I realize the first breaths of a cool autumn breeze are weeks if not months away here in southwest Florida, but the seasons are changing already at Peace River Wildlife Center. Baby bird season runs from April through August. During that time we receive up to 20 baby birds every day, each of which has to be fed every 10-20 minutes from sunup to sundown. It is an exhausting time of year, but the energy of the long, sunny days keeps us going. Now, just when the baby bird admissions have started to slow down to a trickle, squirrel season is starting to ramp up. No, not squirrel hunting season! Squirrel season for rehabbers means we will start to see nest after nest of baby squirrels coming in for medical care for various reasons. Sometimes an entire nest has been blown out of a tree by a wind storm or cut out off of a limb by a tree trimmer. (Those nests can usually be left in a safe place for mom and she will move her babies to another site.) Often, it is just a single injured baby that has been discovered by a predator like a cat, dog, hawk, or chainsaw. (Yes, chainsaws happen. And sometimes the squirrels even win. We don’t argue with those squirrels. We name them Buffy and give them whatever they want.) The good news is that mammal babies only have to be fed every few hours instead of minutes. The bad news is they need to be fed around the clock. So these tykes go home with staff and trained volunteers at night for home care.
We welcome any insomniac animal lovers to come in and join us for home care training. You will learn such skills as formula juggling—2 parts FV 42:25 to 1 part KMR to 8 parts water, unless the stools are too soft then it’s 1.5 parts FV 33:40 plus ESB, unless you have MM which is the same as FV 30:55, but shouldn’t be used in conjunction with…well, you get the point. It is actually rather complex, so we don’t advise people to visit one site on the internet and try to raise a baby animal by yourself, but if you are seriously interested in helping, we do hold home care training sessions periodically and will teach the proper way to feed, house, and handle wild baby mammals. But please remember, folks, it’s not just an adventure; it’s a job—a job with very real responsibilities and time commitments and an obligation to help us keep these wild babies wild so they can successfully be released back into their natural habitats. On the other hand, the rewards are like nothing you have ever experienced, especially if you consider being tickled by a wiggling whiskered nose more rewarding than a paycheck.
While we wait for the temperatures to plummet and hope that the squirrels don’t, we reflect on the busy summer we are having here at PRWC. We have had record numbers of animal intakes so far this year and have seen a steady stream of visitors during a historically slow time of year for tourists. Our volunteer numbers, which usually drop off when the seasonal residents go back up north in the spring, are way up this summer. We are especially grateful for those hardy souls that brave the scorching heat and sudden downpours to keep PRWC working so efficiently all summer. For those of you looking for an opportunity to help with a little less hands-on type involvement, we are looking for volunteers to help with habitat cleaning each morning, tour guides, and hospital helpers.
If you would like to volunteer, please stop by PRWC or call 941-637-3830 for more information. In addition to on-site volunteers, we have small projects that people can do in their own homes like building wooden squirrel nest boxes or knitting or crocheting makeshift nests for baby birds and mammals. We are privileged to serve Charlotte, Lee, Sarasota, and Desoto counties to assist with wildlife issues. But without the support of the community we could not accomplish anything. We are eternally grateful for our supporters’ generosity and invite everyone else to join us in helping people and wildlife peacefully coexist.
by– Robin Jenkins, DVM
Baby squirrel being bottle fed
Older juvenile squirrels getting ready for release
Where were you during Charley? That is the question on everyone’s lips and minds this week in Punta Gorda, Florida. If you have to ask, “Charley Who?” you are obviously a newcomer and while we welcome you to our lovely little corner of paradise, please step aside while us old-timers reminisce. As you have heard ad nauseam lately, Hurricane Charley blew into Punta Gorda on Friday the 13th in August 2004. While the storm had initially been forecasted to hit this area—that is often the best place to be. The storms never hit where they are expected to. And as is usually the case, a few days before landfall, the destination of the category 2 hurricane was changed to Tampa. Of course, you all know how this story ends. Just as the storm was skirting the west coast of Florida, it ramped up into a cat 4, banked hard right, and hit Punta Gorda square in the kisser.
My family and I were in our home when the storm hit. We had placed our daughter’s twin mattress on the floor in our 1st floor, interior wall closet and closed her and all the animals in there. Roll call: 1 eight-year-old daughter, 3 dogs, and 9 cats. Thank heavens for roomy walk-in closets. In my defense, I was not the crazy cat lady at that time. We only had one cat of our own, but we were fostering a new mother cat and her 7 kittens for Suncoast Humane Society, where I worked back then.
My husband and I kept an eye on the storm’s progress as best we could after the power was knocked out. Listening to the battery powered radio about the storm’s progress was a lesson in futility. It carried the report from the TV meteorologist. He kept saying, “As you can see the storm is here (points). If you are here (points), you’re in trouble. This is what it looks like here (points)…” He was obviously pointing to things on his maps and screens, but without power, we couldn’t see the television screen to which he was referring. (Note to FEMA—can we get some radio announcers to do the weather during major storms accompanied by power outages?)
Standing at the aquarium window in our dining room we saw the neighbor’s roof blow past. We decided not to wait to see if the wicked witch would follow on her bike and immediately decided it was time to dive into the closet ourselves. A tense moment was lightened when we opened the closet door to find our daughter bound and gagged with a robe sash. Kate had amused herself (and the animals, no doubt) by pretending that they had kidnapped her and tied her up. We all huddled for what seemed like hours as the walls rocked and swayed. When it finally calmed down, we weren’t sure if we were in the eye of the hurricane, or if it had passed. The weather reporter was quite helpful. He announced that the eye of the storm was here (point, point).
Finally venturing out of the closet, we surveyed our house and the neighborhood. We were very fortunate. A couple of 100+-year-old oak trees took the brunt of the storm for us. The powerful winds uprooted the trees next to our house, but luckily they landed just next to the roof. The root balls exposed were almost as tall as the 2 story house. While I was sad to see the trees gone, I’m sure that is what deflected the winds around the house so that it sustained only minor cosmetic damage. Most of our neighbors were equally fortunate, except for the one across the street who lost a large section of her roof.
Our entire cul-de-sac worked together to clean up the storm damage. We fired up the grills and cooked all the food from the freezers that would soon spoil. Red Cross delivered ice and water routinely. A steady police presence kept us feeling safe. Our (now) favourite neighbor worked for FPL and got our area’s power restored after only a little more than a week.
Peace River Wildlife Center fared quite well also. The cages and habitats sustained little structural damage. Most of the permanent resident birds had been transferred to other facilities to the east and north. Other patients went home with rehabbers and volunteers to ride out the storm. Thanks to the fact that it was a fast moving storm, the predicted storm surge and flooding did not happen. That would have been devastating to such a low-lying area. It was soon after Charley that I started volunteering at PRWC. That is when the real trouble began there!
by– Robin Jenkins, DVM
A victim of the time spent hiding from Hurricane Charley.
My faithful readers and I have been on some wild rides together over the years. From troubleshooting computer problems (that one ended with the sage advice to consult an expert) to discussing the proper way to cook eagle (that one started with “don’t”), every week is an adventure. Heck, every day at Peace River Wildlife Center is an adventure. We never know what will walk, crawl, slither, fly, or be carried through the door next. But thanks to a recent experience I know what I hope to never see.
Some friends and I recently went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. Ok, maybe not so much “friends” as my family, who will deign to be seen with me in public periodically, and one poor girl from work who I can only assume feared for her job if she declined my invitation. I know I am no movie critic, but I feel imminently qualified to discuss this particular film because I am an expert on many aspects of it. The stars are a machine gun wielding raccoon and an awesome 70’s music soundtrack. There may have been one or two other characters in there as well, but they were pretty superfluous to the plot as I see it.
My husband and daughter generally spend two hours at an event like this pointing out that the hero’s cape is the wrong shade, the damsel’s hair is too short, and the villain’s voice is too manly. (Or was it that the cape was too short, the hair the wrong shade and there were too many villains in one episode?) Luckily for me I have never read a comic book—I always thought all those pictures got in the way of the story. Coming in unfettered by expectations, I am there to be entertained. And Guardians of the Galaxy did not fail me. I laughed, I cried, I danced in my seat. (Not necessarily in that order.)
Most of all, the movie serves as a warning to society. Do not arm your raccoons with automatic weapons. I might go so far as to say, don’t avail them of any fire power. These are highly resourceful creatures and they do not need our assistance in the inevitable overthrow that will put their species in power over our own. Or was that the apes? Sometimes I get movie plots a little jumbled. Planet of the Apes meets Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Smurfs. (Spoiler alert) They all have sentient animals brandishing weapons and blue people running amok.
One of my recent patients is the poster child for exactly why we do not want to give raccoons any more of an advantage. A newborn raccoon was kicked out or fell from her den in a tree. She was found to have an abdominal hernia that we attempted to repair via surgery with little hope of a positive outcome. This baby was dubbed Elle due to the L-shaped scar on her belly. Fast forward a few short weeks and Elle is thriving. She has been weaned from the bottle and is eating out of a dish. She and her adopted siblings have been moved to an outdoor habitat to get ready for release, and although she is a week younger than they are, she outweighs each of them.
If one tiny newly born member of this species can prove to be that resilient, I would hate to think what could happen if raccoons become proficient with firearms. My advice is for everyone to go see Guardians of the Galaxy so we can all agree how vital it is that we keep our weapons out of their reach. And to groove to some very catchy tunes.
by– Robin Jenkins, DVM
Elle 2 months after surgery
People are funny. Funny like a clown. And who isn’t terrified of clowns now? Stephen King did for clowns what Anne Rice did for vampires. Except that Stephen King took a fairly innocuous childhood staple and transformed it into the stuff of nightmares while Anne Rice took a monster and made it sexy. Writers are funny like that. Some people a little closer to home have been engaging in hijinks of a less literary variety.
I may have mentioned (a million times) that I like to walk the beaches on Manasota Key. I was lucky enough to have some time off over the 4th of July holiday and spent that time roaming the beach. It was there I saw one of the strangest things. No, not one of those hirsute Europeans in a speedo—that has gotten so common it is no longer noteworthy. About half way between Englewood Beach and Stump Pass Park there were four dining room chairs on the beach with a piece of string linking them, forming a rectangle approximately 6 by 8 feet. A couple pieces of notebook paper completed this architectural phenomenon with a hand-scrawled warning that the premises were property of the “Smith Party.” I can only suppose that the Smiths normally vacation on Coney Island or some equally crowded locale because other than the forlornly lonely furniture, the beach was pretty much vacant. I know later that evening folks were expected to gather on the beach to watch the fireworks, but seriously? It’s Englewood. It never gets so crowded you need to stake a claim. Leave the big city attitude at home, it is decidedly unsuited here. It looks like you are wearing your clown shoes instead of flip flops.
Peace River Wildlife Center has seen its share of people doing “funny” things lately too. We had a nestling mockingbird coated in canned dog food. The people who found it were trying to feed it, but got more food on the bird than in it. We also got a juvenile great horned owl that had apparently been raised by other rehabbers that were not careful enough to not habituate it. It was released but for two weeks kept flying down to people in the neighborhood begging to be fed. Someone captured it and brought it to us and now Callie, our Operations Manager, is working with this bird to train it to the glove and it will hopefully be a new exhibition bird for us.
This week we also got a few frantic calls about a crane that had hit a power line and knocked out the electricity from Port Charlotte to North Port. Everyone was concerned with the fate of the crane and whether it had been brought to us. Unfortunately, the crane was not brought to us, but there was probably not much we could have done for it anyway. The crane in question was construction equipment, and hence a little out of our league. We have heard it is recovering from the incident and mechanical engineers expect that it will be released soon. I would advise cautious attention when passing construction sites, though. If you see a vampire clown operating a crane, steer clear.
-by Robin Jenkins, DVM
Callie Stahl, Operations Manager, glove training a great horned owl.
Sometimes I get feedback from one of my many faithful readers when I write a particularly educational article. This past week’s article on baby raccoons seems to have hit upon a topic near and dear to all (both!) of my fans. Instead of appreciation for the amount of time it takes a rehabber to care for a neonatal raccoon, it seems that most of the comments called into question the veracity of the story. I can assure you that our meticulous editor, Lee Anderson, spends countless hours each week fact checking my musings. I happen to know he recently watched an entire documentary to ascertain the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, but we’re still not sure if the bird was of African or European descent. Will have to do some follow-up with Drs. Chapman and Cleese.
The question on everyone’s’ minds was concerning the superficial hematoma I had suffered in the mid-region of the lateral aspect of my sternomastoideus. Okay, it’s called a hicky and no one believes that it is, as claimed, my first. Who do you all think I am, Mindy Bly, a high school friend of mine who was known to wear turtlenecks well into the summer? I want to assure everyone that I spent my formative high school years in a very religious area of Pennsylvania. This town was well north of the Bible belt and had little patience for those “new-fangled” religions. Belts have shiny buckles and these people do not believe in that sort of worldly nonsense. But while they might not believe in sex ed or being born again, the one thing I did learn there was frugality.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were doing farmers’ markets long before farmer markets were cool. There was Roots (pronounced rutz) and The Green Dragon (not to be confused with the tincture of cannabis green dragon—not a popular substance in Amish country.) And like all good farmers’ markets, a large portion of the kiosks held not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but assorted other crap (err, treasures). From étagères to elephant ears to espadrilles, you could furnish your home, stuff your face, and pick up an outfit for the disco later that night. If there were any discos in the area. Which there were not.
All of this brings me to the point—finally!—of this article. The Sun Flea Market at 18505 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte, across the street from Target, has a Charity Thrift Store that they allow local non-profits to benefit from for six months at a time. Peace River Wildlife Center will be in residence there from July through December of this year. Sun Flea Market is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9a.m. to 4p.m. All proceeds from our sales of the treasures(!) there will go towards food, housing, and medication for the injured and orphaned wildlife at PRWC. It takes us approximately $20,000 a month to take care of the patients and residents at PRWC and with no federal or state funding, we rely on the support of the local community to help us carry out our mission.
You can drop off items you would like to donate in the drop-off booth there or call PRWC if you would like to drop donations off at the Center. We could also use some help to set up and man the thrift store, so anyone with retail experience or just a strong will to help me neurotically rearrange the random inventory constantly flowing in and out, please call PRWC at 941-637-3830 to volunteer. Or maybe shopping is more your speed? Stop by PRWC’s Charity Thrift Store at Sun Flea Market and browse our selection of fine curios, used books, tools, electronics, clothing, and accessories. You might even find a vintage Monty Python video and you can do a little “research” of your own.
– By Robin Jenkins, DVM
Spotted Skunk Baby