One Careless Act
Every day at the PAWS Wildlife Center we receive patients whose injuries remind us of the challenges that wild animals face while living in a human dominated landscape. We see wild animals who have been impacted by human modes of transportation, or who have fallen victim to domesticated animals humans have allowed to roam freely. We see animals who have become coated in toxic chemicals, or who have collided with the windows humans have created. The list of potential causes of wildlife injuries is as long and varied as the list of species to which we provide care, and most of the injuries that we see can best be described as the unintended consequences of the way we humans interact with our world. As emotionally trying as it can be to see thousands of damaged animals come through our door, there is at least some comfort in knowing that nearly all of the injuries we treat are accidental in nature.
An X-ray of the Raccoon's skull showed that her skull had been fractured by the baseball's impact.
On November 7, 2007, the PAWS Wildlife Center received a female Raccoon whose injuries were not the result of an accident. An animal control officer had rescued her from a backyard in which she had been walking clumsily in circles. Upon arrival at PAWS, the Raccoon was depressed, she seemed blind and unaware of her surroundings, and had a tendency to circle to the left when she attempted to move. The cause of the Raccoon's diminished state was summed up with three simple words written on the front of her intake form. The words read, "Human, deliberate harm."
The Raccoon's skull had been fractured by a baseball that was intentionally thrown at her. The animal control officer who brought the Raccoon to PAWS had received conflicting and confusing stories, and thus was unable to charge anyone with the crime that had been committed. As frustrating as that knowledge was, the damage had already been done, and the primary focus for PAWS' staff was finding a way to repair it.
During her initial examination, the Raccoon received re-hydrating fluids and medication to help alleviate pressure caused by swelling in her brain. For several days following her admission, fluids and anti-inflammatories were administered daily, and the Raccoon was fed a liquid diet delivered with a syringe. By the fifth day, she had regained enough strength that the fluids and medications were discontinued. She was beginning to show some signs that she could at least see light and shadows, and she began to eat solid food. Although these improvements were very positive, the Raccoon was still mostly unaware of her surroundings. She also held her head with a visible tilt and still circled to the left when she tried to move. She had only taken the first steps on what would be a very long road to recovery.
After months of recovery, the Raccoon fully regained her vision and motor skills.
After a month of improvement, the Raccoon was moved to a large outdoor enclosure in which she had much more freedom of movement. Although she had come far, she was still unsteady on her feet. The staff and volunteers who cleaned the Raccoon's cage and brought her food and water continued to watch for signs that her brain injury was resolving. Now only time would tell.
Two more months passed and the light seemed to slowly creep back into the Raccoon's eyes. Her eyes began to track her caretakers as they moved around her cage, and her behavior began to appear much more like that of a healthy wild animal. On February 6, an obstacle course of logs, evergreen branches and cyclone fencing was set up in a large enclosure to test the Raccoon's abilities. Her performance was encouraging, but she still lacked the strength and coordination that would be necessary for her to be released. Two weeks later, the obstacle course was reconfigured and the Raccoon was tested again. This time her performance was much more impressive. At one point she even climbed a section of wall that appeared to be nearly un-climbable. Her ordeal was nearly over.
Since the Raccoon had been brought to PAWS after someone had deliberately harmed her, returning her to the yard in which she had been found was not a safe option. Instead, she would be released on a protected piece of private property with good habitat and abundant sources of food. Ten days prior to her release, a barrel that she had been using as a den in her enclosure was removed and replaced with a small igloo-shaped dog house. She quickly took to sleeping in this new den and retreating into it whenever humans approached her cage. When release day arrived on March 5, a wire door was secured over the entrance to the den. The den, with the Raccoon safely secured inside, was then placed in the back of a vehicle and transported to the release site.
At the release site, the den containing the raccoon was placed at the foot of a tall cedar tree in a forested area next to a stream. Small amounts of food were placed in several different locations near the stream to ensure that the Raccoon would not have to work too hard to feed herself on her first night back in the wild. Finally, the door on the den was removed. Feeling safe in the hiding place that she had been using for more than a week, and well-aware that humans were nearby, the Raccoon sat tight. Her masked face could be seen peering out from the den's shadowy interior. We left her alone to explore her new home on her own terms. The following day, the den was empty.
It is difficult to imagine why someone would choose to cause an animal the kind of pain and suffering that was experienced by this Raccoon. It would be easy to get angry, or become disheartened about what acts such as this mean about the state of our society. But consider the following: One person chose to do great bodily harm to this animal, but an enormous group of people, including PAWS staff, volunteers, members, donors, supporters and partners, choose to help animals such as this Raccoon every single day. I find much comfort in that thought.