Wildlife Rehabbers Can‘t Help Domestic Animals

We wildlife rehabbers love animals of all kinds! We understand how upsetting and frustrating it can be if your dog is hurt and you can’t afford a vet, or if your canary escaped, or if your cow rejects her calf, or if your chicken has to be tube fed. But as much as we’d love to be able to help in these situations, these are outside the scope of services that wildlife rehabilitators provide.

We and our colleagues have heard some, uh, interesting accusations when we’ve informed folks about this limitation. Mostly, “You must not really care about animals.” A rehabilitator we know was even physically threatened after having to turn away a pet domestic pigeon— yikes! There are lots of reasons rehabilitators don’t take pets or livestock, and we promise that hating animals isn’t one of those reasons.

The main reason rehabilitators don’t accept pets or livestock is legal. It’s simply not in the scope of what we’re licensed to do or what our nonprofit charters include. When our supporters donate to help native wildlife, they expect and deserve for their funds to be used appropriately— not for them to be used to provide veterinary care for pets or livestock. If a wildlife rehabilitator practiced veterinary medicine without a license and misappropriated funds, that would (and should!) be grounds to lose their licensing and to have legal consequences.

There also just aren’t enough hours in the day for rehabilitators to save domestic animals while also caring for wildlife. Most of us operate with a full patient load throughout “baby season” and can’t make room or time for domestic animals. We’d love to save every animal on Earth, but that’s not a realistic goal, so we have to work within our own respective focuses.

The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of rescues and shelters for domestic animals, and most counties and cities (including ours) also have municipal animal control facilities. These organizations do work just as important as ours and are equipped, licensed, and funded so they can help with situations involving domestic animals in distress. If you need help with a domestic animal, please contact a rescue in your area so the critter can get the assistance it needs. But, if you find a wild animal that needs help, we’ll be happy to assist!

Happy World Snake Day

July 16 is World Snake Day

It’s World Snake Day! 🎉 🐍

We love the sneks, danger noodles, and noperopes of the world and have had the honor of rehabilitating two of them (and also hosting several wild noodles on our properties)! This fellow, Raphael, was a kingsnake admitted earlier this year after being tangled in garden netting and getting himself hurt. He recovered and was released back to the wild.

Humans are predisposed to instinctively fear snakes. It’s a survival mechanism that helped our ancestors avoid their venom without being able to identify their species. While that instinctive fear may have benefited us, our collective fear of snakes has unfortunately led to harm all over the world. Snakes are often killed simply for being snakes, and it hurts both them and us.

We need snakes! Without them, our planet would be overrun with rats and mice, and the parasites and diseases they often carry. We’d see rates of diseases like plague and Lyme disease skyrocket and we’d have more damage to our homes. Snakes are naturally shy and elusive, so we often don’t appreciate that we have them living right in our own backyards acting as a free pest control service. If you kill the snake that’s keeping your home pest-free, you’ll likely end up with a bigger problem!

Please have respect for all the creatures who share our planet and our neighborhoods. If you see a snake, please let it be!

Skunks Spray at Death— Killing them Won’t Help

Common sense isn’t always common. 🤦 So many of our skunk patients this year were orphaned when their mothers were killed by people who didn’t want themselves or their pets sprayed. And of course, most of the people who killed the mother skunks got sprayed while doing it.

Being sprayed by a skunk isn’t the end of the world. It happens here daily at For Fox Sake during baby season and isn’t a big deal. The only impact it has had on my life is that people tend to assume I’m a “smoker” when I go out in public smelling musky. 🤷 But even if you’re so afraid of skunk smells that you think it’s worth an animal’s life, killing them isn’t the answer!

Anyone who’s driven past a deceased skunk on the road knows that skunks usually spray when they die. This sometimes happens because of fear when they try to defend themselves against a person (or pet, or vehicle) and sometimes happens reflexively during or after death. If you shoot, trap, or beat a skunk, you’re going to end up getting sprayed. And you’re also a jerk for doing it, and yes, we’re judging you for it.

A few people avoid the risk of getting sprayed by poisoning skunks rather than shooting or trapping them, but that’s not a solution either. Poison is a terrible way to die, and a poisoned skunk will still usually release musk while it dies. Do you really want to be left with the job of cleaning up a rotting, musky skunk when the unfortunate critter goes under your deck to die? We promise it smells much worse than a live, healthy skunk.

Please learn to coexist with your wild neighbors! But if you do have a skunk family on your property and they’re causing damage, turn to humane methods to encourage them to find an alternative den. Close up all entry points to your home and crawl space. Strong smells like ammonia and Vicks Vaporub tend to be very off-putting to skunks and will also help convince them to leave, and keeping a flashlight or electric lantern on will also discourage them. Killing isn’t the answer.

All About Cooters

After we admitted Opal, our second river cooter patient, we saw a lot of incredibly immature, suggestive, and even offensive comments.

We loved all of them.

Yes, there really are turtles called cooters. That’s their actual name. Tennessee has tons of cooters. Specifically, we’re home to the subspecies known as the Eastern river cooter. It’s a big wet cooter that lives, as the name suggests, mostly in rivers, though it sometimes shows up in lakes and marshes.

River cooters are members of the pond turtle family and are close relatives of pond sliders, map turtles, painted turtles, and (believe it or not!) box turtles. Unlike many of their relatives, cooters are pretty strictly herbivorous and eat mostly algae and other aquatic plants. They help maintain a balanced ecosystem by preventing algae blooms from getting out of hand, which can— if left unchecked— cause whole ecosystems to collapse. We’ve found that our coolers also love flower petals and chopped fruit as treats.

Cooters are in trouble! While they’re not considered to be endangered yet, their populations are declining as a result of habitat loss, pollution, and traffic. These very slow beauties often get hit by cars while crossing roads in search of cleaner habitats or places to lay eggs. Please brake for cooters! If you see a cooter in the road, please help it by carrying it across in the direction it’s already going and then leaving it alone. Never kidnap a cooter from the wild! They require spacious, well-maintained habitats and need to stay in nature where they belong.

Like and share if you love cooters! We sure do!

Don’t Give Breast Milk to Wild Animals

Yes, this is apparently necessary to say. 🤦🏻‍♂️ Every wildlife rehabilitator has at least one story about a baby animal that arrived critically sick after being fed human breast milk. And yes, some people have fed it right from the tap. 😳

Breast is best— as in, human breast milk is best for human babies, raccoon milk is best for raccoon babies, opossum milk is best for opossum babies,
cow’s milk is best for cow babies, and almond milk, presumably, is best for almond babies.

Each mammal’s milk has the exact ratio of fats, sugars, electrolytes, enzymes, bacteria, and proteins made for its own young. When the real deal isn’t an option for a baby of any species, the next-best thing is an appropriate formula, NOT the milk of another species!

There is no wild animal in North America that can thrive on human milk. Human milk is only one-quarter as concentrated as skunk milk, for example, and is too watery to meet their needs. Human breast milk contains only one tenth the amount of protein that a baby raccoon needs to survive, and it has twice the amount of lactose that baby opossums can tolerate. The result of the wrong milk can mean diarrhea, kidney failure, metabolic bone disease, low blood sugar, and even death.

Please don’t do this! If you have extra breast milk, please consider donating it to a milk bank at your local hospital, and if you have a baby animal that needs help, please contact a rehabilitator as quickly as possible.

And, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, please never attach an animal to your nipple. That’s really weird and we really didn’t need those photos.

10 Reasons You Don’t Want a Pet Bobcat

We know, we know! You would die for T’challa and you’d give your right arm (literally— he would facilitate it) to have a T’challa of your own. But not so fast! Before you go out looking for a derpy bobkitten of your own, please consider this:

  1. T’challa is dangerous. He’s tame and he’s slow but he’s got jaws powerful enough to kill a deer and razor-sharp claws that could open an artery. While wild bobcats almost never attack humans and no deaths from bobcats have been recorded, a bobcat who is fearless of people is not safe to have in your home.
  2. He is expensive to insure. T’challa isn’t handled by the public, but stuff happens. Suppose a tree fell on his enclosure and he got out and tried to play with a kid. If the child panicked (which would be a reasonable reaction!) and T’challa panicked too, that could lead to traumatic and expensive injuries. We believe that all wildlife educators and exotic pet owners have a responsibility to insure against these kinds of incidents, so that leaves us with a bill of almost $700 a year.
  3. …and expensive go feed. Every day, T’challa eats either one $8 can of specialized food, one $7 whole frozen rabbit, or three pounds of meat. That’s about $3,000 a year just to feed him. It’s not a bill most individuals can handle.
  4. T’challa is spicy and unpredictable. 99% of the time, T’challa is a big silly potato who acts similar to a house cat. The other 1% of the time? He’s a fireball, and you can’t always predict when those episodes might kick in. Sometimes a specific movement, a sound heard from a neighbor’s yard, or possessiveness over a toy or food will trigger him to behave like the wild animal he was meant to be.
  5. He would be happier if he’d been able to live in the wild. While we love T’challa and give him the best life we can, the fact is that almost all wild animals would be happiest and most fulfilled living in the freedom of the natural world. It’s not safe for T’challa to live in nature, but we wish it had been a possibility for him. Every nonreleasable animal is a tragedy, even though we make the most of it.
  6. Bobcats are messy, territorial pee-ers and poopers. We have never known of a bobcat that lived in a home and was house trained like a cat. T’challa pees and poops in the parts of his pen that he wants to make sure everyone knows are his. That means toys, food bowls, water bowls, and his pond. If he lived indoors, he would mark floors, countertops, walls, rugs, and furniture.
  7. T’challa is a lifetime commitment. A bobcat in captivity can live up to 32 years. If you were to get a “T’challa” of your own, that’s huge. Moving? New pet? New baby? New job? A marriage, divorce, or serious illness or injury? These are important considerations for any pet, but are particularly serious for an animal like a bobcat.
  8. Veterinary care is hard to come by. Most veterinarians will not see bobcats because they require specialized care. There are only a few in our area who can take care of him. If T’challa had an emergency in the middle of the night or on a weekend, no 24-hour vets can see him. If he were in a typical home with someone who didn’t have veterinary training or supplies, there would be no possible way to help him.
  9. T’challa can’t be boarded. If you had your own bobcat, you’d have to say goodbye to vacations for up to 30 years. Bobcats can’t be boarded and most private petsitters would not be able to care for a pet bobcat due to their dangerous and unpredictable nature.
  10. Your state may not allow bobcats to be pets. In Tennessee, captive-bred bobcats can be licensed and legally kept as pets, but bobcats born in the wild cannot. Other states don’t allow bobcats to be pets at all. If you get caught with an animal you are not licensed to have, you could be fined or even imprisoned.

We love T’challa and we’re glad you do too, but please don’t buy or kidnap a bobcat and expect it to go well for you (or the critter)! He is a wonderful ambassador for his species, but a big part of his message is that bobcats belong in the natural world.

The Teenyweeny Chocolate Flappymouse

This beautiful creature is called a teenyweeny chocolate flappymouse. By us, anyway. Its more typical common name is “little brown bat,” but that’s a very boring name for a very not-boring animal, and we think teenyweeny chocolate flappymice deserve a name as cute and remarkable as they are.

Little brown bats— if we’re going to use the boring name— are in big trouble. In some parts of their range, their numbers have declined by up to 99% in 15 years. That’s huge! Here in Tennessee, they’re not doing quite as poorly as in the Northeast, but they’re still struggling quite a bit and are headed toward extinction.

The extinction of the teenyweeny chocolate flappymouse would be catastrophic for all life in North America, including human life. Little brown bats are insectivores with an unbelievable appetite for mosquitoes and other disease-carrying pests, as well as many invasive insects that destroy crops and trees. When we lose bats, we can lose so much more.

The main cause of the decline of the teenyweeny chocolate flappymouse is disturbance of the caves in which they hibernate— an issue that has caused problems in multiple ways. One issue is that humans introduced white nose fungus into their cave homes. This itchy disease causes bats to wake up during hibernation and scratch their noses. They burn through so much energy from scratching that they starve to death before spring, and many also die from secondary infections, acidosis, and electrolyte imbalances.

Our intrusion into hibernacula has caused other problems as well. While most caving enthusiasts make a point to not disturb bats, some cavers will intentionally enter wild caves where they know bats are hibernating because they want to get a closer look. This wakes the flappymice up and kills them before spring.

Another way that humans have harmed little brown bats is through extermination them when they move into our attics. Teenyweeny chocolate flappymice often choose attics as sites to form maternal colonies, where females stay while raising their young. Exterminators are often quick to kill them when this happens.

You can help little brown bats and other endangered bats! Please don’t disturb caves where bats are known to hibernate, and if you’re entering any cave, be sure to decontaminate all your supplies so you aren’t carrying fungal spores to new locations. If you have a colony of bats in your attic, please make sure that they are left alone until they’re done raising their young, if possible, and then close all entry points so they don’t return in the future. If you must remove them, choose a humane company that will definitively identify the species and will exclude them from your attic unharmed.

We need bats, and they need for us to look out for them. Please spread the word about appreciating our little brown bats!

Raising a Fawn Can Go Terribly Wrong

We get an alarming number of calls this time of year with variations of this story: “I found a baby deer by itself. I went to the feed store and got all the stuff to take care of it. It’s been living in my house for two weeks. Now it’s weak. I think it’s dying. What did I do wrong?”

Sometimes we have to take a deep breath to avoid blurting out, “Absolutely everything.”

Most fawns found unattended are not orphans. Their mothers leave them, often for twelve hours or more, while looking for the food and water they need to produce milk and recover from giving birth.

When taken into human homes, there are two major killers of fawns: stress and malnutrition. Fawns are at a very high-risk of a bizarre disease called capture myopathy. When they’re constantly being seen and touched by predators (like us and our pets) they simply die.

While we love retail workers and agriculture experts— truly!— the advice people usually get from feed stores tends to be massively incorrect. Whitetail deer milk isn’t at all similar to the formulas sold to replace the milk of goats, sheep, or cattle. Without the right balance of fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, many fawns fail to thrive and pass away.

Then there’s another issue— one of safety. If you raise a fawn as a member of your family, what happens next? A deer that has never met other deer will often believe itself to be human. That may sound cute, but the “cute” disappears during rut, when a male will see his human family as mates or competition and a female will attract an entire cast of competitive males who may go to lengths like jumping fences, attacking your pets, and charging into neighborhood traffic.

And if “I’ll just let it go when it’s older” sounds like a good plan, please consider where that will lead. Deer that have imprinted on humans will naturally gravitate right back to humans. They will approach anyone they see— including hunters— and may be unable to find food, rejected by wild herds, and unable to find mates or raise their young because they were never taught how to be deer.

None of this is the fault of deer raised improperly. They deserve to be allowed to live with their own families in the natural world, and when that’s not possible, they deserve to be in the care of competent rehabilitators.

Here in Tennessee, if you have found a fawn and you are certain that it is an orphan, please contact Walden’s Puddle (in Joelton, Middle Tennessee) or Little Ponderosa (in Clinton, East Tennessee) to arrange to get the little one to safety. Please do the right thing. Don’t risk the fawn’s safety or your own.

Why Rehabilitators Need You to Transport Animals

We know this is weird. When you call 911 about an injured person, they send paramedics. When you call animal control about an injured stray dog, they send an officer. When you call a wildlife rehabilitator about an injured animal, they… ask you to capture it and bring it to them. Yes, seriously!

The reason ultimately comes down to funding, or rather, a lack thereof. When you call a rehabilitator, you’re likely picturing a huge, zoo-like rescue with on-site surgical suites, dozens of paid workers, and a fleet marked vehicles they can send out to save any animal in need. Only two or three rehabilitation facilities in the entire country even come close to that. Most— including For Fox Sake— are run by one or two extremely busy, extremely tired people operating out of facilities built, literally, in our backyards.

Out of the hundreds of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the country, only about 5% have any paid staff members at all, and most of those staff members are directors responsible for overseeing animal care, and are unable to leave their patients. During baby season, when we may be bottle-feeding dozens of animals and have many more in critical condition, leaving them unattended to drive across the state simply isn’t an option.

While a few rehabilitation facilities are lucky enough to have volunteers who can answer last-minute requests for transportation help, no rehabilitation facility we’re aware of that has paid staff members are able to set traps, checking traps every few hours, or transporting wild animals from Point A to Point B.

When an animal needs help, most rehabilitators simply have no choice but to enlist the help of the public. And yes, unfortunately, that might mean that we ask you to put on a pair of gardening gloves and pick up the baby skunk and put it in your car. Or to put the baby bird on your seatwarmer on the way here. Or to put the snake in a pillow case, and yes, we do understand you might be creeped out by snakes.

We know it’s nuts. But we don’t have a lot of other options, and we depend on everyday people like you to be the heroes the animals need until they make it to us safely. Please cooperate with your local rehabilitators to transport orphaned and injured animals. We’re all doing our best, but each of us has only two hands and 24 hours in each day!

Why Vaccinate Wildlife?

“Why vaccinate wildlife?”

This is a question we hear a lot, and it’s fair enough. After all, animals don’t get vaccines in the wild.

We like to put it this way: imagine a pandemic that is nearly 100% fatal and is as contagious as the common cold. Imagine it is contagious for about a week before the person has symptoms.

Now imagine that dozens of people from all over the world, most of whom have weakened immune systems due to stress and injury, are together in one place.

If there was a safe and effective vaccine, wouldn’t you want everyone there to have it?

That’s the situation we deal with in wildlife. Although we vaccinate for many different diseases, the most important vaccine our patients receive is for canine distemper. Canine distemper is extremely common in skunks, foxes, and raccoons in East Tennessee and is horrific for every animal that gets it.

Distemper usually starts with cold-like symptoms but eventually ravages the central nervous system, causing paralysis, panic, blindness, seizures, difficulty swallowing, and a slow, agonizing death. It is effectively completely untreatable in wildlife once symptoms start, because the extreme few that survive it are contagious for months and have permanent, painful disabilities as a result.

We have had many patients arrive with distemper that wasn’t identified— or didn’t have full symptoms— until a day or two after intake. That means that even when screening our patients carefully, a few animals come to us while actively highly contagious.

While we take many precautions to prevent the spread of disease and don’t use vaccines as a substitute for hand-washing, quarantine, and common sense, something as simple as stepping in a spot where an infected animal peed and then walking into another pen can spread distemper. We believe that vaccines are an important part of disease prevention for when other steps might fail.

While canine distemper is the deadliest and most contagious virus we prevent through immunizations, it isn’t the only one. All of our patients are also vaccinated against rabies, canine parvovirus, and panleukopenia. We’re proud to say that we have not had a single animal acquire any contagious illness while in our care since we adopted our current, strict, multidose vaccine regimen in fall of 2019.

We’ve heard a lot of concerns about the safety of vaccines for wildlife, but we have to date never seen a serious adverse reaction. For skunks, mink, grey foxes, and other species that can’t handle live canine vaccines, we use specialized inactivated vaccines that confer immunity to disease without any risk that the animal might get sick from the vaccine itself. The worst reactions we’ve seen have been low fevers and a day or two of loose stool.

There’s another reason for our adherence to our vaccine schedule. We adhere to the One Health view shared by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization: that our health, as humans, depends on the wellness of the world around us and the health of the wild neighbors who share our planet. We believe it is our duty as rehabilitators to send our “graduates” into the natural world healthy and equipped to manage the diseases that can destroy wildlife, pets, livestock, and people. We all share a world with wildlife, and we want it to be a healthy one.