You may be asking what brought this on. Heck, even if you’re not, guess what? You’re gonna find out!
A local media outlet contacted me this week, wanting to do a story on me and any “special” rehabs I was working with. I could hear the interest dying as I explained that currently I only had 11 squirrels and a red tailed hawk and in order not to violate the terms of my permits, I would be more comfortable acquiring permission from the permitting agencies before allowing the media to film any of my rehabs. You see, every animal that enters LWR is a candidate for release at some point in the future, if said animal’s illness or injuries don’t prevent a release. That means I must minimize human contact to avoid imprinting or habituating the animal, or just plain stressing it out. Besides, if you were an orphan in an orphanage or a patient in a hospital, would you want TV cameras all in your face? I mean, really, folks, think about it and put yourself in the wildlife’s place!
News flash: While not every animal LWR receives is “glamorous,” every animal I take in is “special” to me. Yes, I get inundated with certain species at times, like the gray squirrel influx this fall, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll neglect their care if something more spectacular, like last year’s bald eagle, comes in. That’s not the way it works—at least, not at LWR. The life of every animal I receive is in my hands, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I don’t take vacations, and I’m never “off”—human stupidity doesn’t take a break, so I can’t afford to, either. Besides, wildlife doesn’t know the difference between a weekday and a weekend, or today and Christmas Day—those are human constructs.
And somebody please explain to me—what is the public fascination with seeing wild animals in captivity? Isn’t it much more impressive to see them free in their natural habitat?
Furthermore, when these animals are in rehab, my duties are not glamorous and they’re usually not fun. I medicate. I feed, which sometimes entails force-feeding—yeah, that’s just real glamorous, lemme tell ya. I clean poop. Lots of poop. More poop than you could ever imagine. I wash maggots out of open wounds. I grit my teeth as I agree with my vet that the umpteenth animal I’ve brought to them this year is unsaveable and hold that animal while the vet performs the euthanasia and we both comfort ourselves with the knowledge that while we couldn’t save this one, we could make sure it died peacefully and painlessly.
And yes, I do get to release a goodly number of the animals LWR takes in. Since I do soft releases, even those aren’t spectacular events; the cage doors are simply left open during the day (or early evening for nocturnal animals) and the animals have the option to leave when they’re good and ready. Most exit the cages fairly quickly and hang around for a few days or even a couple of weeks before realizing they really don’t need me anymore.
What I don’t do is play with these animals; they’re not pets. I don’t parade them around in public. I don’t give public tours of the facility while animals are in rehab. If you want to stop by this winter, when I usually have nothing in rehab long-term, feel free. I’ll show you the empty deer pen, the empty flight pen, and the empty squirrel, rabbit and possum cages.
I also don’t pander to the media’s perception of what wildlife rehabbers are all about. If the media wants a real story, they can talk to me or any of the other hundred or so rehabbers in the state about what the public can do to help our native wildlife by providing proper habitat, by limiting habitat destruction and fragmentation, or simply by getting wildlife in need of help to a properly licensed rehabber as soon as possible. That’s newsworthy; me feeding/medicating an animal or cleaning poop isn’t.