I have been a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the State of Oklahoma for a little over a year now. While I have always loved animals and sought to help the orphaned and injured, I never dreamed I would one day be active in helping wildlife in such a manner. At the time I applied for my license, I thought, naively, that I was simply making what I had done all along, legal. I had to, after all; Daisy deer had shown up motherless… and I couldn’t very well hide raising a deer when I lived on the outskirts of town. It is one thing to raise birds and a few squirrels, but quite another to keep a deer without gaining some attention.
Filling out the application to attain a license to rehabilitate animals was fairly simple. But right off the bat, I saw that we were going to need to spiff things up around here! Accompanying the application was a facility inspection form that the local game warden must fill out and sign before our operation could become official. Once we had everything ready, I would have to call the warden and make an appointment for him to meet with us to do his inspection.
To gain the warden’s signature, we needed to demonstrate that we were capable of housing the animals we hoped to help, and show that we were prepared to take whatever species might be brought to us. So, I took inventory of what we already had on hand to house small mammals and birds, and FD and I worked to clean up an enclosed pen area we could use for an aviary. We also took advantage of the offer from family to come from Dallas to help us whip the old barn into shape so we could use it for housing larger mammals. We purchased materials and built two large pens to provide space for the larger mammals, such as Daisy deer, to roam. We took inventory of feed and water buckets, pee pads, blankets, heating pads, syringes and formulas. And then we cleaned and repaired some old cages. There was so much to do!
After all our work, still nothing prepared me for the day the warden arrived! I had tried to contact him for a couple of weeks, and became discouraged each time a tentative plan to meet fell through. Making my last call to the warden, I again mentioned my itinerary for the week and asked if we could try to work out a time once again. This time, he showed up bright and early the very next morning – without warning! From the front windows in our living room, I watched this intimidating figure step out of his official-looking truck. He was talking on his cell phone. He had his game warden uniform on, and was wearing sunglasses with those darned reflective lenses. My heart was pounding. I just hoped and prayed this would all go quickly. And, of all things, I was in my worn-out work jeans, complete with holes in the knees, and topped off with a ratty, camouflage t-shirt. I wore no makeup and my hair was askew in a haphazard ponytail – I hoped I didn’t look, or smell, too much like a hillbilly!
As I walked out the front door to greet my visitor, I noticed the warden was still on his phone, and he was not smiling. He sounded official and stern, and his conversation seemed terse. I tried to calm my hammering heart, hoping I didn’t get a darned nose-bleed! That had happened a few times in my life when anxiety got the best of me. While I waited for him to end the phone call, I got busy opening up the door to the building that housed the cages and supplies. Having something to do always calmed my nerves. Finally, Tyler introduced himself as his eyes scanned our property.
I had no way of knowing what Tyler was looking at, or what he looked like behind those reflective sunglasses. He appeared to be in his early 30’s maybe, but every spoken word exuded confidence and maturity beyond that age. He apologized for not making it by any of the earlier times we had designated. As he explained more about what was on his agenda as of late, I realized the importance of his job. I felt humbled. Some wanna-be-rehabber lady getting her panties in a wad over a missed appointment or two was the last thing on his list of concerns. The previous two weeks had seen him working on deer poaching cases with another county game warden. They had been putting in some long hours to catch the crooks. Hearing about this, my maternal instincts fired up hot. Little, orphaned fawn, Daisy, nestled safely behind the living room couch, was a hunted and sought after species. I hated poachers with a passion. Being a deer mother made me ferocious about protecting her.
The inspection went smoothly once Tyler and I began visiting. He made it rather easy on me. He asked a lot of questions about “what if” scenarios. At first I was alarmed his inquisition was part of the inspection. I worried I would flunk or say the wrong thing; after all, I didn’t have a lot of experience. Finally, I realized his questions were more about discovering what mammals I was interested in, what experience I had caring for various kinds of wildlife, and what my plans were to release my charges back into the wild. On a final note, he assured me that his concerns mainly revolved around the ability to do what I could, within reason, to offer wildlife a chance. He stated there were no expectations; no right or wrong decisions. Simply put, just having someone to rely on, to be available to help, was the only criteria he looked at. I realized too, that he was a caring person, often having taken in a critter or two himself, to eventually have a chance back in the wild.
FD and I have made many discoveries along the way about animal rehabilitation. There is no right or wrong way to handle a situation. One does what they can. Sometimes the effort leads to a successful release, and sometimes death is eminent. No training is required, but self-education is encouraged, as well as developing a network with other rehabbers, in order to gain knowledge and support. I have learned that there is no request that is weird or stupid.
This summer I rehabbed a large woodland moth that was brought to me. At first it appeared nearly dead. Providing an overnight stay in a cooler atmosphere with available water, had my friend flying free, into the woods by mid morning.
Birds of all sorts are our most common patients. Some need a day or two, or maybe a week off from flying to give time for an injured wing to heal. Fledglings often need a bit of nourishment to keep up flight. One particular robin brought to me, was discovered by a couple of boys who found it tangled in some briars. Sewing thread was wrapped tightly around its leg and a stick pin was also lodged in it’s leg. After snipping away the loose thread, and leaving the embedded thread where flesh had surrounded it, the thrashing bird was set free. It was a simple fix that allowed the boys to see and understand how trash and debris that humans discard can get an animal in trouble, or even kill it.
Most of my rehabilitation work revolves around taking phone calls. I am listed in a few directories online and also with the State of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Many times, word of mouth is my reference. I am the person who gets the call, “What do I do with this bird? It’s injured and in my yard”. I am always a bit amused at what people might know or say about a bird. Some people can recite exactly what type of bird they have, what appears to be wrong with it, and can tell me what they have done thus far to help it. Others, give only scant details and just want the intruder out of their yard. One lady told me, “I think it’s a mean bird. It has a beak and, instead of using it to eat, it keeps attacking me when I’m trying to help it! I really think it probably fell from the sky and hit its head. It just seems very angry!”
I have found that even though I might not be able to help them with the bird or animal myself, since I don’t make house calls or transport from other areas, often the mere act of listening and offering more information will handle the call. Sometimes I can locate a larger rehabilitation facility that cares for specific species or injuries. Sometimes, I might help them find a facility nearer their home location. Other situations require calling the county game warden in their area, since removing the animal might be dangerous to the caller. Most of the time though, simply offering some words of encouragement and helping find a solution is enough.
This summer the effects of the drought caused most of the calls I received. Numerous people discovered birds that appeared exhausted, camped out in their backyards. When no injuries were noted, I often asked if there was shade in the yard and, if not, instructed them to put something out to provide a bit of shade. I also suggested setting a pan of water in the shade. Most all concerned people called back to say that, after a bit of respite from the heat and some hydration, the bird flew off. It is a wonderful thing to hear the joy and elation from someone who took a little time to perform a simple act of kindness, and saved a little (or big) bird.
I often marvel at how this same scenario comes up in our own, every-day, human lives. We all know or meet someone who just needs a bit of attention. Maybe they need encouragement, or a little help with something. It takes so little for us to smile, to offer a greeting, or assist someone who is struggling. Some of these experiences may seem weird and strange, and they may even require a little more effort than we initially thought about giving. But the wonder and amazement of how giving just that bit of recognition and offer of respite or help, provides the most rewarding feeling in the world. A simple act of kindness, I believe, is perhaps the greatest form of love there is!
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…