Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wildlife Rehab Bloopers

When we make ‘em, it’s helpful to remember that everybody does. At a recent class we held for new rehabbers, we old-timers recounted several of ours.

There was the time someone found all her ducklings beheaded one morning. She just couldn’t believe her little fox kit was old enough to have predatory instincts, and she had been letting him have the run of her animal room.

There was the time a hawk swooped down and grabbed one of my ducklings out of his enclosure, right before my eyes. I worked all morning long to put a wire roof over it. Then, when the hawk came back, I sat nearby and dared him try to get another one of my babies. The hawk just stood there. The ducklings waddled right up to him, crying, “Mama, mama! You’re home!” The hawk inserted his talons into the chicken wire and grabbed the nearest one. So what if he couldn’t get it out to eat it? It was still dead! (Moral of the story: cover your outdoor cages with a tarpaulin! If a hawk can’t see anything interesting from aloft, he won’t come in for closer inspection.)

There was the time somebody’s ailing crow ate some tiny rabbits.

There was the time someone who was feeding newborn squirrels though the night decided the easiest way to warm their milk, administered via 1-cc syringes with pet nursing nipples over their tips, would be to stick those syringes in her cleavage while she snoozed a bit longer, before reaching over for the squirrel box. They developed thrush, a white infection, in their mouths.

There was the time somebody, who shall remain unidentified, put a Hoary Bat in a plastic aquarium that had a tiny chip out of the corner, smaller than a dime. She snapped the cover securely in place, thinking that would take care of it. She even put a book on top of the lid. Next morning, no bat. Now rehabbers who work with bats have been vaccinated against rabies, but usually their families haven’t. Humans very rarely contract rabies from animals, but when they do, it is statistically likely to be the Hoary Bat from which they get it. This Hoary Bat was (more or less!) in hibernation, not moving around much, so it took two weeks to locate her. She was hanging by her toes behind a painting on a brick wall over the fireplace, hibernating peacefully.

And then there is the occasional unexpected success. Like the time a woman and her five-year-old son, Travis, brought me a large squirrel that was just too far gone. Its heart was still beating, but it was stone cold and not breathing. I said, “I’m sorry; there’s nothing I can do,” and laid the expiring creature in the nearest warmer, for lack of any other place to put it at the moment.

Teary-eyed, the woman said she would still like to make a donation. While she went to her car to retrieve her checkbook, I rolled the corpse in paper towels. Then I caught myself. “Not while the little boy is here,” I said to myself. “You can dispose of the body later.”

The woman handed me a nice check for ARK and left. Her visit had delayed my feeding schedule, and I had some 19 creatures to feed. So I cared for the living first, and only afterward got around to the dead squirrel. Except that when I looked into the warmer, that squirrel blinked at me and raised its head! I quickly injected some IV fluids under her skin, then put her in a warm box in a large, wire cage.

In the morning, she was scurrying all over in that cage. She actually offered to bite me! I called the woman back and told her, “You have to see this to believe it!” So she came with her son and her parents, who made another large donation to ARK.

I told Travis, “Last night, we didn’t need a name for this squirrel, but now that she’s going to live, we do. And since you are the one who found her, you get to name her.” He thought hard, but he couldn’t find a name as pretty as his mother’s. So he named the squirrel, “Debbie.”

And there was the time a friend brought me her pet rat. I told her the rat needed a vet, not a rehabber. But she said she had already been to a vet and the vet hadn’t helped, and I was her last hope. That poor rat coughed and wheezed for two days, and all I could do was keep her hydrated with IV fluids, and keep her warm, and give her antibiotics. I fed her through a stomach tube. Nothing seemed to help, though. Then one night, after we had come home very late from a party, Demetrios had a look at her, watched her poor body convulse with coughs, and his heart broke. He went to bed and prayed for that rat, and prayed and prayed.

"How long ya gonna pray?" I asked.

"Until the peace comes."

We were both so worried we woke up at 5:00 next morning, and rushed over to the rat’s cage. She was running around in her wheel, in between making short work of rodent chow! The coughing had disappeared. We kept her three more days, and she just kept improving. By time she went back home, she was more active and healthier than her sister!