Feature photo of a raccoon receiving treatment at the Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
By Elizabeth Trickey
Not only is the week of May 2nd “Be Kind to Animals Week”, but the entire month of May is “Foster Care Month”. The volunteers at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation take excellent care of the many infant critters that have been left without a parent, and a select few of dedicated, experienced volunteers also take some of these babies home to foster.
How is fostering being kind to animals? So many wildlife babies get displaced this time of year. Their parents are killed by traffic, or nests get disturbed by nature, people, or other animals, leaving the young ones without any means to feed or take care of themselves. This is where foster parents come in to save the day!
Fostering is a very time-consuming, yet rewarding, occupation. You see, newborn animals require many feedings throughout the day, no different than human babies. Each feeding for a litter of 5 infants can take an hour or more, depending on how well they are able to suckle. And after eating, they need to be physically encouraged to expel body wastes by wiping their back ends with a cloth. Then there is cleaning the enclosure and preparing a specialized formula for the next meal. This is all done every few hours, up to 6 times a day, from 6am to midnight. My hat is off to all the wildlife foster parents who take on this very necessary job. Doing this requires a special license and approval from the Ministry. Uncertified people are only allowed to have wild animals in their care for a 24 hour period – enough time to find the nearest rehab centre.
What does “being kind to animals” mean to most people? Those with pets might think that’s taking Rover for a long walk in the country, stuffing fresh catnip into Fluffy’s favourite toys or giving their furry friends special treats. Good ideas, for sure.
Now let’s consider what “being kind to animals” means for our wild critters. Many of us try to make our properties inviting for wildlife and that is an excellent way to encourage a multitude of species to come visiting. If you have a small space, growing pots of colourful flowers can attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Just be careful not to put the plants too close to a window since many birds die each year from collisions with them due to the reflection.
For those of you who have larger properties, leaving your yard “wild” makes a perfect habitat for many species. The old logs, dead trees, rocks, and brush piles around your house make great natural cover and nesting grounds for many animals. To make your property even more inviting for wildlife, you can find spaces to plant trees and native, non-invasive flowers of all colours that will bloom at different times of the year. Installing bird houses and bat boxes will also encourage more wildlife to grace your property.
And how about a water source? You can be kind to our feathered friends by installing a bird bath, which is best placed in a shady area of your yard to keep the water cool and fresh. Arrange small stones and branches in it so the birds have something to stand on, or against, while they preen. Beware, these baths are stagnant water, so need to be washed out regularly, a couple of times per week. When cleaning, don’t use soaps since the birds need oils on their feathers, and soaps will strip them of that. Bleach and vinegar are good for wiping down the bath, and a capful of apple cider vinegar not only keeps the algae in check, but it is also good for the birds. Rumour has it that putting copper pennies in the bath will slow down algae growth, too. Heck, you can’t spend them, so you might as well do something with those coins!
If you love the sound of trickling water, you might consider buying or building a pond. With this type of water source for the wildlife, you can add attractive aquatic plants and even fish. Ponds can be as small or large as you want, and don’t require emptying and cleaning as much as bird baths because they have running water. However, there is maintenance such as skimming the leaves and other debris that gets blown into the pond, as well as pump maintenance.
There are also many ways we can be kind to wild animals that most people wouldn’t really consider because they are a more indirect treatment of critters. For instance, we all contribute to global warming through the increased use of fossil fuels. Every time we use a heat source, electricity, travel in our cars, even eat beef – those things all contribute to climate change. As our world gets warmer, it changes the ecosystems our wildlife live in, and species are struggling to adjust, and not winning in that struggle. Loss of food, more frequent and severe storms, heat waves, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels all destroy habitats.
Other ways we can help is by using energy-efficient devices, being careful with our water usage, reusing/repurposing used items, and recycling. What many people may not be aware of, is how some things we regularly use can be very dangerous to animals. Those 6-pack bottle rings, while convenient for packaging, get stuck on animal bodies, killing them. Petition governments to ban them, don’t buy products that use them, and if you do have any, just cut the rings before throwing out the plastic.
We can also be kind to animals by carefully disposing our garbage. Our wild friends are very curious creatures, investigating the interesting things they come across in their environment. They mistake bits of garbage for food and eat all kinds of man-made items that fill them up without providing any nutrition. These animals get sick from complications of ingesting these materials, and often die of malnutrition. Things like plastic bags and drinking cups, fishing line that is left in the water or in trees, bottle caps, and balloons – all hurt and kill our wildlife.
Below are some photo taken on how our debris has impacted on our wildlife.
Besides being more conscientious about our lifestyle choices, there are other more personal, immediate ways that we can keep our wildlife safe and healthy. When celebrating “Be Kind to Animals Week”, you could sign up to volunteer at an animal shelter or wildlife facility. Most animal care centres rely on volunteers to feed, clean, and exercise the critters. And you can volunteer for as little as just a few hours per week. Often shelters need people to answer phones, provide maintenance services, or transport animals – there are lots of jobs people can help with that would benefit the animals.
Wildlife rehabs do not get any financial assistance from our governments. We rely on donations from individuals, companies, and fundraising events. During this last year, most fundraising events had to be cancelled due to Covid. Lesser known charities, like our rehab, are trying to make do with a smaller operating budget. Your donation could go to sponsoring an animal of your choice, be a gift card from a pet shop or home improvement store, in lieu of a birthday gift or other special event, or in memory of a special person or pet. All these ways of donating would go a long way in keeping the critters healthy and happy.
If you are unable to donate your time or financial assistance, wildlife centres are always in need of both specialty and household items. Please visit our website to see our “Wish List” which contains many things that you might even have at home that you no longer use, including empty wine or beer bottles.
Lastly, be kind to animals by getting out in nature – enjoy our beautiful world and all the species in it. The more people learn about the variety of critters living around us, the more we will appreciate their skills, personalities, and how they contribute to our welfare. Hike with a friend and discuss the different ways we can can help our animal friends survive in their habitats. There is power in education and in numbers. Let’s all be part of maintaining a healthy environment for our furry, feathered, and scaly friends!
Here’s a big “Thank you” hug for all of you willing to be kind to animals!!