Want to babysit?

The honey-do lists around my house might be slightly different than most households.  As a matter of fact, one glimpse at some of my recent requests and your family may be eternally grateful for the mundane chores that need to be tended to in your home.  My husband (whom, as I have mentioned before, has the patience of a saint) and daughter (poor thing—grew up this way, has no idea this is not normal) are often conscripted to help.

  1. Pick up kale for the rabbits on the way home from work.
  2. Do a load of laundry—darks or permanent press, your choice.
  3. Do another load of laundry—raccoon cage towels, no choice.
  4. Help me find opossum baby that got loose in the house last night.

I’d like to say having a home care animal escape from its cage (or my grasp) is an unusual thing, but I wouldn’t want to lie.  When we had our kitchen remodeled I, gave explicit instructions to the demolition crew to let me know if they found any tiny rodent skeletons under the cabinets when they pulled them out.  Over the years I have had more than one baby mouse or rat jump out of my hands while I was trying to feed or clean it.

There is a stage of development in the life of a baby rodent when they are called “hoppers”.  There is a very good reason for this.  Any perception of threat is met with a reflexive leap that can result in the baby escaping from a gently cupped hand and landing with a thump, followed by a scamper, and ultimately a dive under the nearest cabinet, dresser, or appliance.

I am happy to report there were no skeletons found in my closet (or anywhere else) during the kitchen remodel.  Apparently all of my escapees were able to get out of the house and live a long and happy life in the wild.  Or get eaten by a hawk.  Best not to know.  I did get a few strange looks from the construction crew when I repeatedly asked them to plug every gap wider than 1/4 inch.

So, exactly why is my house crawling with rats, raccoons, rabbits, and opossums?  It’s not that I need the number to a good exterminator.  I already have that.  Peace River Wildlife Center works with several trappers that take the time to educate people and do the right thing for the animals when they get calls from frantic people who don’t know what to do with a wild animal in their attic or close to their home.  Many trappers live up to the name “exterminator,” but a select few do everything they can to help not only the people involved, but the animals too.  They even come in to clean up other trappers’ messes when the latter has removed a mother from an attic but left the babies behind.

The reason I have as many critters around the house as Elly May Clampett is that the orphaned and misplaced baby mammals that are admitted to PRWC need to be fed every few hours, 24 hours a day.  So the rehabbers and a select few volunteers take them home until the babies are weaned and able to go overnight without being bottle-fed.  Then the older juveniles are transferred back to PRWC to acclimate to outdoor life and await release.

Home care takes a serious commitment, but is one of the most rewarding aspects of wildlife rehabilitation.  Classes are forming now for anyone who thinks they may have the time and aptitude for baby mammal home care.  Call Tammy in the PRWC office (941-637-3830) for details and to schedule, and you too can have the pitter patter of tiny paws scampering through your home.  Or you could keep them in their cages, where they belong.

The most recently missing opossum in my house was found the next morning by my daughter and was placed back in the cage with its foster siblings.  She (the opossum, not my daughter) was found clinging to the faux fur collar of a cloak in the guest bedroom closet where we store my husband’s guns and dresses.  But that is the subject of an entirely different column.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

A baby raccoon “hides” from the scary person trying to feed him.
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