Some stories are worth sharing. Not because they are ground shifting, but because they are darn good reminders.
I do wildlife rehab on the side. Turtles, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, birds, and so much more! As a representative of the Serengeti Foundation, I volunteer alongside multiple Veterinary and wildlife groups, and SF has become well-known for doing wildlife transport in the region. Having established veterinary experience (and all the required vaccinations!) means that I’m often asked to provide more specialized care to high needs cases, and to deal with animals that may present a bite risk. Yesterday evening, I was asked to take in an urgent case that had just come in. A terrified and badly underweight juvenile raccoon had been found in a busy downtown area. As I was told, a passerby spotted this weak, struggling baby who was shaking with fear and looking for human attention. They picked it up, and it quickly fell asleep on their chest. That was a red flag for our team because that’s not a behavior you should see in wild raccoons. It was transported by a volunteer to a local wildlife shelter, who suspected it had been raised by humans and dumped. This poor boy was terrified, exhausted, dangerously dehydrated, and was skin and bones underneath his fluffy coat! I took him in to provide fluids and more focused care until the Veterinarian could see him in the coming days. We named him Simon.
It’s extremely dangerous to feed a chilled, dehydrated, or starving animal. They must be warmed and rehydrated first, otherwise, you run the risk of shutting down their organs or causing debilitating diarrhea that can result in death. After assessing this young male, sub-Q fluids and rehydrating solutions were given. Despite having multiple types of age and health appropriate foods, Simon had zero interest. On a hunch, I made up a batch of diluted raccoon formula (never dairy!) and brought it out to him. He reacted immediately at the sight of a human baby bottle. Our suspicions were confirmed; Somebody had been hand-raising this baby! The most likely explanation is that once the cute baby phase wore off, he was dumped, though it’s possible the people assumed he would be alright since urban raccoons tend to do OK. There’s a catch though; Urban raccoons can survive because they had a mom there to show them how to get by. A baby that has been raised by people, inside a home, has no idea what it’s supposed to do, especially when it winds up on a busy street! This little one was lucky to have survived long enough for someone to find it.
- Wild babies are not pets!
- The best place for a wild baby to be is with their mom. The next best place is with a certified wildlife rehabber.
- Not all babies need your help. Regardless of species, the mom is most likely around and is stopping by to feed them. Unless you are truly sure that a wild baby has been orphaned or injured, please don’t touch!
- Animals need to be taught the skills to survive. If they don’t have adults there to teach them what to do, that responsibility falls on YOU. It is hard, dirty, and complex to do properly. Please reach out to your local wildlife teams & Vet. They’ll be glad you called!
After being given fluids and rehydrating solutions, and after some time to calm down, I began to suspect that something deeper was going on. Though he clearly craved human affection, even when cuddled, his shaking didn’t stop. When he calmed down to stretch his legs for a few steps, his odd gait caught my eye. With enough experience, you can get a pretty keen eye to spot the signs and symptoms of a neurological issue. I put him back, changed my scrubs, disinfected, and alerted a family member that he didn’t look well. In my house, that’s code for “this isn’t good, I’m taking him in first thing!” Within an hour, I would hear him fall from the top of his overnight crate. I could hear what was happening before I got there, he was seizing. Simon was found on the bottom of his crate in violent convulsions. The seizure went on for several minutes, and he struggled for about 30 minutes to come out of the postictal state.
Just like humans, when animals come out of a seizure they can be extremely disoriented, confused, and can react unpredictably. My bleeding heart always aches to comfort a scared or injured animal, but I knew it wasn’t safe. He was in the safest place he could be inside that crate. He had a bed and access to water, that’s what was most important. He was safe in there, so I wasn’t about to make myself unsafe! If you see a seizing animal or are there when an animal is coming out of a seizure, DO NOT TOUCH! Seizures can be unremarkable (your Vet will let you know) but they can also be a sign of very serious disease. I immediately suspected that he may have contracted distemper. Distemper is a highly contagious and all too common neurological virus that crosses animal species. If you have a dog or cat, your Veterinarian has likely stressed the importance of receiving their rabies, distemper & parvo combo vaccinations. Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t take the threat seriously or don’t follow through to get the required booster shots. Hours later, my household would be awoken by the sounds of another violent seizure happening from a different floor. An emergency Vet call was made, Simon was sick!
- I know you don’t need the reminder, but animals can carry disease!
- This animal was out on an urban sidewalk, presumably around household pets, children, and other wildlife. If an unvaccinated animal came into close contact with it, it is very possible that it could also have contacted the virus and will go on to spread it.
- I now had a (likely) diseased baby sleeping in my living room. My pets are fully vaccinated and I know the protocols, but many do not! If my dogs had been unvaccinated, or if a person had reached in and was bitten or scratched by it, they could be facing a serious problem.
- The early neurological symptoms could have been missed or dismissed by less experienced eyes, and the seizures wouldn’t have been known unless he was in my house (which isn’t a typical occurrence).
I had already alerted the wildlife shelter of my distemper suspicions, and the call was made for a Vet consult that would likely end with humane euthanasia. Distemper is a horrific disease with next to no chance of survival for a raccoon, and less than a 50% chance of survival with aggressive (and expensive!) treatment for dogs. The kindest thing that could be done for Simon was to ease his suffering and help him pass. Not only was it the kindest option, but it was also the most responsible. If he had been turned out or kept on site until he naturally passed, it’s likely that the deadly virus could’ve been contracted by more local wildlife or neighborhood pets and spread throughout the region. After being seen by our wildlife Vet, they agreed that there were neurological and distemper like symptoms, but also stated that rabies could be a possibility. Though not common in this region, rabies is always possible! I had received my rabies vaccination to work with animals years ago, but most people don’t have it. That opens up a bigger risk for anyone handling animals. By law, any bites or scratches from a suspected animal must be reported, and multiple people had handled Simon before he came into my care. To my knowledge, no one was bitten or scratched, but we are contact tracing just to be sure. Without a doubt, distemper is the most likely explanation for his seizures, but anything is possible, and we need to be sure.
- It is always best to call for experienced help when dealing with sick or injured wildlife.
- Experienced rehabbers are more likely to spot the signs of contagious disease and can act and advise accordingly
- Never endanger yourself, especially if you suspect you may be seeing signs of rabies. Call your Vet, local wildlife groups, or municipality to get advice and be connected with the resources you need.
The Rainbow Bridge:
Simon is no longer suffering. He is no longer terrified by a world he doesn’t know. He is no longer dying of thirst and extreme hunger after being turned out on to the street. It’s always bittersweet for us animal lovers to know that the ones we were routing for are no longer here. This case is sticking with me though, Simon didn’t need to suffer. It’s true that the world can be a cruel place and we don’t know how he lost his mother. We don’t know all the circumstances, but we do know that truly wild babies don’t eagerly take human baby bottles, not like that. Someone was raising him. It’s possible that he was exposed to distemper beforehand, but it’s most likely that he had picked it up on the streets after he’d been turned out. Either way, he experienced a cruel and unnecessary fate. I love animals just as much as the next person, but good intentions aside, that interaction didn’t help him.
It hurt him.
Injured and orphaned wildlife should always be cared for by qualified rescue and rehabilitation groups. If rehab spaces aren’t available, most cities have free euthanasia services for sick, orphaned or injured wildlife, and most animal hospitals will do compassionate euthanasias if the animal appears to be unwell or has nowhere else to go. These services are typically billed to the municipality, though your local groups can inform you of the services available. Regardless of the circumstances, and good intentions aside, compassionate euthanasia would’ve been much kinder than his last week(s) filled with true fear, hunger, thirst, and growing pain. It didn’t need to be like this.
I love kindness, but sometimes kindness isn’t that kind.