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

One Special Little Girl

This month, I’m going to write about something a little different. In wildlife rehabilitation, every little life you get is very special. Its life depends solely on all the volunteers that have dedicated their time and who have received the training to do this very special job. Sometimes, the help of dedicated wildlife veterinarians is also needed to help the sick and or injured. Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation can’t be done without teamwork of all those involved and that includes you.

Your donations and support are what makes it all possible for it all to come together. Sadly, not all lives make it despite all we do. But every one that does, brings huge smiles to the faces of caregivers at release time.

The centre wasn’t quite open yet for spring arrivals when an important call came in; one never really knows when wildlife moms are going to start having their wee ones.

In this article, I’m going to tell you about one little life that arrived early, was orphaned, and made an impact on everyone. Sadly, her Mom or Dad and other siblings were never found. The rescuer realized that this wee one needed help asap. It was March. Winter was still upon us; it was cold with lots of snow. Spring was just around the corner.

It was a quiet area, just a basic day, when the rescuer noticed something on the front lawn; “but what was it, what is that?” There was this tiny little animal clinging to life, huddled in fur possibly from its mother, from its den, where it had slept peacefully until something got it and took it away. No one really knows what actually happened, but no mom was ever seen; the poor thing was crying, dehydrated and cold. All alone this “eyes closed” baby, first thought to be a raccoon at the time, needed help right away.

So, the finder put the tiny babe into a warm snuggly box and called Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Officially not open for the season, but soon to be, in spite of this, that babe was not turned away. It was picked up and driven to a foster volunteer to be cared for around the clock.

However, upon arrival this wee girl thought to be a raccoon infant by the finder was none other than a tiny red fox. Also grey in color at that age but with a wee little white tip, typical of the red fox on the tip of her tiny tail. And her teeny tiny little feet, omg so cute but not raccoon feet. Just an amazing little life. A very easy mistake for the finder who was only really focused on one thing, and that was getting this tiny life much needed help, now. A very, very lucky little orphan. Beautiful little female that was later named Talitha.

Talitha’s life was hanging by the threads for the first while until they could get her stabilized. She had to be warmed slowly to avoid frostbite and needed to be given fluids to hydrate her tiny body. This “eyes closed” baby was stealing the foster volunteer’s heart who worked so hard to get this baby to come around and get her stabilized.

When Talitha was ready, she was introduced to a special formula that was as close to her mother’s milk as they could get. All wildlife babies need special diets; never give cow’s milk to a wildlife infant. Their lives depend on it. You can do more harm than good to a baby by feeding it the wrong food, quite possibly even causing it its life. They need to be in the hands of someone who is trained, so always get them to a wildlife rehabilitation facility as soon as possible. If you should ever find a wildlife baby, please do not try to care for it yourself; they can easily aspirate and become deprived of oxygen. So, this formula was introduced to Talitha very slowly to alleviate any further problems and to keep her going in the right direction, and that is exactly what she was doing. She was improving.

Her eyes opened a few days after her arrival. This beautiful wee girl was now introduced to the big world that surrounded her. But she didn’t see her mother and siblings. She saw a human mother and four walls, not a den. Care is taken to “cover up and be silent” as these babes grow since they must remain wild.

She was given enrichment items to help her be comfortable, to snuggle with and remind her of mom and to play with as she grew. People who give up their fur coats to Procyon have given these babes the comfort of what their moms would have given them, well, as close as one can get. One can never replace wildlife mothers. The babes just snuggle right in there, it’s wonderful. Off to la la land they go. Thank you to those who have given up those furs to wildlife orphans. And, for not supporting those fur trade companies.

 

As Talitha grew, she was moved from her crate to an enclosure with stuffed toys and places to hide, other toys; soon she graduated to food in dishes. She played hard and she slept hard. She was a growing girl after all. But despite all the efforts to find another kit to keep her company, none were to be found. Babies need company to thrive, to learn from each other, to play with, snuggle with, and romp ‘n roll with each other; just being babies. Otherwise, a lonely babe is a depressed babe. Talitha was lonely but she kept herself well amused as Procyon kept her well stocked with things to do. She hit everybody’s heart that one. Then one day that call came in, another fox kit was found at another facility. A wee bit smaller by a couple weeks or so; it had injured tail which needed to heal. This little one would be introduced when the time was right.

The two were introduced finally and watched closely. The new kit was a bit shy at first and Talitha was a little go getter. What a beautiful fox she was growing up to be; one could say dainty in her beautiful slender face. Her amazing happy tail that did a lot of wagging just like a puppy. The two became good buddies quickly. Soon they were put into a nice large enclosure. They played and they squabbled a bit, just like all siblings do. They slept and napped together, they were doing great and getting close to release time. Then they were inoculated to keep them healthy. Soon it was time to find a good location which would be safe with plenty of shelter and a natural water source nearby. These two were ready to go free and be wild. How they both had grown in so many ways; now ready to do what they were born to do.

September 5th, 2019 was Release day. A beautiful sunny evening was in store and a perfect location had been picked out. The kits were both napping together in the summer sun, in their enclosure, their beautiful red coats glistening. One eye opened, another, big stretches, big yawns, they seemed to ask, “okay what’s going on?” With curiosity they got up and started to move around and eye every movement made around them. The carrier was put into their enclosure for them to get used to it, so they could inspect it and check it out, become comfortable with it.

With a little bit of effort, the catching of the two healthy, feisty fox kits, who had other ideas, was complete. The release was on. Talitha was first caught and stayed at the front of the carrier like she knew this was it. She was excited. That beautiful face looking out at us while we caught up with her buddy. She put her foot on the door as if to say, “thank you but let’s go.”

She made him stay at the back of the carrier when he entered her space. She was ready. He was nervous. Covered safe and secured well, we were off. A short drive later and a carry through a field, we were there. Talitha was still sitting at the door with her buddy laying in behind her. Volunteers in their places and cameras were ready. The door was opened. Talitha wasted no time as she bounded out of that carrier and bounced through the tall grasses right back into the wooded area; never even looking back. Talitha was free. Her buddy however decided he was fine where he was. It took a bit of enticing to get him to come out, but he finally decided to run for it. He took a turn and ran straight in my direction, right by me full speed ahead and bounced like Talitha through the tall grasses into the forest. They didn’t stay together like we hoped, but knowing that they were in proximity, it is more than likely found each other again later that evening. The perfect release. The perfect evening, the sun setting with the skies of an amazing sunset on the way. Talitha and her little buddy were now free to roam, to explore, to play, to hunt, to grow up and have their own little fox kits; the way Mother Nature intended.

I have seen fox kits many times before, rescued and released them, but I have never seen one oh so tiny with eyes closed. To see Talitha getting bottle fed tail wagging and making her little amazing noises was such a beautiful thing to see. This little miracle of life had a hard start, almost didn’t make it, but live, she did. To see her snuggle in her fur, then go into a bigger enclosure romping and playing and having a grand time, chasing her toys, throwing her stuffed toy, biting it, shaking it like it was a prey animal, being so fierce like she was catching her dinner, then snuggling into it and falling asleep, wagging her tail in delight and then crashing from pure, totally joyous exhaustion, beside her stuffy, was just amazing.

Then seeing the two fox kits together in yet a bigger enclosure. Fishing for crab apples in the pool, searching for food spread out throughout to teach them how to hunt, their natural fear kicking in and their curiosity; such beautiful wildlife babies.

A big thank you to the friendly lady who saw something tiny and heard the cries on her front lawn one cold March morning, who knew who to call and did so quickly. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped care for her, especially to her foster mom Sarah; when she arrived, you knew exactly what you had to do. You brought her through that tough time. You were amazing. You were dedicated 24/7.
Be free Talitha and your cute little buddy. Be safe and grow strong. Live a long beautiful life❤️ You taught me so much about a little teeny tiny fox kit’s journey of life.

Jennifer Howard
Photographer/ volunteer for:
Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre