A Walk on the Wild Side

Life at Ground Level, High Ridge, Missouri

Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall and see inside the lives of others, to learn about their secrets, to solve mysteries about them? How do they do that? What does that mean? When will they have those babies? Will they survive? What will their future hold?

Do you watch wildlife from your back window? Squirrels or an occasional opossum might meander through your yard. Are you ever curious about particular aspects of life at ground level? You might see raccoons and skunks, too, but are afraid to approach them. Rumors abound about aggressive raccoons (they’d rather run away from you) and you don’t want to be sprayed by a skunk. And what do you know about rabbits? Or Groundhogs? Seeing them from afar doesn’t give you many answers. Wouldn’t you want to see them up close?

Well, you can walk a bit on the wild side and have a peeking perspective on these creatures if you visit your local wildlife rescue center. Our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic had an Open House on October 2, 2011, a beautiful, sunny day.

Emily, the Director, was all smiles and eager to supply any information to visitors. While we were speaking, a butterfly floated between us and chose to land on her shoulder. Both of us admired this small gift that caused us to pause in our conversation and elicited a gentle breath in us – an example of one of those magical moments sent to all of us each day. Do we see these gifts or are we, to our own detriment, just too darn busy to notice?

This Butterfly Knows!

Tables of donated items were selling at too low prices, in my opinion. Many baskets of great gifts were offered by a drawing, $1 a ticket, or six for $5 (again, I didn’t win). Kettle corn, hot dogs and sweet ketchup filled the air with tantalizing aromas. The volunteers were proud to show off their wards. And a human-sized skunk and an unidentified brown animal cheerfully posed for pictures and were good ambassadors for the other harmless creatures waiting inside.

Miss Cheerful Skunk

Miss Brown . . . What?

Clean cages displayed playful raccoons, slow moving ’possums and hyperactive squirrels. There was even a ground hog. All were well supplied with acorns, ears of corn, persimmons, romaine lettuce, carrots and more – a smorgasbord of flavors, appealing to sharp eyes and sensitive noses. And each animal appeared exceptionally healthy.

Awakened From His Sleep and Little Grumpy

And what explains their healthy condition? The dedication of the volunteers, that’s what. In many cases, they rear these creatures from infancy and provide hand feedings every four hours. Food preparation takes an immense amount of time. In the case of the persimmons, because they are so delicate and will turn to mush when handled, each one has to be placed on a large plastic tray for freezing. After they are frozen, each persimmon must be inserted side-by-side, not jumbled up, into a plastic bag and refrozen until time for use.

Cages must be cleaned daily in addition to cleaning the entire facility. Donations of bags of dog food, gallons of acorns, and boxes of newspaper require heavy lifting. Laundering and folding of towels, sheets, and cleaning rags must be done. Shelves of these items line what serves as an office.

Still, all of the volunteers are cheerful and go about their tasks with concentrated focus. I asked one of them, “What makes you do all this hard work?” And back came the simple answer, “Love.” Yep, that is the only answer that makes sense.

Who's Peeking?

Watching the various lovelies elicits questions as to why they are rehabilitating. In many cases, mom was killed by a car and the resident human knew where the nest was and compassionately brought the babies to the center. This can be done with baby skunks, too. They aren’t able to deliver “The Bomb” until they are older, so do your part. Take them to the “Animal Angels”. They will do the rest. The ground hog was hit by a car and has some nerve damage. He will be at the center until spring.

The Ground Hog - A Hit With Kids

I have visited other centers through the years but still learn something new when I visit again. For instance, stop if you see a dead possum on the road. Check to see if it is a female, then check the pouch – babies could be alive in there. Or if that curdles your milk, just scoop mom up and take her to your wildlife center. They will retrieve the babies. Sometimes, babies are not in the pouch but are clinging to her body. Don’t let them starve and suffer in the hot sun. Cultivate compassion. It is a very healing exercise. And, what goes around comes around.

Speaking of compassion – you could learn a lot from these volunteers. A woman brought in what she thought was a baby possum. It was so tiny it was practically a fetus. As it grew, its identity revealed itself. It is a grey mouse. No matter. He is treated no differently than the other patients. He is fed and nurtured, protected and kept warm. A life is a life.

Want to Share?

Our Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic will accept turtles or snakes. For the care of these animals, the Clinic will contact the St. Louis Herpetological Society and will forward the animal to them for specialized care. The Clinic also has access to veterinary care in the case euthanasia is necessary.

Isn't He Gorgeous?

Snakes Are Cool, Too!

I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I thought ’possums used their long mandible like a straw and sucked water into their bodies. At ground level view here at the Clinic, I was entranced to see a tiny, pink tongue lapping water. A small fact, but it adds to my understanding of the world around me.

Familiarize yourself with your local center. Know where it is located before an emergency. Learn all you can and get your children directly involved. If you can’t donate dollars, take your newspapers to them. Have a field trip with your kids and gather acorns or persimmons. Set up a lemonade stand and place a sign on it – Proceeds for Animal Charity. And don’t forget to go see their twinkling eyes and beautiful coats of fur and watch their antics as they snuggle with their own kind. Raccoons and squirrels play like effervescent bubbles bouncing off one another. When you watch them you’ll find yourself smiling. You will recognize they are completely innocent and childlike.

Connecting with animals imparts to us those same qualities. We can use more innocence these days. A lot of peace is derived from having a childlike view as we look at a fallen leaf or feel the tickle of a wooly worm as his many feet move across our palm. So, risk opening your heart. When we are thoughtful of animals, it is not only they who benefit.

NOTICE:  Please click on these live links to visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic and the St. Louis Herpetological Society sites. Gather more information and check out the “Wish List” for items you may be able to supply. Keep up with scheduled events.