photos and aricle by Jennifer Howard

Any way you say it. Wildlife volunteering or volunteering for wildlife. It’s the same incredible experience. It’s not easy but training is provided and you shadow experienced volunteers for a bit. This helps you get the confidence, ask the questions, get familiar with wildlife and other volunteers and everything in general.

Volunteering for a wildlife rehabilitation centre like Procyon Wildlife is very rewarding in many ways; there are many things you can do if you don’t want to handle the animals, cleaning, laundry, dishes, prepping meals and phone shifts which you do from your home. It’s endless and everything is important. And right now we need more phone volunteers.

Procyon Volunteers
First Pinky of the season. Baby squirrels are born with eyes closed and no fur.

Our season started a month early this year; on March 1st we received our first pinky squirrel. Then a couple of weeks later our first family of orphaned, eyes closed baby raccoons arrived. From then on, the phones just haven’t stopped; babies, babies and more babies. Squirrels, raccoons and bunnies so far. Because of the pandemic, as many baby animals as possible have been fostered out to trained volunteers. The older animals remain at the Centre and are being spaced out in a way that volunteers can be socially distanced while they care for them, since we are still under strict protocols.

There are three 5 hour shifts a day, 7 days a week. Shifts are 6 am to 11 am, 11 am to 4 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm. You need to be able to do one 5 hour shift a week. These tiny little lives depend on us to survive. They didn’t ask to be left motherless. They are helpless, precious little lives. So if you can volunteer or would like to find out more about it, please contact Linda Boag-Moores our Volunteer Coordinator at   info@procyonwildlife.com.

Know it is not easy work, but the rewards of saving these lives and watching them grow, and watching them go through their life stages is extremely life-changing. Eyes closed infants, toddlers, teenagers, the playing, scrapping, learning; we provide for them as they grow. Then prepare them for their release when it’s time. It’s just wonderful. You go home tired but your heart is full. Then the day comes that they go free, back to the wild where they belong. Now that is the moment we all work so hard to accomplish. You always worry about them but you have to remember they were born wild. Their instincts do kick in. Some animals run and never look back and others do the run, look back and say thank you before disappearing into the wilderness. Leaving nothing but big smiles behind either way.

As always we overwintered a few animals. And as animals were coming in, animals were being released. Back in February, we admitted a beautiful milk snake. With the mild weather, it had come out, right up someone’s drain in the basement. What a surprise that would have been for both the man and snake. He was going to bring in the whole pipe as the snake appeared to be stuck. And as he was a distance away the plan was to come in the morning. The snake managed to get itself out overnight. It arrived to finish out the winter with us and amazingly was unharmed by its adventure. Thank goodness. It has now been released during that recent lovely warm spell. It will hunker in of course on cold days but, it will be fine.

The opossums, squirrels and most raccoons have all gone home back to the wilderness where they were born. For most, this will be their first true experience in the wild on their own, since they came to us as orphans. Most were eyes closed orphans. Now they are doing what they were intended to do; mate, explore, climb trees, fish in rivers and play, just be wild. Their hunting skills will improve with each new day, they will learn to do what they were intended to do. We always make sure they have all the things they need for survival close by in the release site. This helps them out for the first few days until they get the hang of it. We bid them farewell and wish them luck. We have completed our role in their rehabilitation at the Centre.

Animals that were successfully rehabbed and released

We still have one special raccoon at Procyon. Remember Captain Lucky? He had a horrible injury to his hind leg. Dr. Rebecca had to amputate that leg to save him. He is still with us and has done amazingly well. Of course, we didn’t see him too much over the winter. He came out to eat but spent much of his time snuggled in his nice warm bed. I don’t blame him one bit. Now to make sure he will be able to manage completely in the wild he will soon make a trip out to Sarah’s place, where she will put him in one of her nice big enclosures. He will be able to climb and explore. She will watch him and make sure his climbing skills will be good enough to survive out in the wild. This is the last step toward his rehabilitation. More news to come on that later.

However, we have some sad news about a beautiful squirrel named Annie. Annie is a squirrel who has not been with us too long. I’m sure you all remember her, she came into Procyon in critical condition, it was determined that she had been shot. Dr. Sherri Cox was able to successfully remove the bullet which had migrated from her back leg up into her neck. She had a severe infection of the bone and surrounding tissues in her leg. It was and is grotesquely swollen and very painful. Although meds have helped her to a degree her leg has not changed. She is in great discomfort and clearly not wanting to be handled anymore for her treatments. She has had enough. Sometimes an animal just tells you it’s time. The decision, although an extremely tough one, has been made to have her euthanized. We don’t know how long ago this happened to her, but it is for certain she has suffered terribly. She will be crossing the rainbow bridge soon to be free once again, no more fear, no more pain and discomfort. Some hit you a little harder than others, although every life you lose is hard. Little Annie will be one such case.

New patient red fox getting treatment for his eyes.

Now for some things we are working on right now. We have been overwhelmed with emails, phone calls and messages regarding mangy foxes and one injured mangy fox around the Alcona area in Innisfil. Just to fill you in on this, we do have full community support with this matter. We have quite a few live traps set in secure private locations where these animals are frequenting. Because of the communication from people who see them I feel confident that we have the traps in good locations. We have cameras on two traps and homeowners are monitoring the traps as well. It’s become a full-time job for me as I live nearby and I am manning this project. I don’t mind, I love foxes. An animal in need is worth the extra effort it takes.

But I have to say this lot is really giving us a run. In spite of the best tasty smelly foods, they are not fully cooperating.  However, the injured one has come close a couple of times going in one of the traps and has checked out the other two as well. People say, “Why is it taking so long? Why can’t you just go get them?” Believe me, if it were only that easy, I would be so happy! But it’s not. In fact, we are the third wildlife rehabilitation centre to try to get them. Remember, these are wild animals. They cannot let their guard down. They are in survival mode and getting caught is the last thing on their agenda, in any way shape or form. They are getting food and have still been able to hunt. But the day will come when we will get lucky. They are getting worse and are getting closer to the traps, but they clearly are still getting food. These guys are sure traveling great distances still which makes our job even harder. We have a terrific caring community and are kept up to date with sightings. These are very special little foxes. When we get them we will make certain it is posted because everybody will want to know. Some people have asked me, “What happens next once we get them?”

When they successfully go into that trap, the cage is covered so as to keep them as calm as possible. We take them to the Centre where they get their weight taken. They will have their own medical chart where everything gets written down, just like our doctor does with us. They will be put into their enclosure with food and water, soft bedding. Then the medication will be measured out according to their weight and administered to them. Meds are administered to treat mange, antibiotics for infections, if any and if needed pain meds. If required, a check-up by the veterinarian is set up. Sometimes they need their eyes flushed and medication put in as well. This now starts the road to recovery. It is not often but sometimes deeper things go wrong internally and we can’t make it right again. In life, nothing is for sure after all. But for the most part, they come along and recover nicely.

They are kept inside until they are healthy enough to go outside to a bigger enclosure when any treatments are completed as well. Then after about two months approximately, they are ready for freedom. Before release, they are given more meds to protect them from getting reinfected for about 12 weeks. These beautiful healthy foxes will run free and wild again. But for now, patience is in order. We are trying our very best.

So as you can see volunteers for wildlife rehabilitation centres are always busy doing something. But the rewards are endless. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay. But remember we are run solely on volunteers and donations. So if you can’t volunteer, check out our wish list to see what we need. We even have an Amazon Procyon Wildlife Wish List. Throw a little something extra on your order. Sponsor an animal, participate in one of our fundraisers. Make a donation. Big little or in between are all accepted and greatly appreciated.

Follow our covid-19 protocols that the phone volunteers give you if you’re bringing in an animal for admission. We will fill out an admission form over the phone, give you a number to call when you get to the parking area, and someone will come and get the animal or animals from you there. These protocols will be in place until further notice. Never just bring an animal in without calling first as it may not be noticed since we are very busy, and we also need information on that animal.  Be patient if you call and leave a message. The phone is checked hourly from 8 am to 8 pm. Messages are documented and called in sequence. We will get to you.

For now more than ever, be safe and keep others safe, follow protocols and let’s all get through this pandemic together. Better days are ahead.

Jen Howard

Procyon volunteer/ photographer

“Help is in Your Hands”

Wildlife Volunteering