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.