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