It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a Monday morning. Peace River Wildlife Center had admitted a red-shouldered hawk late Friday afternoon with a severe fracture near the wing tip. The bird had thrived over the weekend with symptomatic treatment—fluids, antibiotics, pain medication, and a splint. He was already eating on his own, a sure sign that he had a strong will to live and would do well in captivity as a resident education bird.
My plan was to perform a partial wing amputation to remove the necrotic tissue at the end of his wing and then scurry off for a pedicure and lunch. One of PRWC’s long-time supporters celebrates his wife’s birthday annually by pampering her and a few of her friends. I have been lucky enough to be included in this special group and was looking forward to the “best” part of a Monday.
I was in the office getting ready to head into surgery when someone walked into the office with a squirrel she had found in her driveway. The squirrel was thin, dehydrated, wet, and cold. It needed immediate care and was lucky this wonderful lady had found it and brought it to us so quickly. Sometimes people want to try to minister to the injured animals themselves, and can make the situation worse by the time we get the patient.
Unfortunately, the lady was not ready to let go of her little squirrel. Like so many people who bring patients to PRWC, she did not want to be separated from it. We had to wrest it from her grip to begin triage and treatment. Back in the hospital, we started to warm up the little guy and write up his lengthy treatment protocol, since he was in pretty bad shape.
When I looked up and saw someone leaning over the half-door from the office, I asked if we could help. It turns out it was the same lady who had brought in the squirrel. I didn’t realize she was still hanging around. She snapped at me that I needn’t take that kind of attitude. When I asked what she meant, she said (and I quote) she didn’t appreciate my face. (Clearly the “worst” part of any day!)
I, of course, dropped everything I was doing and called my plastic surgeon. He would want to know that his ministrations have failed. My face, while never having been considered a thing of beauty, is now so hideous that I am offending mere passers-by. Did I squint at her from across the room? Perhaps. I am of an age that refocusing from a short focal point to a longer one does not result in an immediately clear picture of what or who I am trying to look at. It had honestly been so long since she had dropped off the patient by that time, that I thought it was someone new in need of assistance.
If this had been a one-time incident, it could easily be over-looked. But this kind of thing happens almost daily. Except that most people don’t specifically complain about my face—at least not to my face. Some people who bring in injured wildlife or visit PRWC’s exhibits don’t understand what it is that we do in the rehab portion of the organization.
The educational exhibits at PRWC are open to the public 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They include previously rehabilitated animals (mostly birds) that have healed from their injuries, but are unable to care for themselves in the wild and will never be released. They will live out their lives here or may be transferred to another licensed facility. They have been specially chosen for the nature of their disabilities and their mentation. They must be physically and emotionally able to not merely live, but to thrive in captivity.
on the other hand, the birds, mammals, and reptiles that are in treatment with the hopes of release are not accustomed to being around people and we take great strides to keep it that way. It is also a requirement for the many state and federal licenses and permits we hold that the rehabilitating animals not be viewed by the public. Most of them are in outdoor cages, as far away from people as we can manage. The ones that need constant attention have to be in the hospital, but we try not to aggravate them any more than absolutely necessary.
When a new patient comes in, it is vital that we assess its needs as quickly as possible. Sometimes the most important treatment at first is to place the terrified wild animal in a warm, dark, quiet location and allow it to calm down. Peeking at it, taking pictures of it, and talking near it only serves to increase the stress it is feeling.
We understand that most people don’t take what we do as seriously as we do. We are medical professionals and simply want to do what is best for our patients as efficiently as possible. So, go ahead and insult us and complain about us. Every time we are able to bring a suffering animal back from the brink, it is worth the abuse we have had to put up with by people who just don’t understand what it is that we do every day or how hard it is. Because for every animal that makes it, there is one who doesn’t, despite our best efforts.
Luckily for us, for every person who comes in complaining that we don’t care enough, or aren’t perky enough, or that we are too quick to euthanize a suffering creature with no hope of recovery, there are many people who get it. They care about what we do and support us in our efforts. To those people we say, “Thank you!” And to the people who show up and give us a hard time, we say, “Thank you, also.” Because the opposite of love isn’t hate (those people complaining about us to our faces) it is indifference (the people who care so little about the animals that we aren’t even on their radar.)
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM