Tonight I walk to the back enclosures for evening checks. The last of the 2023 spring babies are gone. Our sweet comical raccoons have now been released to where they belong, to nature and their place in this hard, but perfect system.
Ben, my border collie, who took baby care to be his first priority is lost. He runs to the pens, around and around and back to me, as if he is asking me where his wards are, what have I done to them all. 4 cages are empty. They are still dirty, food and water bowls still in place, little hammocks at the top, hang empty. I haven't the heart to sanitize and prepare for winter. It feels to soon, I still am in mourning, I can not erase them from my home yet.
This feeling of great sadness, you may be shocked to know, is with all of us wildlife rehabbers. I think maybe more so with our little raccoons though. The other animals feel more wild, more feral. There's something about raccoon hands, the sweet cooing sounds and their soulful eyes that say so much, that give us pause when we release. They are one of the most intelligent mammals we work with. Recent intelligence tests of urban raccoons suggests that they are significantly more intelligent than your cat or dog, ranking just under monkeys for IQ. I think this is why it is so difficult. We here at 2nd Hand, have to do a hard release, as we are in a small acreage area. That means we take our raccoons to our release site and open the crates and set our babies free. We do put food out, but it is rarely eaten, and it creates an eating station that could be used by coyotes, their enemy.
Today we shared our posts, shared our videos of release. We know it is the right and just thing to do, but it doesn't mean we aren't heartbroken tonight. I had some comments about being 'hard' and others could not do what we do 'because the love animals so much' or ' they are not hard like we are' I often delete these posts as they serve no one on our page. But it is so far off of truth, its hard to articulate. We rehabbers know in our minds what is correct to do, we know our mission, we know what is best for the animals in our care that are healthy and ready to try their hand at life. But we also know its so much more than the quick video that we share, the Facebook perfect post, or the beautiful photo with the sunset light on an animal so perfect we have to share. We know these precious souls will have a violent end to their lives. They will not be peacefully euthanized by a vet at old age or die of natural old age. Every one of our animals will have a painful sad death. They will be eaten, die of disease, of starvation or of the elements (freeze to death) as nature is cruel in all her perfect planning, only 20-15% will survive their first year. Even wild-raised babies have a mortality rate of 50-60%.
This is why I always say us rehabbers are a different group of people with a different kind of passion and wildlife rehabilitation is the hardest of all rescues. (this is not a blog to argue who is most dramatic, yes horse rescue most horses go to slaughter, dogs and cats the estimate in the USA 10,000 a day are euthanize but hear me out and lets stay on wildlife) We see the horrors of hunters, and trappers killing wildlife for sport and pelts, we see trapping to kill just because we humans have taken over wild lands, we see ignorance toward out beautiful native wildlife as people are brainwashed to build build build and if you make wildlife your enemy - you feel no shame about expanding your housing developments, your shopping centers, or creating farm ground from timber. All of this injustice haunts us wildlife rehabbers as we have gotten to know that each animal has its own will, its own thoughts, I don't like to say personality as the root to that word is 'person' and they are not people, they exist in their own harmony and happiness without our labeling.... but I digress. We wildlife rehabbers see so much on this subject it can overwhelm us and we haven't even started to talk about rescuing babies. We take in the injured and see the damage man and his cars, his poisons, his world inflicts but then we have the orphan babies. Orphaned by man. By his desire to ride his attic of wildlife that used to have a forest where his house now stands, orphaned by ignorance on trapping, orphaned by cars, by guns, by storms. We take in the baby animals, we wash them and make sure they are clean, we give treatments for fleas, for worms, for so many parasites. We then spend countless hours holding, and feeding - making sure the temperature of the incubator is safe, we make formula but the jars full and heat each batch to the perfect temperature of our little ones. We help them go potty (this is called piddling) we wash their bedding every day along with their little bodies -so they stay healthy and safe. We stay up around the clock sick with worry on some, and we all run on sleep deprivation as the wee ones need to be feed every 4 hours. Alarms are set, half asleep we take the place of these babies mothers. Feeding is not easy, we weight each baby, we calculate 5% of body weight, we check the temperature, each animals gets a different formula - they are species specific, then we are so very careful as not to aspirate and get formula in the lungs as they try so hard to suckle. As they grow we monitor their health - the larger mammals all have a full series of vaccines just like your dog or your cat, we de-worm, and make sure nutrition needs are met and exceeded as these poor creatures already have a mark against them without a family. This is our lives all spring - all of this and we all juggle our real lives and our real jobs. So we raise these little animals with not just love, but hard science and skill, we wean them off formula and teach them to eat real kibble & wild foods, we move from cage to cage until finally they are in the 'big' pen. The outdoor enclosure that prepares them for the outside.... but its just summer.... warm winds and and thunderstorms. Nothing will prepare any animal, especially a baby without a family, how to prepare for the below zero, snow and lack of food. We have put our entire hearts into making sure our babies are ready to go. Then its release day, for some animals its easy - we just open a door and scoot them out, seeing them visit for awhile until the timber calls them and nature has decided their fate. But you see this is where our type of rescue is hard to explain. The dog, the cat, the horse rescue ..... you have an application, you meet the adopters, you make a plan for Fido's future. Adoption day has its tears but so much with joy, as you know your baby will be now be part of another family and you wish them well. I know this, as I do dog adoption too. But wildlife rescue is so very different.... after all that work, all that love, all the expense..... you open a crate..... you take a few photos..... you say good bye. You try not to think of your baby's violent death... you hold onto the thought that its better to be free, how the Creator intended them to be, than to be in a cage. You hold on to that beautiful moment your baby felt freedom.
I remember reading that on a blog many years ago. It rang so true that it gave me pause. Yes, part of life is death. Its inevitable, it will be to all of us, and the reason we need to stop and just be, and truly live in this very moment... but I digress. . When you have animals or in our case a rescue, live animals will be dead animals at some point and this is the truth. It seems so distasteful to some to even bring up this subject, have we become so removed from real life that a basic truth ' death' is taboo to talk about even in animals, even to people that eat animals, they never want to talk about how that beautiful steak was once a living, breathing adorable animal like Albert? Don't worry this isn't a vegan post... but a death post.
As a rescue we say goodbye a lot. To injured and orphan wildlife, to hospice old dogs, to old farm animals. We get a dark humor to get us through bad days, as do our other friends in rescue and in the veterinary field. We love these animals, we care for them night and day, in all sorts of weather, we mix special foods, we medicate with this tonic and that. Always searching ways to make their time on earth a little longer a little less painful as they age. But when is it enough? When do we stop and decide to help our animal friend transfer to death? I often blame the pharmaceutical companies that have convinced us to hold back time and disease with a little pill, a special formula and when I post about this and that as my animals age, folks meaning well will tell me of this drug or this herb that will hold this force bigger than all of us, back. Is it advertising or marketing that has convinced us that youth is the only thing of value in humans and animals? I want to scream at the top of my lungs and say its ok to grow old, its ok for our animals to also grow old as well. So many times I've had people call me for advice on how to stop aging on their dog - should they do a transfusion? Should they buy this tonic or that, to stop the old bones from creaking to help their friend live longer, how to avoid growing old and then dying. Old we will grow and that's a fact. We need to step back, and look at our animals and think long and hard what to do as they age and their quality of life diminishes. We need to think that they live in the moment. The don't think of future or getting better. They are in the "NOW" only. We have a duty as their guardians to make sure this moment is pain free and happy, because this moment is their forever, their NOW and their TOMORROW.
This week we had that step back here at the rescue. We stopped everything to look at our oldest and most unhealthy animal friends. We watched and talked, and realized it was 'time' for Millie as her founder in her feet took a terrible turn for the the worst with this last heat wave. She was in chronic pain and it was time to set her free. We then looked at Remington, that beautiful draft horse that was so stoic, he too barely survived the last heat wave. His huge heart just kept trying to live on even tough his hip hurt him so and he could no longer sweat, we could see in his eyes that he was scared when he fell. It broke our hearts. We wish we could see these animals when they were young and powerful - what a sight he must have been. After we assessed our equines we realized we were being so selfish with Luna, our huge old hound. We realized she was in pain with every step and it was selfish to keep trying to find the right pill to help her walk, we too got caught in the effort to keep her young. The decisions were made on our beautiful friends but unlike our smaller companion animals, logistics need to be planned.
When you make that hard honest decision on our cat or dog, your vet can step in and offer cremation. This is not the case with livestock. (well it is for $1000s of dollars and that pile of muscle and tissue must be hauled off and that itself is not pretty ) With livestock you need to plan, to make to the calls to the excavator as well as the veterinarian. Some people don't have the luxury of land to bury - that is something we do here but that also is not easy or pretty. So when we decided it was time for Remington, then looked at Millie and the pain she has endured this week, we then had to plan on excavation and where to destroy our land to bury. So not only do you have to plan and say good bye with your heart - you have to step back and plan with logistics and wallet to make this all work. You have to plan where to walk your 1000 pound animal, you have to plan on where he will fall with a terrible thud, you have to plan when to get the excavator to dig a hole and then push your dear friend in with a terrible shove across your yard. Then when complete your grass is destroyed and there is a giant mound of soil to remind you of your lost friend. Our view is no longer pretty from our porch but its not ugly either. Its a reminder that when the world failed these animals, we did what was right. We have read the wonderful posts on our facebook page and cherish the sharing of sorrow. Be assured we never ever get used to these decisions and loosing our friends. We often get comments like "I could never do what you do, I have too big of a heart" or "I could never do what you do because I care about animals too much" comments like these crush us, as we mourn every animal. We cry, we fret, we mourn, we feel so deep for each soul because we know we were their last hope from their past life. We had an extra hard blow today with the passing of our rescue horse that never got out of Oklahoma, but because of us and donations, she was able to live her last moments in a clean healthy stall with plenty of food. I just wish I could have loved on her and brought her to health. But she died with a full belly and good people watching over her. That right there is a blessing.
We grieve just like you all. We will miss every big hound bark, every mule call for breakfast, at every beautiful knicker for grain, but we will not give up. We will not stop rescuing because we know so many need us. But we must always be brave because the truth is livestock will be deadstock and we must always do what is right and what is kind for our animal friends.
Peace out and thanks for reading.
Well here's my first post.... we shall see if we can squeak out a thought or 2 in the wee hours of the night. Between the cage cleaning, the household chores, the feeding, and getting each animal taken care of - will I have time to share an idea, a musing that slips into my head as I tuck the last creature in for the night?
Its 1 am, still 78F, I make my last walk around the rescue, checking each animal under my care. Making sure each has fresh, water, their dinners have been eaten long ago, so I make sure the dishes are cleaned out and I check to see if there's enough bedding for slumber and all the enclosures are secure. To you.... it may sound like a terrible long day, it may seem like the never ending chores here - you are comfy in bed in the land of nod in your cool homes and the thought of a night walk in the heat does not sound like fun to you at all. But I have a secret.... it may be work, I may be tired, but these animals that I have been chosen to care for give me so much in the quiet of night. Albert gives me a very low mooo letting me know I am his friend. Little red, the Red Squirrel sticks his head out to watch me pass and I smile at his sweet face. The baby raccoons are playing in their pools, 2 more months of a care free existence - before nature decides their fate, but for now I will smile as I see them play not noticing me. The foxes give me a frightful scare as they scream just as almost get lost in my thoughts. The pigs and goats are in a deep sleep, not even noticing me watch and check their waters. The horses walk quietly along the fence line wondering if I might have an apple as the donkeys nibble on the last of the dinner hay. No this is not work, this is perfection. I am allowed to see animals just being animals. They are not here to serve me, or entertain me, the just are.... and I am part of their life just like they are part of mine. I turn the lights out now. Sleep calls me and at 5:30 am I will be ready with my coffee to start this all again. I may be tired, but I am blessed. Good night.