A Long-distance Relationship

Working in wildlife rehabilitation can be highly entertaining.

I don't just mean the animal care, either. The wildlife hospital sits right on the crossroads between wildlife and the general public. Few situations create stronger reactions in people than interactions with animals. Sometimes people are frustrated that the raccoons knock trashcans over, sometimes they're downright angry that the great blue heron is eating their $300 koi. Most of the time people are just trying to do the right thing. Sometimes they care way too much! One thing is for sure... every wildlife rehabilitator has stories.

Once, while I was working at a center in Florida, I got a call from a woman.

"Hi, I'd like to report an injured whale,"

"OK, thanks for calling. We don't have facilities to care for marine mammals, but hopefully I can refer you to someone who can help. Can I ask you a few questions so that I can understand the situation a little better?"

"Sure."

"Where is the whale right now?"

"In the ocean."

"Near or on a beach?"

"No."

"Are there any landmarks or other information you can give me? Is this the Gulf or the Atlantic?"

"I don't know where it is."

"OK, well, what was it doing when you saw it?"

"I didn't see it."

"I see. Can you tell me why you think it might be injured? Maybe explain the situation to me?"

"I just know it's hurt. I can hear it calling to me."

"..."

"I don't know what happened to it, but it needs help. Can't you help it?"

"....... Well ma'am, as I said, we don't have the facilities or licenses to care for marine mammals here. There are stranding response networks, but they would need to know where the animal is in order to help it."

"I can't believe this! Can't you do anything?!"

"... I can give you the stranding line to call if you are able to find out where the animal is, but again, the ocean is a very big place. They'll need to know where to find it before they can help. Are you ready? Here's the number - 555..."

Or the voicemail message I got on the squirrel rescue line in Michigan.

"Hi, can you call me back? I got a bunny... or a frog... or something. I cuddled it with paper towel and tinfoil, but I don't know what else to do..."

Or the call I got just the other day. Pertinent info: It is important for orphaned animals to be raised with conspecifics (other animals of the same species), and it is common practice for rehabilitators to call each other when they have only one orphan of a particular species so that we can get a friend for that animal as soon as possible.

"Hi, I'm calling because I have a single coyote puppy, and I need to find a friend for it. We tried to reunite it with its mother for the past 3 nights, but it didn't work."

"OK, well, we don't have any coyote puppies right now, but I'm happy to contact you if we get one. What center are you with?"

"I'm not with a center."

"I see. Are you a licensed rehabilitator? Where are you located?"

"No, I'm just the person who found it. Well, actually my cousin found it. She took it to the XYZ wildlife center, but they don't have any other coyote puppies. I'm afraid it will get lonely."

"The XYZ wildlife center? What a coincidence, I used to intern there! That's in Florida, correct? Did you know that we're in Washington state?"

"I just Googled "wildlife center" and your website popped up - I thought since it said you take care of coyotes you could give them one of yours. I've been trying to call all the centers around me to try to find another coyote puppy. It's hard work!"

"Since we're in Washington, that's a little far for us to send an animal. But don't worry - as I said I know the people at that center, and you can leave finding another coyote puppy in their hands."

In hindsight, perhaps I should have offered to have our coyote puppies Skype with theirs. Even if their puppy just followed ours on Twitter, he'd know that he wasn't alone... Then again, long-distance relationships never work out!

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