Can ‘coon

Can ‘coon

No, this isn’t yet another column about my travel exploits.  This week Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a raccoon in a pretty precarious position.

While emptying recycle bins in the Punta Gorda Isles neighborhood, the sanitation engineers made a startling discovery.  They found a young adult raccoon at the bottom of a recycle bin with a tin can firmly stuck on her head.

Luckily for the raccoon and PRWC, they knew just what to do.  They brought the entire construct to us—can, ‘coon, and all.  Unable to simply pull the can off her head, we drilled a hole in the can through which the anesthetic gas was administered.  Once the raccoon was asleep, we enlarged the opening at the top of the can, using a tin snip, until we could wrest the can off.

The raccoon was in pretty good shape, all things considered.  She obviously had not been stuck in this predicament for long.  She had no injuries except some minor abrasions, nor was she dehydrated or emaciated, as she would have been in short order if the can had not been removed quickly.  She was treated and released to get back to the mischief of being a raccoon.

Whether we think of them as rascally scamps or the scourge of the earth, raccoons and many other wild animals are out there, in our neighborhoods, gardens, lawns—even in our attics.  How can we diminish the potential damage to our property and help keep these innocent invaders safe?

The most important and easiest thing to do is limit food supplies.  Keep trash and recyclables in secure containers.  Rinse and crush containers before placing them outside.  Do not feed animals outside—cat food, bird food, etc.  If you must have food outside for pets, do not leave it out at night.

If you have fruit trees in your yard, remove ripe fruit from the tree and pick up fallen fruit daily.

Fish in ponds should be given a rock shelf to hide under so they do not become food for herons or raccoons.

Tree branches should be cut three feet from the house.  Do not allow shrubs to get too thick and overgrown or touch the house.

Enclose the base of any decks or porches, extending the hardware cloth partially into the ground.

Place wire mesh over chimney caps, vent stacks, and gable, ridge, and dryer vents.

Keep your roof in good repair, check for loose shingles or holes in soffits or eaves.  If you do find or suspect that you have a raccoon in your attic, there is a 90% chance that it is a female with babies.  Do not exclude the mother without getting the babies out or giving her time to move them.

Often, making the space inhospitable for her will cause her to move her babies to an alternative nest site.  Play loud music or talk radio, flash lights, and place a spill proof receptacle of something with a strong odor like an ammonia soaked rag near the nest.

If you obtain the assistance of a professional trapper or nuisance wildlife removal service, just make sure they are aware that removing one adult raccoon from the attic may not be the end of the problem.  And ask them what they plan to do with the animals they remove.  Some disreputable companies will drop trapped animals in water and drown them, even the babies.  While some frustrated homeowners may not have an issue with that practice, many people are surprised to hear that this happens.

Simply removing animals from your property may not be the answer either.  Obviously, you want to get them out of your house, but not wanting them to nest in nearby trees or other wild spaces is not feasible.  If you remove a raccoon or young family from your yard, others will simply take their place.

Many people are frustrated by raccoons and other wildlife on their properties and in their homes.  And while these wild animals can cause damage, killing or moving them is not the answer.  We have invaded their space, so we must learn to be good neighbors to these native creatures.  A few fairly simple practices can not only keep wildlife safe, but make our homes more comfortable for us and less attractive to wild invaders.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Can 'coon

Can ‘coon

Anesthesia to remove can

Anesthesia to remove can

Raccoon after can removed

Raccoon after can removed

Slipping into fall

Slipping into fall

With all the hubbub over Hurricane Irma, how many of us missed the arrival of autumn?  Here at Peace River Wildlife Center we usually notice this change in seasons well before the temperatures start to decrease.  Southwest Florida does not have the spectacular autumnal foliage of which our northern neighbors boast.   Instead of colourful leaves littering the ground, we have baby squirrels falling from the trees.

Speaking of Irma, PRWC did indeed evacuate most of our animals.  Our patient and resident total just before Irma hit was 243.  Our original plan was to shelter in place as many of our animals as possible, taking them into the hospital and surgery wards.  The day before Irma made landfall in Florida, when she decided to ignore all prognostications and made that darned right turn too late, it was decided to evacuate most of the animals in our care.  Being right on Charlotte Harbor, we are at risk of flooding from storm surge or significant rainfall and our dilapidated buildings are not as sturdy as we would like.

The entire day before the storm hit was spent placing all our patients and most of our residents into kennels and transporting them to safety.  We boarded up the windows and locked down everything we could.  Many volunteers helped ensure the safety of our animals.

The Monday after the storm, these same brave souls showed up to clean up the debris left in Irma’s wake and bring the animals back.  This was an even braver act, because some of the birds were sheltered in Arcadia, and driving back and forth from there with no idea when gas would be available was an act of courage and faith.

We even had friends we had never even met show up to lend a hand.  People had seen our plea on Facebook or just drove by to see if we needed help.  They rolled up their sleeves, grabbed a rake, shovel, or chainsaw, and made it possible for us to get all our frightened birds back into their habitats within a day of the storm’s passing.

Luckily, all our birds, mammals, and reptiles made it through the storm and stress involved in capturing, kenneling, and moving them.  Most of them had to spend over 48 hours in kennels with little more room than to turn around and lie down.  While we tried to make them as comfortable as possible, this sort of evacuation is always stressful.  That amount of stress can be fatal to many of our delicate patients and residents.  Being able to get the birds back into their habitats as quickly as we did undoubtedly saved lives.

In the aftermath of the storm, PRWC was inundated with wildlife impacted by the wind and rain.  We had numerous adult birds that had been buffeted by the winds, dashed against walls and windows or the ground, and suffered head trauma and broken bones.  Most of the ones with head trauma recovered quickly and have already been released.

We also got a lot of baby bunnies, squirrels, and doves.  Many nests had been blown out of trees and countless trees had been uprooted or broken apart by the winds.  Most people who brought these displaced and orphaned babies to us were thrilled to find us accepting patients so quickly.  With the power out, entire neighborhoods flooded, and shortages at the grocery stores and gas stations, people were relieved to find they had some semblance of control over something and saving the life of a tiny animal became that much more significant.

Charlotte County dodged a bullet with this storm.  Things could have been much worse, and without the improvements to our infrastructure that have been ongoing since Hurricane Charley, they likely would have been.  Kudos to all the first responders who saved lives and made our lives so much easier so quickly.  And thanks to all the businesses that got up and running as quickly as possible—both for the sake of their customers and their employees. 

Charley knocked us for a loop.  Irma was no match for our preparedness and cooperation.  Now if we could just figure out how to keep some of those baby squirrels up in the trees where they belong.  Did someone say, “Duct tape?” 

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

The show must go on

The show must go on

As I write this week’s column, Hurricane Irma is barreling toward Florida.  She may slam into Miami, skim the east coast, wander up the center of the state, or even end up in the Gulf.  At this point, it is looking grim for the entire state, but we are as ready as it is possible to be for something of this magnitude and uncertainty.

Every resident of Florida knows what goes into making a hurricane plan.  In the spring, well before any hurricanes are forming, residents stock up on water, non-perishable foods, batteries, flashlights, candles, and lanterns.  We purchase extra cans of gasoline and test our generators.  Important records and documents are stowed in Rubbermaid bins and kept easily accessible.  Pets have all current vaccinations, records, food, and medications at the ready with their kennels. 

We’re on top of this.  Right?  Well…

Hurricane Irma is a great example for all of us that maybe we aren’t quite as prepared as we should be.  There really shouldn’t be long lines at the stores and the community shouldn’t run out of bread, water, and gasoline before a storm hits.  If everyone is well prepared in advance, there should be no need for a last-minute panic.  But there was.  There always is.

It is a daunting task to prepare your home and family for an approaching storm, especially if you have a dog or cat.  Imagine the complexity of having to care for 243 “pets” and not only ensuring their safety during a storm, but caring for them afterward, in uncertain conditions.   Not to mention the number of injured ones that will flood in after the storm has passed.

This is the dilemma Peace River Wildlife Center faces during hurricane season.  Our dedicated staff of employees and volunteers not only have to get their own homes in order, they help us with the monumental task of making preparations to shelter the animals in our care.

Currently PRWC has 100 permanent resident animals, 92 of which are birds.  Our patient load as of two days before Irma is scheduled to make landfall in the U.S. is 143—46 birds, 92 mammals, and 5 reptiles.  Each of these animals must be made safe from the approaching storm and cared for until it is ready to be released or, in the case of our residents, for the rest of its life.

Since our facility is located right on Charlotte Harbor, we are in a precarious position for storm surge, wind, and flooding from excessive rainfall.  Unfortunately, evacuating many of our animals would be more stressful for them than sheltering in place.  Evacuation is not always recommended or even possible. 

Florida is a long, narrow peninsula.  There are only two major roads running north and south.  These roads should be kept clear as a storm approaches for those that are required to leave and for trucks bringing in supplies and workers to assist in recovery efforts.

We take small birds, mammals, and land reptiles inside for the duration of a storm.  Every animal in a habitat that tends to flood must be moved to another cage.  We make sure there are places the remaining animals can get out of the wind and rain when staying within their habitats. 

Preparations include ordering and storing as much food as we can possibly fit in our freezers, in case we cannot get our regular weekly shipments after a storm.  We can go through 500 pounds of thread herring and 50 pounds of smelt in a week.  Our raptors eat over $1,000 worth of frozen rodents and chicks every week.  We have 5 different liquid diets for baby birds, depending on the species.  Are they insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, pescivores, or omnivores?  We also stock six different types of baby mammal formulas, depending on species and age. 

Our windows are boarded and our generator tested.  Plenty of gasoline and water has been stored.  (A special thanks to the person who took two empty five-gallon water jugs from the office.  We were planning to fill them with tap water to help with cleaning cages in case the water goes out.  What kind of despicable person steals from a non-profit trying to help injured animals at a time like this?)

We have stocked up on medications, gloves, and as much fresh food as we can stuff into our refrigerators.  We have refilled our oxygen tanks (hats off again to Southern Oxygen for their support!)  If the power is out and we can’t do laundry, we will have to rely on newspapers to line the cages, instead of the sheets and pillowcases we usually use. 

There are some special creatures that will be taken off-site.  Our more critical patients that need medication and other treatments will go home with rehabbers.  When we run out of caging space in the hospital and surgical ward, the rest of the residents that cannot remain in their habitats will go home with other staff members. 

We also have to assemble crates and carriers to place these animals in, whether they are being moved inside or off-site.  We have many kennels, but storage is at a premium, so they are taken apart to be stored, collapsed on themselves.  Thanks to coverage by the Sun, community members have offered to help with constructing kennels and transporting any animals that need to be moved.

Computers and essential paperwork will be stored off-site as well.  The buildings we are in now are woefully inadequate.  The good news is that our new facility will be built to current codes and will be strong enough to withstand more severe weather than our existing structures.  The bad news is that new facility is at least one hurricane season away.

Best case scenario, Irma will pass us by and this has been a great test of our emergency preparedness plan.  Worst case scenario, no amount of preparation will have mattered.  More than likely, the scenario we face will be somewhere in between.  The good news is that natural disasters tend to bring people together.  Friends, neighbors, and even enemies work toward a common goal, temporarily forgetting about the ridiculous things that we allow to divide us at times.

by-Robin Jenkins, DVM

Paranoia will destroy ya

Paranoia will destroy ya

The call comes in at 6 p.m.  Someone had seen an eagle on the ground at 10 that morning.  He had called Florida Fish and Wildlife, but they did not have an officer in the area.  Many calls later, he had finally gotten through to Peace River Wildlife Center, and they called me. Saturday evening.  It will be dark soon. The caller is willing to wait for me.  It’s about a half mile hike back into the scrub off the main trail.  Really?  I don’t think so.   Maybe I’ve read too many James Patterson novels, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster.


First thing Sunday morning, I gather my gear and head for the “carefully detailed” location where the injured bird was last reported.  “Back the trail (as if there is only one), where it goes around the corner of where the dried up retention pond used to be…”  I get there and the first thing I see is three trails. I pick the one labeled “A”—seems an obvious choice to me.  Of course it is the wrong choice.  Of course I don’t figure that out until I hike for a good 20 minutes.


So, after another 20 minutes I’m back to where I started. Okay, plan B—trail B.   I call the number for the man who found the eagle.  No answer.  I’m not really surprised.  He probably doesn’t have good cell reception in the dungeon where he spends the wee hours of a Sunday morning honing the blades on his machetes and pick axes.  The surgical instruments, I imagine, he leaves dull so that each cut is all the more painful.  (Darn you, Patterson!)


Still dragging myself and my rescue equipment down the narrow and overgrown path, I am getting further and further away from civilization.  I am looking for the plastic bag that has supposedly been tied to a tree near where the eagle was discovered.  I see neither an eagle nor a bag.  And we’re walking, and we’re walking…


Finally!  A bag tied to a tree.  Maybe there really is an eagle in distress here and not just an elaborate set up to procure an unsuspecting human sacrifice.  I set down my equipment and start looking in earnest for the bird.  Making ever widening circles around the immediate area, I feel like I have scrutinized every square inch of the place for miles around.  Okay, maybe it was just a few feet, but I’m tired by now.  And I’ve gotten myself so caught up in the villain’s scheme to abduct me that every time a branch cracks I jump three feet in the air, so I’m counting that vertical distance in my miles logged.


Not surprisingly, I do not find an injured eagle.  I don’t find a feather, a footprint, or any other evidence that any living creature has ever set foot here before me.  Well, there is the plastic bag.  And maybe some raccoon scat, feral pig rootings, and a million different birds.  Actually, all kinds of animals live out here.  It really is quite beautiful.  I suppose if this is the last place I see before the burlap sack gets thrown over my head, I’ll have that lovely image to sustain me through the first few days of torture.


I give up and keep walking.  The retention pond is relatively empty at this time of year, just a mucky muddy bottom at the very middle of it.  Its footprint is still quite large and the path encircles it, so I continue my hike, ever watchful for an injured eagle in case he has moved from his original spot.  I make it back to my car with mixed emotions.  I am disappointed to have wasted so much time and yet I am happy to still be alive. Maybe Kreeper McKreppison only comes out at night after all.  But my overriding thought is how much I need a doughnut.


As soon as I get to the doughnut shop, my cell phone rings.  It is a lady telling me that the eagle is still there and that she and her husband will be happy to guide me to it.  Hmph.  So my doughnut(s) and I are off again.  This time when I arrive (10 minutes later, and the doughnuts are long gone) a perfectly normal-looking couple are waiting for me in the parking lot.  They even have a perfectly normal-looking dog with them.  Evil villains never have a nice dog with them.


We walk to where they had seen the eagle just minutes ago, but now we can’t find the bird.  Did anyone see that coming?!  So they let Boots off her leash and tell her to find the eagle.  Maybe I was premature in thinking these people were perfectly normal.  Do they really think they can hold intelligible conversations with their dog?  Actually what I was wrong about was that the dog, Boots, is anything but normal.


Boots crashes through the underbrush for a few minutes, stops, lets out a single bark, and then returns to us.  She then turns and leads us back to where the young eagle is hiding under a palmetto.  A short chase ensues, but we are able to catch the eagle and take him back to PRWC.


The bald eagle is a first-year juvenile.  She has probably flown into something while learning how to hunt.  There is a slight swelling near her right shoulder, but x-rays show no broken bones or luxations.  We are hopeful that after a little cage rest, this youngster will be able to go back home and take to the skies with a little more agility.  Had we not found her, she most certainly would have ended up as dinner for some predator.


So I guess it turns into more of a Dean Koontz dog-saves-the-day kind of tale than a Patterson man-is-just-plain-evil exploit.  Except that there were no government assassins, time traveling Nazis, or mad scientists.  As far as I know.  Those people did say they were from Vermont.  Who knows what their real origin might have been.  People don’t actually live in Vermont, do they?  But I digress.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

It’s not all beer and skittles

It’s not all beer and skittles

Most of the stories that make it to publication are success stories—the warm, fuzzy stories about rescues, rehabs, and releases that went according to plan.  It sounds so easy and rewarding when focusing only on the positive outcome, but believe it or not, there is a seedy underbelly to the glamourous work that is wildlife rehabilitation.

Most of our patients are brought to us by the people who find the injured or orphaned animals.  Sometimes Charlotte County Animal Control (CCAC) will pick up the animal and deliver it to us.  After hours, on holidays, or hen the animal is in Lee, Desoto, or Sarasota County, Plan B gets put into action—sometimes with varied results.

Earlier this year Peace River Wildlife Center got a call from Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) that there was a great egret on the side of the road that had been hit by a car.  The officers said they would stay with the injured bird until we got there to pick it up.  I wasn’t sure why they didn’t bring it in, but luckily it was my day off and the location, just over the Lee County line, was fairly close to my house.

When I arrived, the officers pointed out the bird, just in front of the swale on the side of the road.  Net and sheet in hand, I approached the bird.  As I stepped to the edge of the seemingly shallow puddle the bird was perched next to, I slipped on the algae and sank up to my waist in stagnant water.  But I got the bird!  I wrapped the sheet around its wings and head to calm it and tried to climb back up the incline.

Between the slippery slope and the weight of the soaking wet sheet and my clothes, my ascent was considerably slower than my descent.  Think “I Love Lucy” meets “World’s Dirtiest Jobs.”  I was impressed with the FWC officers’ professionalism; they did not laugh hysterically (until I drove away, I’m sure!)  The bird had some minor contusions from being clipped by a car and was released a short time later.  My clothing, however, did not survive the ordeal.  There was no getting the stink out of them.

Then there was the yellow-crowned night heron hat was caught up in fishing line dangling from the mangroves across the canal from someone’s home.  Of course it was early spring, of course none of the neighbors were home, of course no one in the area had a boat.  The water was low enough in the canal, so I decided, after numerous other attempts filed, to walk across the canal.

Since my work boots weigh 40 pounds each when dry (that may be a slight exaggeration; I’ll bet they’re really only 37 pounds), I didn’t want to think about trying to life my feet in them soaking wet.  My water shoes were in my other car along with all my other rescue equipment.  These calls always come in when I am otherwise engaged.  My sister, who happened to have been with me when the call came in, was wearing flip-flops, which she graciously offered me.  I slipped them on, went down over the seawall via our caller’s ladder and proceeded to wade into the canal.

I picked up my foot and stepped right out of flop-flop #1 and watched it sail on downstream.  Flip-flop #2 stuck in the mud and ripped apart when I struggled to lift my foot.  Luckily, the mud was present only at the edges of the canal.  After that, it was all sharp rocks and oyster shells.  Did I mention that the water was ice cold?  The bird’s luck was better than mine—there was no hook, so the damage was minimal after removing the line.

Sometimes the rescues are a success, but the outcome is not.  I was called in to work on a deer that had impaled himself on a fence by almost jumping over it.  Two FWC officers and a CCAC officer carried the deer into our surgical suite before leaving, and the rehabber on duty had the deer anesthetized by the time I arrived.  We worked diligently to staunch the bleeding and suture the torn muscles back together.

Once we were finished with the surgery, the two of us looked at each other:  Now what?  The recovery pen was out the door, down the stairs, around the corner, and through a narrow passageway.  Between the two of us, we barely outweighed the buck.  There was no way we were going to effectively carry this unconscious patient out there.

Leaving the deer on the table under the rehabber’s watchful eye, I ran out to Ponce de Leon Park to find a couple of strapping able-bodied young fishermen who could help us.  Maybe the anesthesia gasses were getting to me.  Of course, what I found was a bench full of retirees, who were nevertheless quite willing to lend a hand.  They not only gently delivered the deer to his recovery bed, but handed us $50 for their effort.

Unfortunately, the deer did not make it.  The blood loss and a condition called capture myopathy, a severe reaction to stress that can cause complete muscle failure including paralysis and respiratory arrest, proved to be too much for this magnificent animal.  The hard work of a dozen people could not save his life.

While we were devastated to lose this patient, we had to dive right back in to trying to save the next one.  Because if there is one unfailing constant about wildlife rehabilitation, it’s that there will always be another sick, injured, or orphaned animal that needs our help.  And the wonderful people of Charlotte County and the surrounding areas make it possible for us to continue or work, by bringing injured animals to us and by supporting us with monetary donations and items from our wish list.  Thank you so much for your support.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM