger cages. All of cages have a nest box, eating and drinking areas, a "potty box," climbing opportunities, hammocks, and a changing variety of playthings.

When Houdini and his siblings were moved to their new condo down in the animal room, his escapades began. More often than not, when Erika or another caregiver would open the door to the animal room, Houdini would be outside his condo exploring. Sometimes, he would leap to the top of one of the very tall cages; at other times, he would quickly hop back into his condo. Of course, we would know that he had spent the night visiting the other orphans’ cages and doing inventories of the items in the animal room. This always surprised us since Houdini’s siblings never got out of the condo nor have the many other orphans that we have previously housed in similar cardboard condos.

The orphans are brought upstairs in their groups to the kitchen in the morning and late afternoon for bottle feedings and playtime while their cage or condo is cleaned. Ideally, the playtime is supervised but there is not always an extra volunteer to stay in the kitchen with the curious and increasingly agile little raccoons. Thus, Houdini’s group was sometimes briefly left on its own in the kitchen. When the cage cleaner came back up to the kitchen on these occasions, she would notice that there were only three little raccoons visible. Soon, though, Houdini would pop out of a kitchen drawer. Although drawer exploring is not a sanctioned activity, we could not help being amused by Houdini’s nonstop antics.

The 2007 Orphans Grow Up

We were anxious as the 2007 "baby season" got underway after our heartbreaking 2006 baby season when we and other rehabilitators struggled to save many young raccoons that were stricken with an extremely difficult to diagnose and usually fatal illness. Sadly, we know that each year, a few will arrive that we cannot save but with 2006 still fresh in our minds, this year, we were especially alert for any hint of a problem. Happily, nearly all of the orphans that came into our care this year survived and are thriving.

During the summer, Houdini, his siblings, and the other older orphans were moved to outdoor cages. Most will end up in Erika’s biggest outdoor cage which has two large rooms for the animals and a foyer area for supplies. The rooms have a small interior connecting door. The cage’s amenities include numerous wide shelves, tree branches, ramps, hammocks, nest boxes, and potty boxes. One side is built around a tree and has a large wading pool into which we add stones, shells, and tub animals. There are hollow logs to climb in and on and a changing variety of toys to play with. The cage also contains a rope ladder, a tube that is hung from the ceiling, old fire hoses, and a bucket swing. In addition to keeping these complex, inquisitive animals occupied, the environmental enrichment also helps them develop the skills that they will need when they return to the wild.

We Begin Planning For Our Fall Releases

In August, we begin to notice that baby season is finally winding down and it is time to think about the upcoming animal releases that will take place in the early fall. A number of species that are rehabilitated at Wild Bunch such as songbirds, rabbits, and squirrels don’t require extended periods of care and by fall, they have long since returned to their natural habitat. Raccoons, however, are long term guests. Ideally, we like them to be about five or six months old when they are released. (Those that are too young to be released in the fall are kept over the winter and released the following spring.)

During their months in our care, all the raccoons are wormed several times and, to give them the best chance for continued good health, they are vaccinated against parvo and canine and feline distemper. Prior to release, the raccoons (as well as foxes and bats) are given a rabies vaccine intended to provide protection for a minimum of three years. We consider rabies vaccination to be extremely important since we don’t want to release animals back to the wild only to have them exposed to this fatal disease.

September and October are perfect months for release since the weather is still mild and the animals will have a good opportunity to find suitable homes and food sources before the harsh winter months begin. Feeding stations and some permanent nest boxes help ease their transition.

Community Outreach Efforts

While most of our summer activities involve caring for the animals, we also teach classes and participate in other wildlife-related area events. Although summer is when we have the most animals to care for, it is also the time that many educational programs for children are held. For example, this summer, the Alexandria animal shelter held several weeklong Animal Awareness Camps that were geared to educating children ages 9 – 12 and 13 – 15 about animals and the environment. The sessions emphasized compassion, safety, and kindness. The children, who pay a fee to attend, get hands on animal experience and learn how the shelter works and how to care for pets. They also are given information about careers involving animals; they do arts and crafts projects; and they have guest speakers.

Erika was a guest speaker at several of the Alexandria camps as well as at a similar program sponsored by the animal shelter in Arlington. For these sessions, Erika discusses her experiences as a wildlife rehabilitator and shows the children posters and photographs of our wild orphans. She also brings an assortment of wildlife puppets. In addition, she answers the children’s questions and listens to their wildlife experiences. Younger participants are given special coloring books that provide interesting information about many of our area’s wild neighbors.

New True Story on the Wild Bunch Website

The new True Story on the Wild Bunch website, (, is called "Tony the (Box) Turtle Finds a Hospitable New Home." It is the story of an eastern box turtle that had been picked up and taken home by a well-intentioned but misguided young man. After two years of life in a small terrarium, the turtle was brought to Erika’s. It would have been irresponsible at that point to return him to the wild. Erika named him Tony and “released� him in her fenced in backyard where he now spends his time marching around the yard, raiding the tomato patch, and stopping by the raccoon cages at mealtimes. The article also provides general background information on box turtles, explains why their future is uncertain, and discusses some ways that humans can help these gentle, fascinating creatures. The story ends with a recent development in Tony’s backyard world.

Some Financial News

We were recently notified by the local federal coordinating committee of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area that Wild Bunch has been issued its new CFC designation number for the 2007 fundraising campaign. The CFC is a charitable donation program for federal government employees. It is the largest workplace charity campaign in the country and the only program authorized to solicit and collect contributions from federal employees at their workplace. The annual charitable donation drive provides funds to a wide variety of nonprofit local, national, and international organizations. Our newly assigned CFC designation number is 69040.

We were first selected to participate in the CFC program in 2006. Since Wild Bunch had not participated in the CFC before, we had no idea what level of funding we might expect. We received a letter earlier this year advising us how much had been pledged. We were pleased that the 2006 CFC donations would almost cover a major improvement we made to the refuge before the baby season began. We were, therefore, delighted when we learned that Wild Bunch had been approved to participate in the 2007 campaign. We would be extremely appreciative if you would encourage any federal employees you know to consider making Wild Bunch one of their CFC charities when the fall campaign begins later this year.

As Always, Our Sincere Thanks

We want to thank everyone who continues to help us help our wild friends by volunteering, by providing needed supplies, and, of course, by contributing financially. This support makes it possible for us to care for many animals each year. Financial donations can be mailed to Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation, 402 West Alexandria Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22302-4204 or be made via PayPal from our website. We rely on your support and we appreciate everything you do to help.

Please visit our website at to find out more about our refuge and the work we do. We welcome your comments and suggestions. If you know someone, who would like to receive our newsletter, please e-mail. The more people who know about Wild Bunch and can find ways to contribute to the well being of our wildlife, the better for all.