Your kids have been playing outside all afternoon and walk in holding a bird with a wounded wing. Your first thought is generally, “Wash your hands!” But then you wonder what to do with the tiny creature that the family has discovered, amid the begging to keep it as a pet and feeding it the leftover broccoli casserole.
Kat Craft, a wild animal rehab expert and owner of Paws, Wings & Other Things in Martinsville, says to do none of the above.
“It’s really simple,” Craft says. “Put them in a box with an old towel or blanket, place them in a dark, warm and quiet area, and then call a rehabber. That’s the only thing people should do.”
Seek a Dark, Warm and Quiet Place
Wild animals do not understand that we want to help them. They’ve been taught from infancy that humans are dangerous. Therefore, they are under tremendous stress around humans. Their hearts are racing and adrenaline is pumping. Some smaller animals can die from such stress. The less touching, talking and interacting, the better it is for the animal.
Don’t Feed Them
Animals can survive for 48 hours with no food or water. Often, as we try to “help” and offer a worm to a bird or old food to a baby raccoon, we can do more harm than good. Not all birds eat worms — many eat seeds and other insects. If the wrong bird ingests a worm, it could possibly kill them because their digestive tract isn’t equipped for this type of food.
Don’t Raise It As a Pet
“The average lifespan of a wild animal that has been raised by humans and then released is 20 minutes,” Craft says. Animals identify with those they live with, so when released, a squirrel doesn’t identify with other squirrels, it identifies with other humans. If they’ve lived on a diet of marshmallows and Cheerios, they won’t find that out in the wild and can quickly starve.
Remember That Wild Animals Are Not Safe
Even though you might have raised the raccoon or squirrel from infancy, the animal does not feel bonded or loyal to you. “It’s dependent upon you,” Craft says. “Once it’s no longer dependent, it will bite you.” The problem is, once their natural instincts kick in and they want to procreate, wild animals can get mean and agitated, and you can’t release them because they don’t know how to survive on their own.
Don’t Google It
Craft has encountered many well-intentioned families who have done their best to research and provide for a wounded or abandoned animal, only to find their information was misleading. Everything we read on the internet isn’t always true. Speak to an expert about the best way to handle a wild animal for your safety and the best outcome for the critter. For a list of permitted wildlife rehabilitators in Indiana, visit the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at in.gov/dnr/fishwild/files/fw-RehabList.pdf