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Call first before ‘rescuing’ wildlife

Closeup of Milly the raccoon in an enclosure with lots of straw.
Milly the raccoon

PULLMAN, Wash. — A raccoon named Milly has Washington State University veterinarians reminding the public to call a wildlife rehabilitator before intervening with orphaned or injured wildlife.

Milly was just a baby last summer when humans suspected she was orphaned and took her in. Rather than ensure Milly was truly orphaned and transfer her to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, the couple decided to illegally keep the raccoon as a pet.

“She grew up into a full-size raccoon, as raccoons do, and then she started to get into trouble, as raccoons do; so, they reached out to us to see if we could find her a different home,” said Marcie Logsdon, a veterinarian at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. 

Wild animals that have been in captivity are especially difficult to rehome, and in most cases (such as Milly’s), habituated animals cannot be returned to the wild, leaving zoos or educational facilities as the only option. To make matters worse, it is illegal to transport raccoons across state lines, so Milly’s only options were limited to centers in Washington state.

Fortunately, Milly has found a space at Cat Tales, Spokane’s nonprofit wildlife center. Milly was very lucky to find a home as an educational ambassador, placements such as this are few and far between. 

“We are happy that we are able to provide Milly a forever home here at Cat Tales and hope she can serve as an ambassador and reminder of the importance of not disrupting or removing young wildlife from their natural homes,” said Lisa Grey, Cat Tales executive director. “When in doubt, trust nature and check with the experts.”

Dr. Logsdon said it is easy to mistake a healthy baby for one that may be orphaned or injured and reminds the public to call a wildlife rehabilitator first.

Calling ahead allows a wildlife rehabilitator the chance to assess the situation and walk the Good Samaritan through the process to ensure the animal needs veterinary care or is orphaned. It also provides an opportunity to discuss how to safely handle the animal in question.

“And please, never try to keep wildlife, like Milly, as pets – it’s illegal in most states and often has a very sad ending,” she said.

Logsdon said WSU has already seen healthy wildlife brought in this year; she expects with the temperatures climbing, it could just be the start.

Logsdon said people should also call a local wildlife rehabilitator before intervening if they see damaged nests or nests in undesirable locations.

In the event of a blown down or damaged nest, squirrels, raccoons and other small mammals often have a second nesting site already in mind.

“If the baby is not in immediate danger, always give the parents a chance to come back and move their babies first,” she said, noting reuniting baby squirrels, rabbits and raccoons can be more difficult after human intervention.

Logsdon said keeping pets away from fallen nestlings should be the first thing a Good Samaritan does when they locate injured or orphaned wildlife.

She said many fallen bird nestlings can be placed back in the nest or in a replacement nest nearby so the mother can find her chicks.

She notes it is a myth that wildlife parents will abandon their babies if a human touches them.

“They just want their baby back, they don’t care what it smells like,” she said.

Through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website anyone in the state can locate the nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You can also call WSU’s wildlife department at 509-335-0711.

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