Time for Freedom

It’s early spring; phones ringing off the hook at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation and all other rehabilitation facilities. We receive calls about orphaned raccoons, orphaned rabbits, baby squirrels, fox kits, fawns, coyote pups, opossums, skunks, etc., cases of mange and other illnesses wildlife can get; they all keep the centres busy. Not many facilities take eyes closed babes but Procyon in Beeton does take them. Volunteers are trained to care for them.

Hopefully, last year’s volunteers will be back along with new volunteers. Volunteers are always needed. Donations from the public are desperately needed. Veterinarians await the calls for the sick and injured wildlife patients. Long shifts of frequent feeding, washing dishes, doing laundry, washing and sweeping floors, cleaning many cages, making the formula and preparing foods for older animals is the norm.

Some animals who need round the clock care are being fostered out to those dedicated and set up able to take them. It just never stops. Some are lost. Hearts break but you must try to keep going, try to stay focused and try to be professional about the ones you can save. You know this going into wildlife rehabilitation; some just don’t make it. But everything is done to try to save them. As they grow, they start to play, they squabble like all siblings do and then they graduate to bigger outdoor enclosures.

Talitha Eyes Closed

You no sooner get them all fed and nicely cleaned up and “bam!” their litter box is full of water; the kibble is everywhere including out on the nice clean floor and the water is empty. But boy they had fun doing it all. And you have a good laugh. After all, they are just being youngsters, having fun and getting into trouble. Through these stages, lots of enrichment is provided for these animals. And at the early stages either stuffed toys and or fur donated by people who no longer support the fur trades giving up those old fur coats, giving them a sense of being with mom in the den. Keeps them snugly and gives them comfort and warmth; much needed for wee ones so tiny.

Enrichment can be hammocks to sleep in, balls, stuffed toys, pools, putting ice cubes or fruit in the pools for them to catch or minnows to chase and catch for tasty treats because they will need to learn to do this in the wild. Different foods depending on their age are tossed around as they get bigger and carved out pumpkins with treats to go rummaging through for another yummy treat. All fun, but also learning all the skills they will need to survive in the wilderness they will soon be entering.

As they grow, they need to become wild. So, care is taken to keep human contact at a minimum, gowning up, gloves, and masks are worn. And as they get older that is exactly what happens. They become wild. The hormones kick in and they are ready to go, never, ever think you can make a pet out of a wild animal. They are wild. They need special diets for their species as babies, more harm than good can come from thinking you can do it. As wee orphans, they can die if not given proper diets or aspirate if fed wrong. And as they get older, they are destructive and can turn on you. And can carry diseases. Because they are born wild. And that wild will always be in them, as they age it becomes very apparent, and dangerous.

Summer comes to an end and fall arrives. Boy, you see changes in all the animals now. Winter coats are coming in, they want out, they need to go free, and for the most part, they are ready to go to freedom. Well, most are. There are always exceptions, like late-born babes, injuries, illnesses. Unless it just wasn’t meant to be for them, they are all given the best chances at survival that they can have. But sometimes it is the kinder thing to stop the suffering if you know there is nothing more you can do. This is one of the hardest things about being a wildlife rehabilitator.

Deer being released from their transport boxes
Deer Release

Now the time has come, they first need to be inoculated. For example, coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons are inoculated against rabies, distemper and parvovirus. Bats only require the rabies inoculation. A big job indeed with many animals in their care. Each one has to be caught, against their will by the way, because by now they want nothing to do with their human caregivers since they are very wild. Once the inoculations are complete, with great care being taken to protect oneself and the animal, then the job at hand is finding the correct locations.

MNRF (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) has rules and regulations each wildlife facility must follow. Each animal has a chart. Families are kept together and released together, back where they were found or at least within proximity. Locations of where they were found is a must-have for this reason. They must go back to that location or within the designated amount of km allowed from that location for that species. For the fawns who have now lost their spots, they are released after hunting season. So, you can see that this is the big event of the season, and freedom awaits these animals who have made it through.

All that hard work, long hours and sometimes sleepless nights are about to pay off. For the lives lost along the way, these precious lives get you through those hard times. You did it, not easy, but you did it.

Rocky in need before rescue
Rocky’s Freedom Day

A few releases that come to mind are Rocky the raccoon, who I rescued, it was touch and go for a bit, but he came home. And another raccoon, Bandit, also came home. Sampson the adult coyote who came in with bad mange is another success story. The poor guy was terrified of us. But he did recover nicely and upon his release, he even stopped, looked back at us all and said thank you, before he disappeared over the crest.

Talitha Snuggling with a Toy

Then there was little beautiful Talitha, the wee red fox who came in eyes closed; she stole everyone’s hearts. She and another fox kit in our care here were released together. She ran like the wind, never hesitated, never looked back. Just ran and bounced through the tall grasses into the forest she would now call home, her buddy, well he wasn’t in that much of a hurry as he was warier. But with some coaxing, he ran and kept running to his freedom.

There are many more and all are special as every animal touches your heart. It’s the time for releasing that all rehabbers wait for, the time to say goodbye, to wish them luck, hope and pray they make out okay in that big world they call home. The one that is getting smaller for them because of more roads, more houses, fewer forests, trees, wetlands and fields.  Good luck little buddies, we wish you a long happy and safe life in the wild.

Sampson Recovering from Mange
Sampson saying thank you and farewell

Recap: Always call a wildlife rehabilitation facility if you find a wild animal orphaned, injured or sick. Never try to do it yourself, never try to make a pet out of them. They will end up at a wildlife facility eventually. Giving them the job to try to make them wild enough for freedom. Otherwise, in a lot of cases, the rule is euthanasia for that perfectly healthy animal because it will not know how to survive in the wild and it cannot be kept.

All harsh but all truth. Let the professionals care for them right away. You legally have 24 hours to find a rehabilitation facility to get them to, so do it right. It’s not about you, it’s about them, they need to be wild. That cute baby is going to grow into a beautiful adult, one that needs to be wild and free. To all those kind gentle folks out there who have saved lives and taken them to rehabilitation facilities, way to go. Keep up the good work. We are there for you and the wildlife in need.

Jennifer Howard

Photographer/volunteer at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Time for Freedom
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