That Friendly Animal May Not Be Your Reincarnated Loved One

It’s human nature to view animals as signs or messages from beyond the grave, but an animal behaving strangely may need help.

Ok here’s what I wrote and it will go live tomorrow. Thank you guys!

The world works in mysterious ways, and people can find messages hidden in anything. Grief is painful, and it’s only human nature to look for signs that our loved ones are still with us.

Sometimes we come across animals in our lives that behave oddly, and we can interpret these behaviors as a message from loved ones passed on.

It’s something we’ve seen many times in the world of wildlife rescue: a cardinal with a concussion believed to be a message from a deceased mother, a raccoon with distemper that a widow believed was her husband reincarnated, a crow with West Nile thought to be a message of hope from beyond the grave.

We can’t say with certainty that animals are never messages or symbols. But what we can say for sure is that it is always in the animal’s best interest to seek help when an animal is acting strangely.

If you believe that an animal behaving strangely may be a message of some kind, that’s okay— we’re not here to take away whatever comfort you can find. But we can accept messages and signs from these animals and still seek help for them.

Any time you find an animal that is approaching humans fearlessly, appears dazed or confused, or seems to be having trouble moving, those are often signs of a concussion or an infection of the central nervous system. These animals’ confusion and lethargy are often mistaken for calmness or even friendliness, but it is in the animals best interest to contact help. Please reach out to a qualified rehabilitator if you find an animal behaving strangely.

Please, never play with a wild animal or handle it any longer than is necessary to properly contain it so it can be brought to a rescue. Playing with and touching the animal can cause stress and injury to the critter, and can also end with you getting bitten or scratched. The most serious risk is that the early stages of rabies often seem like friendliness, so you could be exposing yourself to a fatal illness by handling a “friendly” wild animal.

Please honor your lost loved ones by doing the right thing if you find an animal that may be sick or hurt. Perhaps your loved one guided the animal to you knowing that you would help!

By For Fox Sake and our friends at Clevyr Creatures 🦊

How to Tell A Bobcat from a House Cat

Mistaken identity seems to be a recurrent theme in our phone calls and messages. Many of you likely recall the viral story about our bobcat patient Arwen, whose finder mistook her for a stray domestic kitten and made an unintentionally hilarious post attempting to rehome her.

In much more frustrating cases, we’ve had people cuss us out for not taking “bobcats” that were normal domestic cats. We’ve also had comments on our posts attempting to inform us and our supporters that our bobcat patients are actually house cats and that we somehow never noticed. Um. 🤦🏻‍♂️

As frustrating as these cases can be, it’s easy to see how these mistakes happen. Bobcats and house cats are fairly close relatives and it’s not uncommon for house cats to occasionally have spots or bobbed tails or tufted ears. Complicating matters even more, bobcats in our area are the smallest in the world and it’s not uncommon for females to weigh only 8-10 pounds, well within the normal size range for a house cat.

So here’s what to look for if you’ve found a kitty (or accusing a rescue of fraud) and you’re trying to find out if you’re looking at the Classic or Extra Spicy flavor of cat:

Bobcats essentially always have spots. These can take the form of leopard-like rosettes (a dark ring with a lighter center), or bold solid spots, or misty freckles. Occasionally a bobcat may have mostly solid fur with spots only on the belly. Bobcats never have tabby stripes and only extremely rarely appear in solid black or solid white.

A bobcat’s tail usually has four caudal vertebrae (tail bones) though some have more. While domestic cats can sometimes have bobbed tails, bobcats never have full-length tails. (There are a couple of photos of bobcats with long tails, but these are likely hoaxes or extinct genetic defects.)

Bobcat tails are always white or very light gray on the underside, with a black tip on the top half of the tail. This characteristic is rarely, if ever, seen in house cats, and one of the most consistent ways to tell the two species apart.

Take a look at the cat’s ears, too! A bobcat’s ears are black with a white marking. These are false eyes that help intimidate rivals while a bobcat is crouched to eat, and they help bobkittens find Mom by giving her a visible target to follow. This trait never occurs on fully domestic cats, but can appear on hybrid domestic cat breeds like Savannahs and Bengals.

Finally, look at the animal’s build. Bobcats are beefy apex predators with much more visibly muscular jaws and legs than house cats, which tend to be lean and sleek.

While it’s easy to mistake bobcats for domestic cats, it’s not too hard to learn what to look for! If you’ve got any “what kind of cat is this?” pics you’d like us to help you identify, feel free to drop them here and we’d be glad to help.

Baby Opossums Left Alone Need Help!

Opossums don’t generally come back for babies that get lost.

Nearly any time you find a baby animal by itself, the correct thing to do is to leave it exactly where you found it. Most animals leave their young for long periods of time while they find food. Rabbits, for example, only feed their young once at dawn and dusk, and deer usually leave their fawns for many hours— sometimes even entire days— at a time! It’s almost always best to leave baby animals where you found them.

The key word being “almost!”

Baby opossums, called joeys, are an exception. Mother opossums aren’t very good at counting or keeping track of their number of young. When joeys leave the pouch and start riding on Mom’s back, one might fall and get left behind. It’s very rare for the mother to actually return for a joey that fell off!

Please contact a rehabilitator if you find a joey alone that is too young to be by itself. Most of the time, a joey over about seven inches is big enough to be independent and doesn’t need to be saved, while a joey under that size needs help.

Many of us have been lied to a time or to about how big seven inches is and don’t carry a ruler, so as a very general rule of thumb: if the opossum’s body (not including the tail) is larger than your hand, it’s okay to be left alone. If it’s smaller and is alone without mom, call a rehabilitator for help.

It’s usually best to leave baby animals alone for their mothers to come back, but opossums are an exception. Please be sure to get help for opossum neighbors in need!

Do Raccoons Hibernate?

Raccoons experience torpor, which is basically Diet Hibernation.

Raccoons right now are going through many changes to prepare for winter. They’re becoming much more crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) rather than strictly nocturnal and are developing a strong instinct to forage on high-fat foods and seek shelters. All these changes prepare them “Diet Hibernation,” known more scientifically as torpor.

Torpor differs from true hibernation by being much lighter and much less consistent. Animals in true hibernation sleep for weeks or months at a time and don’t need to eat or drink. Bears can even give birth during hibernation, barely waking up in the process!

Torpor is much less extreme. Raccoons in torpor become much more sluggish than in the warmer months and may spend nearly all their time sleeping, but they still need to eat and drink regularly. While raccoons in the coldest parts of their range may sleep for several days at a time during torpor, they never experience the dramatically slowed metabolism that true hibernators experience. During torpor, some raccoons come out only during the warmest parts of the day to forage for food and will particularly seek denser, richer foods than in the spring and summer. Torpor still accomplishes the same thing as hibernation, though: it enables animals to make it through the lean months with little food.

If you’re one of the many people who can relate to a raccoon’s desire to spend the winter sleeping and coming out only to eat junk food, that’s not a coincidence! We humans have a torpor instinct just like our wild neighbors. We tend sleep more and gain weight during the winter, and many experts believe that torpor instinct is a major contributor to seasonal depression. These coming months are hard for most creatures, and we’re no exception!

Please be kind to your raccoon neighbors as they prepare for torpor in the coming weeks. Now is a great time to make sure that your attic and crawl space don’t have any entry-points for guests who might mistake it for a winter den. If you see raccoons foraging in the daytime and they appear otherwise healthy, there’s no need to panic and assume they have rabies. They’re just adjusting their habits with the seasons, as nature intended!

Let Livestock Guardians Do Their Jobs!

If you’re cold, they’re not necessarily cold.

One of our most important goals as an organization is to promote peaceful coexistence with wild animals. We strive to make sure that owners of livestock seek effective, nonlethal methods of protecting their herds. Instead of killing native predators— a futile, cruel, ineffective approach— many ranchers make the excellent decision to employ livestock guardian dogs.

Livestock guardian dogs are saviors of livestock, wild animals, and even other dogs. The mere presence of a well-trained livestock guardian will almost always keep predators like coyotes, bobcats, and stray dogs from attempting to hunt domestic animals. They enable ranchers to keep their wards safe without harming wild animals. Sadly, though, misunderstandings have led to many owners being afraid of stigma, judgment, or even criminal prosecution, for having dogs as livestock guardians.

It is absolutely cruel and dangerous to keep most pets outdoors in cold temperatures. However, an appropriately trained and bred livestock guardian is built to handle working in extreme weather. Responsible owners also ensure that their livestock guardians have shelter and windbreaks outdoors so they can stay safe and comfortable while working. Blankets demands of, “bring them inside” can ironically lead to unnecessary animal cruelty as ranchers resort to lethal methods to keep predators away.

Please help save wildlife by letting livestock guardians do their jobs. Many animals will be hunted, trapped, or poisoned unnecessarily if their work is made illegal… But, of course, by all means, go ahead and report your neighbor who makes his chihuahua live outside in winter!

Do Coyotes Lure and Kill Dogs?

We humans have a strange urge to create monsters. For many, it’s not enough for believe in predators that hunt prey. We have to also project strange, sinister, and even supernatural forces onto the creatures who share our planet. Since the beginning of time, we’ve created and exaggerated stories of dragons that abduct maidens, giant eagles that grab children, the Big Bad Wolf who pretends to be a sheep or a grandmother.

The most modern version of these myths involves none other than the coyote: a 25-pound omnivore often seen in the suburbs, where it eats a diet containing mostly rodents.

You’ve likely heard about how coyotes are vicious beasts who come up with complex, cunning plans to befriend innocent dogs. When the dog thinks it has made a friend— as the legend says— the coyote will lead it back to a den, where a large pack of vicious coyotes leap upon the dog and eat it.

No matter how many times you’ve heard a version of this story, it’s not true. Coyotes do not live or hunt in large packs. A coyote family usually includes just one pair of adults and their young of the year. While the family does occasionally work together to hunt, they usually prefer to hunt alone, and they never hunt in the large groups of 10, 20, or 30 animals that many claim to have witnessed.

While coyotes are extremely intelligent animals, their minds don’t work like human minds. They don’t develop complex plans for the future, and they don’t have a theory of mind— the ability to conceptualize and predict another animal’s thoughts and perceptions— in the same way that humans do. A coyote simply isn’t capable of “lying” to a dog by pretending to be its friend or developing a plan to lead it into a trap.

Like many other myths, the story about the coyote luring a dog to its death probably started as a misunderstanding. Coyotes and domestic dogs are very close relatives, so coyotes have been known to sometimes approach them socially. That can include the kind of bowing and tail-wagging that we all know means, “Be my friend!” in dog language.

When a family of coyotes is heard singing and yipping later, the same people who witnessed the coyotes approaching dogs might mistake them for a pack ready to hunt. Coyotes use rapidly rising and falling notes fo create an auditory illusion, which makes a pair or trio of coyotes sound like a large pack, so it’s easy to be intimidated by the sound. But just because coyotes are singing doesn’t mean they’re killing a dog or making sinister plans: it just means they’re a family and they’re together.

With all that said, coyotes are opportunists, and like any other predator, they will eat whatever prey is available if they’re hungry enough. A small dog, especially a toy breed, may be hunted by a coyote. This is one of many reasons that small dogs should not be left outside unattended, particularly at dawn and dusk. Although coyotes aren’t known to target larger dogs as prey, they will fight with a dog if provoked, and both the dog and coyote can be injured or killed. Responsible pet owners should always take steps to prevent these incidents.

Lying, deception, and complicated, evil plans are human traits, not coyote traits. There’s no need to project the flaws of our own species onto our wild neighbors or to assume the worst of a coyote’s friendly or confused behavior. We need to understand and coexist with our wildlife, not to fear them.

Raccoons Don’t Wash Their Food. Here’s What They’re Really Doing!

Raccoons often use the same body of water as both a communal toilet and a place to “wash” their food.

Raccoons are famous for their tendency to “wash” their food, but they’re not washing anything at all! Raccoons aren’t exactly the most hygienic animals; they’ll often dip their food into the same body of water they use as a latrine (communal toilet). Ick!

The reason for this behavior is actually much more interesting than you might think! Raccoons have the most sensitive sense of touch of any animal known. Over two thirds of the sensory processing power of a raccoon’s brain are dedicated to its sense of touch, while the critter’s tiny hands are packed with over ten times the number of nerve endings as a human hand.

These very sensitive hands develop a thin protective barrier over time— sort of like a callous— but the layer is softened by water. When a raccoon dips its hands into water, it can feel with perfect acuity. A raccoon will explore its food, memorizing and savoring its texture to learn about it and to be better able to identify and search for it in the future.

“Washing” food, though certainly common, isn’t as universal as you might think. In the wild, raccoons really only do it occasionally but are often seen with their hands dipped in water as they search for crayfish, snails, fish, and worms. We’ve found that our patients only bring their food to water to explore it about one time out of ten, though they do often take toys and pebbles into their pools to play with them.

If you’d like to help provide our trash panda patients with foods and toys to wash, please consider checking for ways to support our work! We can’t do this without you!

Keep Owlets Safe: Don’t Use Rodent Poison

Owl parents love their babies. Don’t feed poison to these innocent new lives.

Baby owls, called owlets, just might be the cutest and strangest-looking creatures on Earth. They look like Mother Nature collected a year’s worth of dryer lint and then got creative with googly eyes and acrylic, possibly after having a couple of drinks.

As much as we humans love owlets, no one loves them as much as their parents! Owls are doting, protective parents who work together to raise their young. Owlets have an extremely fast metabolism, so a pair of owls raising young will kill about a dozen mice a day to keep themselves and their little ones fed. What an effective pest control team!

Sadly, an owl family’s appetite for small rodents can lead to tragedy. When humans use poisons to kill rats and mice, the rodents usually go outside to die. There, the weakened rodents become slow, easy prey for owl parents who have little ones to feed, and the owls can succumb to secondary poisoning. Owlets are often even more sensitive to poison than adults.

Owls aren’t the only animals who suffer from secondary rodenticide poisoning. Raccoons, foxes, coyotes, cats, dogs, skunks, hawks, opossums, snakes, and many other animals suffer and die after eating poisoned rodents. Please make kind choices and don’t use poison to kill any animal.

That fox isn’t too skinny!

We’ve gotten several calls in the last few months about foxes that appeared “too thin” and “sickly.” While a few of them were sick with mange— which is marked bu bald patches of skin with scabs and crust— most were actually perfectly healthy!

Foxes are built like whippets. They have very long legs and lean bodies. Most foxes that you see on TV and in photographs look plump because of their thick fur coats, which hide their natural thinness.

Here in Tennessee, a typical fox doesn’t have a very thick coat, especially in summer, so its lanky build becomes much more apparent. It’s understandable to be concerned, but these “skinny” foxes are just fine!

This fellow, named Mylo, is a rescued fox living here in East Tennessee with our friends at Exotic Pet Wonderland. Despite looking very skinny, he is quite healthy and receives a diet richer in fat and calories than his wild counterparts. As you can see, it would be easy to think he was underweight if you didn’t know that this is normal for foxes!

You can generally tell if a fox is actually emaciated if you know what to look for. Foxes that are actually starving tend to be out in daylight and may be confused. They may be less fearful of humans or too weak to run away quickly. Their ribs may be visible and their spines may noticeably protrude from their backs. If you see these signs, please get in touch with a rehabilitator.

Thank you all for looking out for our native wildlife!

How to Avoid Hitting Deer this Fall

Most collisions between cars and deer happen in October through December, when deer are on the move more, and when their minds are clouded by hormones as they seek mates. Please do your part to keep deer safe from accident, and to protect yourself and your passengers at the same time!

Be mindful that deer are most active at dawn and dusk. During those times, it is particularly important to drive slowly and cautiously. Nobody likes to go slow on this big, open country roads, but slowing down is the singular most important way to avoid a collision.

Keep an eye on the sides of the roads, not just the road itself. We’re all prone to “road hypnosis” where we start zoning out looking at those white lines, but stay mindful of your surroundings. That will prevent you from hitting not only deer, but also other animals.

Don’t throw food waste into the road, ever! Deer and other animals are sometimes drawn to roads by waste like apple cores, peanut shells, and salty fast food wrappers. Spread the words out this very important step that we we can all take to prevent animals from getting killed on roadways.

If you do have a deer cross your path and can’t brake fast enough to avoid it, resist that knee-jerk urge to swerve. As terrible as it would be to collide with a deer, you will likely have a much more serious accident— quite possibly including human deaths— if you instead hit another vehicle head-on.

Call your local game wardens or police if you have struck a deer, even if the deer is already dead and can’t be treated. You may need a police report to file an insurance claim, even if you don’t yet know if any damage to your vehicle. Your local authorities need to be notified about deer that have already passed away, so they can be safely removed from the road before drawing scavengers into the road.

Here’s the hardest part for us, as wildlife rehabilitators, and for the general public, but it needs to be mentioned. If authorities determine that the deer needs to be euthanized after a car collision, they may choose to use a gunshot to the head as the method for euthanasia. We understand that this very upsetting to see, but please don’t interfere or try to stop it from happening. Adult deer hit by cars can almost never be successfully rehabilitated, and leaving them to suffer— even for the time it takes to transport them to a vet— can be extremely cruel. Please understand that even an “ugly” form of euthanasia is sometimes the kind and compassionate thing to do.

As always, though, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Please watch for wildlife so you can avoid tragedy this fall!