The typical day for a volunteer rehabber?
-- There is no such thing!
Today is September 10, 2000, and I am currently caring for 28 raccoons of various ages, sizes, and conditions in addition to a rat, 2 snakes, and a guinea pig rescued from a testing lab. People always ask us "How do you get all those animals?" "Where do they come from?"--Networking. It is the lifeline of a rehabber. We cannot operate in a vacuum. People would never find us. We could not continue to learn and grow through shared experience. We must stay connected to each other and the community through every means possible. This is a run down of just one weekend, very late in the season for young coons, but not adults. Remember, we do this in addition to holding down regular jobs! But we don't complain, we do it because we love the animals, and the sense of reward outweighs the expense of time and money tenfold. But this is also why we don't have the time to answer a lot of e-mail or constantly update our site. It is why we need your understanding and support! Most people look forward to the weekend for fun or relaxation, here's how I usually spend mine.
12:30 a.m. - return home from a concert, prepare formula and 3 bottles for 3 baby raccoons, Lottie, 4 weeks; Nessie, 6 weeks; and Siobahn, about 7-8 weeks. Feed, potty, nuzzle, and play with all 3; clean cage; prep a cereal bowl; and put them to bed. Check messages. Make note to return call in the morning about 2 baby raccoons in Taylor. Shower and into bed 1:30 a.m..
8:10 a.m. - awakened by call from another rehabber, arrange delivery of 3 more 8-9-week-old coons, rescued from a trash can out on Lake Austin.
9:00 a.m. - Feed 3 bottle babies again, change bedding, and put in "play box" to romp, while preparing food bowls for 21 outdoor juvenile raccoons. Check on special-needs coon, HQ, who is paralyzed, first. Clean cage, hand feed water and grapes. Bring out first round of food for 10 pack of coons in big walk-in cage. Clean cage of poop, distribute food, get climbed like a tree and toes bitten by Lexi, Flora, and Nipper. (Long pants only with this group!) Change out water and run for my life! Back in to check on babies, put them back in cage, prep another round of food bowls and finish up same procedure with 3 remaining cages with 10 more raccoons! Give HQ fresh puppy chow. Fresh water for the rat, Ratso, and a few snacks. Fresh water for the pig and some greens. Clean dishes, prep more milk, put up food, and done by 10 a.m.!
10 a.m. - return call to Taylor, Texas, about 2 babies in very bad shape. I plead with caller to get them to me ASAP, but they're reluctant to turn them over. This is another sad story all to itself, but with much to teach the public about why wild animals, especially young ones, should be turned over to trained and permitted people or groups, like ourselves!
10:30 a.m. - Fellow rehabbers show up with 3 young "snorkies," (our term to describe these little bandits!) very cute but scared self feeders. Get their caging prepped, transfer them, set up food and water, and leave them alone. Discuss situation with Taylor, Texas, coons with them, and set them up as a back up, if needed, for interception or delivery of these 2 babies. They leave by 11 a.m. and I can finally have coffee and read the paper.
4:00 p.m. - Feed 3 bottle babies again. Check on new arrivals. Check all other outdoor cages for water status, change or add as needed. Hand feed HQ water and grapes again, reposition as needed.
6:00 p.m. - Feed domestic animals, water plants, and work in yard.
7:00 p.m. - Prep food and then feed, change water, and clean all outdoor cages, for 24 now! Feed Ratso and Piglet too!
9:00 p.m. - Call comes in from kids in Taylor, on their way with one raccoon, other died earlier and they decide NOW they are ready to let go of other one, not looking too good either.
9:40 p.m. - Raccoon arrives. Approximately 2 weeks old, extremely dehydrated and malnourished. Find out they had been feeding it whole cow's milk! Good old homogenized Borden's. Spend next hour intermittently administering subcutaneous fluids, and oral re-hydrating fluids to no avail. This youngster is dying and in a lot of pain. Administer sedative and little coon finally drifts peacefully to sleep. Sedative keeps her asleep until she finally passes away at 11:20 p.m.
11:30 p.m. - finally have dinner.
12:10 a.m. - Final bottle for 3 babies. Just finishing up when·..
12:30 a.m. - Call comes in from Animal Emergency Hospital about an adult raccoon they believe has been electrocuted. I make contact with reporting party, get directions, and head out.
1 a.m. - Pick up raccoon who has indeed suffered a terrible shock from a power line and is lucky to be alive
1:20 a.m. - Arrive at ER. Coon is sedated, cleaned up, and X-rayed. Skin has peeled off nose, hands, and feet. Whiskers are singed off, fur is singed. X-ray reveals no broken bones, but fluid in the lungs. Meds are administered and sent home with me.
2:30 a.m. - After performing final checks and getting "Zapp Mama" comfortable, I finally get to bed!
8:00 a.m. - Up and at 'em! Give bottles to 3 babies, clean, change water, and feed outdoor coons. Check Zapp Mama again and syringe feed water and cat food. Administer meds to eyes.
Noon - check Zapp Mama again, administer subcutaneous fluids and meds for chest/lung fluid buildup.
1:00 p.m. - head to work for one hour then out to Crow's Nest Farm for a rehabber get together to look at this facility and network with others rehabbers, plus pick up some much needed formula and supplies. I arrange to transfer 2 blind raccoons to their sanctuary after final vaccines and eye exams are run. This is a tremendous break as we have limited housing and space for unreleasables like these 2 coons! Stop at grocery for more dry dog food and produce, arrive back home by 4:30 p.m.
5:00 p.m. - Bottles for babies, prep more food new young coons, check Zapp again, and syringe feed some more food and water. Feed outdoor brood, including Ratso and Piglet, then take care of my domestics.
11:00 p.m. - head out for final bottles. Check outdoor group, attend to HQ. Last shot and eye meds for Zapp, in bed by 12:30 a.m.!
The Story of Zapp Mama raccoon.
I was just finishing my final feed for the night, giving bottles to 3 baby raccoons about 5-8 weeks old . It was 12:30 a.m. , I had the last little squiggler in my arms, bottle in mouth, when the phone rang. It was our good friends at the Animal Emergency Hospital, they just received a call about an adult raccoon that they believed had been electrocuted, could I help? But of course! I finished with the bottle babies and called the lady who had found the raccoon. She and her 4 children heard a loud pop, their lights flickered and then they heard a thud. They turned on their back patio lights and upon investigation found the poor victim rolling and hobbling helpless upon the ground. I got directions and arrived around 1:10 a.m. or so. It was a young yearling female, and though badly singed and injured, she still gave me quite a struggle as her instincts were telling her I was the enemy.
I arrived at the EC about 1:30 a.m. and fortunately, there were no patients in front of me so we got straight to work. We used gas to anesthetize her so we could examine her and get some x-rays. Her poor whiskers and the skin on her nose were burned clean off. Her inner eyelids were also singed, damaged, and protruding. The skin on her feet was stripped and peeling off where contact with the electrical wire had been made. This coon was lucky to be alive. The fall from the power line and subsequent hard impact of her landing probably started her heart again. But you could tell by the look in her bloodshot eyes, she wanted to live!
The X-rays fortunately showed no broken bones, but she was suffering from pulmonary edema and her lungs were filling with fluid. Dr Lewis administered a drug called Lasix to treat the condition and sent enough for 3-4 days of treatment shots for me to administer at home, providing she made it through to the next day. We cleaned up her nose, eyes, and appendages and he sent me on my way home with this new patient.
Zapp has now been in my care 5 days. We have something of an understanding between us. She is resigned to the fact that I am her caretaker, and allows me to move her around to clean her cage. She still puts up a fuss when it is time to give her a shot or put meds on her nose, hands, feet or eyes. The look in her eyes tells me she though she still believes that I may be the enemy, she may be coming to understand that I come in peace to do what I can to help her. She still exhibits a fierce will to live and looks forlornly out the openings of her carrier to the great outdoors. She wants to go home, but is still too weak, injured, and ailing. There is good and bad news in her progress. She is eating and drinking more on her own. Her fluid build up is lessening and thus, so is her congestion. But the wounds on her hands and feet from where the electricity actually made contact have worsened. One leg is so badly mangled that infection is setting in and her toes are falling off. In order to stem this tide and prevent a gangrenous development in the foot, which could kill her, I am opting to have the leg amputated this Saturday by Dr. Lewis. It will increase her chances for survival as her other appendages are healing better and will hopefully still be useable. The surgery will be costly in both time and money but I feel this animal, with her will to fight and live, deserves this chance. Three-legged raccoons are still viable animals and can be released back to their habitats.
The entire encounter and continuing struggle this animal faces reminds me again of the profound impact, both positive and negative, mankind has on his animal brethren. This fate befell this creature because we put a hazard, electrical power lines, into this animal's habitat, and through their adaptable nature, they use and traverse these intrusions that impose upon their environment and threaten their lives, daily. The least we humans can do is to offer every bit of assistance to these magnificent animals when our industrial advances cause them pain, suffering, or hardship. This is how we should give back. After all, they were here first.
The Courageous Little Opossum
The call to assist an animal always comes at the most inopportune times, like when you are trying to go to work, or dinner, or bed, or maybe just to have some semblance of a life. I was on my way to the latter when a frantic call came in from a lady on a cell phone. She was traveling south down Interstate 35 and she saw a tiny little opossum hugging the retainer wall of the inside lane. She could not stop as she was on her way to San Antonio for an appointment and wouldn't know what to do if she did. Fortunately, she made note of the exit she had just passed. I told her I would try to go up there but I didn't have much hope for the little fellow. Having been on too many wild goose chases in the earlier part of my rehabbing career, I was none to eager to tackle this one. After all, it was a four lane highway with a speed limit of 65 mph. The concrete is gray, retaining wall white, the little guy is probably road kill by now or I'll never see or be able to find him along that stretch and I'm late to the gym, cuz, I do occasionally have a life you know. I hung up thinking, nah, I'm not going up there for all the reasons mentioned above. But as I was heading to the car, I thought about that poor, extremely frightened and lonely little creature, hugging that wall for dear life as 18 wheelers zoomed past him and I grabbed a carrier and some gloves and headed out. I phoned the gym to tell my trainer, once again, I would be late for the love of an animal.
I cut across to the Interstate and headed up the 10 or so miles north to Braker Lane exit, u-turned, and got back on heading south. I moved to the far left-hand lane, and much to the chagrin of the traffic in that lane, threw on my hazard lights and began to slow down. A large semi began to bear down on me and honked furiously. I was frantically trying to look for the opossum and not become a road casualty myself. I'd gone almost a mile and still no sight. I began to give up and change lanes to allow the semi by when I saw him! I whizzed by so fast, I couldn't tell if he was dead or alive as he was quite close to the concrete retainer wall. I pulled over into the inside shoulder next to the wall and slowed down till I could stop. I then very slowly and carefully began to back up. It would be horrible if I accidentally squished the little guy in my haste to get back to him. I don't recommend this act of chivalry to anyone. Trying to back up on an inside shoulder while looking for an animal and not veer into the 65mph traffic that's coming head on at you in the next lane, is nerve wracking and in hindsight, just plain foolish. But I felt time was of the essence and did not want to drive down 2 miles to the next exit to come back up and possibly pass him again, so when I got about 50 feet from him, I stopped. Squeezed against that inside shoulder, I barely got my car door opened and shimmied out. I pulled out the carrier and gloves I'd brought and began a slow approach. Amazingly, this little guy was still very much alive! How he got there was mystery as there was no sign of any other opossums, dead or alive in the vicinity. Now for the tricky part. Even though I am here to help, this little animal doesn't know it and it's instincts might tell it to run. We'd both made it too far, the brave little opossum cheating certain death and me for following my instincts versus my better judgment, for me to blow it. I set the carrier down about 3 feet in front of it then stood between him and the traffic. I do believe animals can have great moments of instinctual clarity, that or he was just such a brave little opossum that he walked right up to me! I scooped him up and dashed him into the carrier! He was saved and I was on cloud nine! Moments like these are why I started rehabbing in the first place. The brave little opossum was transferred that day to an opossum specialist in Bastrop, 30 miles to the east of Austin. He grew into a fine healthy specimen and was released later that year!