The Thrill of Release

So, you bring them in, and we raise them. Orphans brought to us are cared for and fed every few hours, some needing round-the-clock care go to a foster volunteer. As they grow, we try to teach them what they need to know through enrichment in various stages of their growing up. Hiding food in egg cartons, worms in dirt in a container, fish in a kiddy pool, tree branches to climb etc. So, on release day. Are they going to know what to do?  Will they find food?  Will they find shelter? Will they know to get away from a predator?

The answer is yes.

A wild animal is just that, wild. Right from birth. They just seem to know what to do. Rooting for food under logs, fishing in a stream, digging for grubs and worms and insects, pulling bark off dead trees for insects under the bark.  But they will also feed under bird feeders and from garbage cans if given the chance. And that can lead to problems. So, keep under feeders clean and secure your garbage and compost containers well. Put them them out the morning of pick up.  Feeding wildlife can end up their death sentence with some animals such as bear or coyotes, also can lead to the spread of diseases like mange, parvo and distemper to name a few, where healthy and sick animals may gather together. These diseases can spread. So please help them by keeping them wild and not feeding.

Upon releasing a family of skunks early last fall, it was a family who had never been in the wild. Something happened to their mother and they kept coming out from under a shed. This was spotted and the kind people got them out and to us, they also had very bad mange.

They spent the summer with us getting better, stronger and being little characters bring us much entertainment.  We always take them where there is food, water and shelter. This is researched carefully before making the decision. Babies within 15 km of where they were found and adults within 1 km of where they were found if they need a better, safer location; these are the protocols of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry under which we are licensed. There was a nice stream, trees, and logs. Everything a skunk would love and need for survival. But would they know what to do?

It was time. Five skunks ready for their freedom. Lined up the crates and opened the doors. Hesitation at first, noses poking out sniffing the fresh forest air, then one came out followed by another, and another. They paid no mind to us at all. They got right to the work at hand. Exploring. Digging, rooting around. One went straight to the stream and started digging in the stones and walking around in the water. It was such a lovely fall day with sunshine and warmth. They were busy turning over logs, sniffing, and scratching. Oh, it was wonderful watching these young skunks on their first time in the wild. We smiled from ear to ear as we stood away from them and watched. They never went too far from one another for too long and would join up again on and off. But a couple were little adventurers. Taking everything in. We walked them in on a path, then we walked them as far in as we could into the forest. On our way out, one of the adventurers was near the path already, sniffing, and exploring. So, we scootched it back towards the others. And he gave us the stamping and bluff charge warning. Oh yes, these little skunks will be just fine. Our job was complete and we bid them farewell and good luck on their new lives.

Raccoons are fun too. Again, you put them in a habitat that suits raccoons, and always with water, food, and shelter with all the releases. It’s a given that adults are released back to where they came from so that they know where they are, where food and water are, and where their home is as well. We always uncover them and let them get their bearings before their final release. They look around excitedly and sniff the air. It’s wonderful to see and be a part of. To see the excitement in their eyes, the anticipation of where am I going to go first? The young ones out in the wild for their first time are precious to watch. They run to the trees and climb, chasing one another, or run to the water’s edge and check that out maybe grabbing a drink or wading in a bit. Romping together, oh what to do next? We always stay and watch for a bit to make sure they are okay. Adults never waste any time getting back out there and are usually gone in a flash. One raccoon I released Dex had to have part of his tail amputated. A lot of care was taken to make sure he would be okay, he ran out of his crate, looked back at me and continued on. It was precious to see his little butt disappear into the forest. Captain Lucky who had to have a back leg amputated after being trapped in an illegal snare was with us for a year. He was absolutely amazing. And he had no trouble climbing trees and running around. He was slow released and monitored but he was fine and off he went in a few days. Warms your heart to see the animals who have gone through so much run free again. That’s what it’s all about.

A recent fox release, Elvis, was very cute. He was with us almost three months, and on January 6th, he went home. He lives by the lake and in an area where there are cottages and a few year-round residents. Forest, and waterfront areas with lots of wonderful safe places. What did he do? He sauntered out, stopped a ways out, and looked around, sniffed the grass. Went to a neighbor’s deck steps, sniffed around, went to the bushes, sniffed and then peed marking his territory, Elvis is back. He wandered to all the cottages one by one and marked. Then he would go trotting by the other direction doing the same. Then pranced back in the other direction again. Still marking and sniffing out the other foxes, most likely a mate, next month is mating season. Then as I was packing up, there was Elvis trotting past the house yet again in the other direction. It was so cute; he paid no mind to us at all. Elvis was home, and on a mission. He looked absolutely amazing and was healthy and strong. And very happy. Most fox releases are much more uneventful in that they just go. But some are so amazing to see how they react back out in the wild. Sniffing the air, the ground, and shrubs. But the best ones are when they stop, turn around, and look back at you. Even for a brief second. It fills our hearts with joy. That is the thank you from that animal for saving me.

I released a lot of foxes, each one being very special and very different. Most giving that look back we all hope for.

Porcupines, opossums, squirrels, rabbits, and everything we take in are all very different during their releases. Adult coyotes run like the wind, porcupines and opossums are slow and check everything out, exploring everything, and poking around; climbing trees, wandering off into the forests. Squirrels run high into the trees, up and down then to the next one same thing. Rabbits chow down on the nice grasses.  Raccoons scoot off and find their favorite tree to climb. Porcupines walk off in their adorable slow gait to find their favorite tree to climb and find a place to have a snooze til dark.  It’s wonderful, it’s so special to be a part of their releases.

Not every animal makes it. In spite of everything in our power, some are too sick, too injured or too weak. But I assure you every loss is felt. Every life matters no matter what it is. And everything is done to save them. But sometimes we just can’t. And it’s heartbreaking.

One thing I always tell people who bring in an animal to us who is critical if it doesn’t make it. You still saved it. You saved it from any more fear and suffering, from freezing to death or attacks from a predator, from starving, dehydration. You still saved that animal. It will cross over in loving caring hands feeling no pain. It’s important to bring them in so we can care for them.

For the ones who reach their time to go home, there is nothing like it! And that is way more than not. That is the day we all worked so very hard for, hours feeding, cleaning, medicating, cleaning wounds, laundry, washing dishes, so many dishes at baby time, sanitizing, food prepping, giving enrichments, thinking up enrichments, monitoring the very sick or injured. Nurturing a tiny critical baby. Fostering round-the-clock needs by volunteers who give these little orphans care 24/7. Release time is the most special time of the whole year. Some bring tears of joy to our eyes. All bring the biggest smiles to our faces. The ones who struggled so hard and made it. The tiny orphans, the sick or injured adults. Free to be wild. The best.

Please, spring is not that far away, do not trap and relocate adults. Babies can start being born as early as mid-march (although on January 25th we admitted three newly born raccoons). The weather has made things so confusing for our wildlife. “Climate change is very real.” Let’s all pitch in and make 2023 a better year for our wildlife.  And for our wildlife rehabilitation centers. If you think you have a raccoon in your attic, skunks under your shed, or fox under your deck, please, please call us. We can actually help you help them to move on safely on their own, if there are babies, the parents will move them on their own, no need to trap them or orphaning precious little ones. Relocating is actually cruel and doing it in the spring is a no-no. Make that call and we will help. 905 729 0033.

The laws of relocation are no more than 1 km and only if the animal is causing property damage. Moving a mother from her babies is devastating to her, wild animals are the best parents out there. And they suffer if they lose their young or partners.  Some species mate for life such as foxes, swans, coyotes, wolves, and Canada geese. But all wildlife grieves and feels pain, and fears just like we do. I’ve seen it. You move them farther than 1 km, you put them where they have no idea where they are, where is the food, the water, and shelter? They may be in another’s territory causing territorial battles and even death. Taking them away from their babies. This is no one’s intention but this is what can happen. And diseases being spread to a disease-free area. Relocating is NOT the answer.

Call us first for advice and instructions.  Do not orphan or move animals away. Help is in your hands, in all of our hands. Let us help.

Jen Howard

Procyon Wildlife, Volunteer/photographer

The Thrill of Release
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