Newsletter Archive

Wild Bunch Newsletter November/December 2007

Wild Bunch wishes to give you an update on our September and October 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 September and October, Wild Bunch received 1 black vulture, 1 cuckoo, 1 deer, 1 flying squirrel, 2 great horned owls, 1 mourning dove, 12 opossums (including 11 babies), 1 osprey, 1 rabbit, 3 raccoons, 1 red horned owl, 1 red tailed hawk, and 30 squirrels.

Always a Bittersweet Occasion, Raccoon Release Time Arrives

In late summer, we begin preparing for the release of a number of the animals that we have cared for since the spring. Although many of the rehab birds and mammals have long since returned to the wild, by September, most of our orphan raccoons are at the age when they will have the best chance of making a successful transition back to the wild. Early fall is ideal for release because the weather is still mild and the animals will have time to find suitable homes and food sources before the harsh winter months begin. At the refuge, feeding stations and some permanent nest boxes help ease their transition. The babies that arrive from the smaller late summer breeding season are often from the first litters of young females who didn't breed earlier in the year. These babies are far too young to be able to survive in the wild over the winter so we will care for them and release them in the spring.

Thus, one of our major accomplishments in September was the release of a group of eleven raccoons, one of the largest groups that we have released at one time. This group included "the big girl," whose early illness and recovery were discussed in the July/August newsletter, and Houdini, whose escapes and escapades we also told you about previously. We always carefully plan our releases but with the eleven, extra thought and preparation was required. All had been wormed and vaccinated for feline and canine distemper, parvo, and rabies while we were caring for them. All had come to us as young orphans earlier this year and were about 5 months old and healthy at release time.

On a warm early fall day, Erika and Charlene got the eleven into carriers (an easier task than had been anticipated) and drove them to the refuge where they were put in two release cages in the woods that would become their new home. The new arrivals were provided with food, water, treats, and potty boxes. They were then left to explore the release cages awhile on their own. Before heading home, Erika and Charlene went back to the release cages to see how the raccoons were settling in. They were quite surprised to see a large raccoon on top of one of the cages. Upon closer inspection, they discovered it was the "big girl," who, of course, was supposed to be inside the release cage for the next few days. She had found a broken hinge on the release cage window and had managed to go exploring outside. Charlene climbed up an old ladder and was able to persuade the big girl to come down. The big girl rejoined her companions in the cage. Diana O'Connor cared for the raccoons in the release cages for the next few days.

Then, on another fine September day, Erika and Wild Bunch Board member Pat Crusenberry went to the refuge and moved half of the group to the cage nearest the stream so that the whole group could be reunited and released from one cage. The cage window (now repaired) was opened and the raccoons walked down the ramp to the ground. It was a happy release. Before they were left to their new lives, Pat, who doesn’t often go on the releases, took many photographs of them playing in the nest boxes that are above or near the release cage, climbing the trees, and exploring the area near the stream. The release cage window will be open to them for some time and supplemental food will continue to be provided to help with their transition. They had been a wonderful group to care for and, though we will miss them, we are pleased that their return to the wild is off to a great start.

Post Release, Erika’s Big Cage Is Renovated and Some New Residents Move In

Most of the raccoon orphans cared for at Erika’s end up in her biggest outdoor cage. It 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 skills that they will need.

Once the eleven were released, there were five raccoons spread among Erika’s three outdoor cages and one very young guy named Henry still living in Erika’s house. The six would need to be overwintered. Clearly, one of the next orders of business was to begin assimilating the separate small groups into one group. This would simplify caring for them, provide more companionship for the raccoons, and make the cold winter days and nights much more comfortable for them. Before the introductions were begun, however, we all agreed that it was time for some needed renovations to be made to the big cage. Happily, Charlene is married to Howard, a builder extraordinaire. Some extraneous things were moved out and Howard replaced old ramps and shelves with new, wider boards. Some nest boxes were made more accessible. Once Howard was through with the improvements, the big cage received a thorough scouring.

We are now in the process of introducing the previously separate groups to each other. Typically, there will be some initial growling and tail wagging, followed by cavorting and nestbox sharing. Erika is particularly looking forward to seeing little Henry move out of her house since we had been unable to find a similarly sized orphan to be his companion and he needs to have the company of other raccoons. Also, he is now well into his inquisitive and kitchen destruction phase. Soon, we hope to have the newly formed "family" happily settled in the improved big cage.

Wildlife Rehabilitator Training

Each year, usually before "baby season" begins or after it ends, we attend classes on a variety of rehabilitator and wildlife concerns. Such training helps us keep current on newer, better ways to help our wild charges in particular and wildlife in general. They also help us meet the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ educational requirements that must be completed before we can renew our wildlife rehabilitation permits.

In late September, Erika and Charlene attended two classes that the Wildlife Center of Virginia held in our area for members of the Wildlife Rescue League of Northern Virginia. The Wildlife Center of Virginia is a well-respected and internationally known hospital for native wildlife that is located in Waynesboro, Virginia. One class was on wildlife zoonoses. A zoonosis is a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans or, more specifically, a disease that normally exists in animals but is one that can affect humans. One zoonotic disease that many people are familiar with is Lyme disease. The second class was on wildlife emergency stabilization.

True Story on the Wild Bunch Website

Beginning November 1, The True Story on the Wild Bunch website, ( will be "The Delightful Dozen: Twelve Orphan Raccoons Grow Up." As we planned for and completed the release of this year’s eleven orphans, we were often reminded of "the delightful dozen" and their story, which was featured on the website a couple of years ago. In a lighthearted but informative manner, it describes the animals, tells where they came from, discusses their personalities, and outlines the different stages in their development. Rereading it makes us smile as we remember the delightful dozen and the many other masked bandits whom we have cared for over the years. We hope you will enjoy it.

Humane Wildlife Services – Help in Coexisting Peacefully with Wild Neighbors

As Northern Virginia’s few remaining natural areas disappear due to rampant overdevelopment, there is far less natural space for wildlife. This brings humans increasingly into closer contact with our wild neighbors. Often, this results in conflicts. And, all too often, the animals are the big losers. While no statistics are kept on a national basis, data from states that do require reporting suggests that hundreds of thousands of animals are trapped, killed, or relocated each year. Sadly, many people learn too late that such drastic measures might have been avoided or at least addressed in a much more humane fashion.

Earlier this year, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) began a wildlife conflict solution service that is available to homeowners and businesses in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Detailed information on the service can be found on the Internet at

By calling 866-9HUMANE, people can receive free advice on how to discourage animal intruders without inflicting harm. In many cases, these "phone solves" provide all the information people need to address their concerns.

For a fee, residents in the Washington, D.C. area (and Cape Cod) can use the state of art prevention and eviction services that both respect and protect the lives of the animal "trespassers." A full range of services are offered -- from the prevention of flooding caused by beavers to animal-proofing trouble areas in homes such as attics and chimneys.

Some Financial News

Last year, Wild Bunch was delighted to be selected to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area. 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. We were pleased that the 2006 CFC donations covered a major improvement we made to the refuge before the baby season began.

We were, therefore, again very pleased to learn that Wild Bunch had been approved to participate in the 2007 campaign which is now underway. In late October, Erika and Pat Crusenberry were invited to discuss and provide information on Wild Bunch at a CFC event held for the staff of the Law Department of the U.S. Postal Service in Washington. Following that event, its organizers suggested that Erika and Pat set up their table of Wild Bunch materials in a well traveled breezeway that is used by the building’s employees as they go to a nearby underground mall at lunchtime. Erika and Pat felt that the event went very well.

We would be extremely appreciative if you would encourage any federal employees you know to consider making Wild Bunch one of their CFC charities. Our newly assigned CFC designation number is 69040.

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.