Animals and Volunteering

This blog post will not be entirely wildlife related, but I feel compelled to write it anyway.

I am a huge proponent of children getting positive experiences and encounters with animals of all sorts. Often children who are more introverted seem to be able to express themselves better if they can engage with animals.

I have spent my lifetime being an extreme animal lover (ask my parents, it is true). Now as an adult I find nothing more rewarding than using my skills and knowledge to teach young people and often adults about animals. For the couple of years or so I have had the opportunity to volunteer with my dogs at our locale Youth Prison. This facility houses youth (teenagers up to the age of 18) who are incarcerated because they have committed crimes.

 

 

 

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It is amazing to see my dogs do their thing. They give these often troubled boys an hour to run around, play and laugh. They will sit and be petted and hugged. The youth will often ask me to tell or retell the story of the individual dog’s live. However corny it might sound, there is a little lesson there…The dogs had a rough life and behaved badly because of it. They got a second chance and they learned right from wrong and now they have a good life.

It is so rewarding to see the boys play, goof and cuddle with the dogs and in the process learn all about empathy and caring.

During last years spring kidding season (unrelated to joking, but goats having their babies) I occasionally would swap out a dog in favor of a new born goat kid. The boys and staff got great enjoyment out of this. One boy in particular made me laugh by telling one of the prison guards to stand back from the goat kid the boy was holding. The goat kid had been sleeping in the arms of the boy and the guard startled it by walking up and abruptly petting it. This display of caring for this particular boy was new.

With that experience in mind I hatched an idea and with the help of the prison staff AG-DAY was born. I got permission to bring livestock into to the big fenced in yard of the prison and the kids where allowed to come out in small groups and visit with the animals. I brought my goats and their kids, Molly the Wonder Donkey and a gorgeous Jersey cow borrowed from a neighboring farm. One of the prison staff brought several riding school horses. This turned into a day I will not soon forget. One of the youth stepped out into the yard and exclaimed out loud ‘I am in heaven’, he walked up to one of my goat kids picked her up and sat down with her to pet her and did not let go of her for an hour. Seeing all of these rough teens with huge smiles on their faces as they took turns riding a horse, feeding carrots to the donkey and milking my goats was a sight to see.

With the help of a wildlife rehabber friend and some borrowed educational wildlife we had a Wildlife day this year on Valentines day. The science teacher and myself had met prior so the youth had been learning about nature and turtles and raptors in particular for several weeks prior to getting an up close and personal experience with them. Their questions and observation where so interesting. I was the one with the turtles of course and several of the boys asked me if the turtles could actually see and hear them. They also got to name one of the turtles and the name Leonardo was the one picked.

I am sure me taking just a couple hours out of my day has saved turtle lives. These boys will never purposely run over a turtle after meeting several up close.  Several found a new respect for wildlife that day. Something they probably never thought much about in the past.

Where am I going with this you might ask? I want to urge all readers of this particular blog to find a volunteer activity somewhere that gives you as much satisfaction as volunteering at the youth prison gives me. Pick whatever you think will make you smile. There is something for every one…Go walk dogs at your local SPCA, read the paper to people in nursing homes, volunteer at a school or a prison. Don’t tel me you don’t have time, make time! I can guarantee you will not regret it.

At Hobbitstee we have some very special volunteers as well, but that is not for everyone. We need volunteers in all capacities. Drivers who can assist with getting animals from point A to B are in very short supply and high demand. We also need help with paperwork, grant applications, fundraising and we have cages that need building, so if you are handy you are welcome too…

Visit the volunteer page on our website for more information on volunteer opportunities at Hobbitstee


Volunteer Opportunities

If you have never done volunteer work give it a try, you will find you get more back than you give every time!

Wildlife Orphans

 

It is the time of year when wildlife mothers start having their babies. Raccoon kits and the first litters of baby squirrels have already been born

Every year we receive thousands of calls in regards to wildlife orphans. We try to assist in as many ways as possible, but we are limited by funds and space. This is one of the reasons why we try to ensure the babies we care for a truly orphaned and we might ask you to return the babies back to the nest.

However, the main reason we want to ensure babies are truly orphaned that no matter how hard we try humans make a poor substitute for actual species appropriate parents. Try as we might it is near impossible to replicate the care wildlife mothers bestow on their offspring.

Wildlife mothers really just want their babies back and that they are unlikely to reject their babies because a human handled them. I don’t advocate for the random handling of wildlife and this should be reserved for cases where it is absolutely necessary.

This year it is especially important to keep wildlife handling at a minimum because there have been rabies positive raccoons and skunks found in our area. All mammals can contract rabies, so use caution.

Please don’t try to raise the babies yourself. This is not only a violation under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, but it is also not in the animal’s best interest and it could potentially put your and your family’s health at risk.

And please DO NOT FEED THE BABIES…no matter what Google says. The wrong food at the wrong time will cause death.

We can be reached at: 519-587-2980

Our website has more detailed information on what to do when you find wildlife in need of care: www.hobbitstee.com

For a full list of wildlife rehabbers visit: Wildlife Custodian Map

If you find (what you think is a) wildlife orphan please use the following steps:

  1. Contact wildlife custodian near you prior to doing anything. Each situation/species requires a different approach. Please follow the instructions…we know what we are talking about.

 

  1. If you can’t reach a rehabber right away leave a message and they will get back to you asap. You can also choose to contact you local SPCA, veterinarian or the MNRF.

 

  1. Please ensure that the babies in question are truly orphaned or injured and in need of help. Please observe den/nest sites from a safe distance so that you are not the cause of a parent not returning.

 

  1. Never handle any type of wildlife with without gloves.

 

  1. If the babies in question are in immediate danger (in the middle of a busy highway or something) put gloves on, and put them in a secure container (with vent holes), lined with a blanket/towel. Keep this container in a dark, quiet and warm place.

 

  1. Do not under any circumstances try to feed the babies. Wait for instructions from a rehabber. The wrong type of food at the wrong time can be detrimental to the animal’s health. Hypothermic/Dehydrated babies will die if given food of any type.

To help us help more wildlife, please make a tax deductible donation

Click here to donate

 

Rabies in Ontario

Recently several raccoons tested positive for the raccoon strain of rabies in our area. Until December of 2015 we had not seen a documented positive case since 2005 of this type of rabies.

In the past fox strain and raccoon strain of rabies was brought under control through strategic dropping of vaccine-laced bait by the MNRF who developed and administers this program.

With the recent resurfacing of raccoon strain of rabies, bait dropping will be increased for the effected areas and hopefully this will work as well as it has in the past and bring raccoon rabies back under control.

Ontario has however never been rabies free. Bats do not eat vaccine laced bait, so we have always had positive cases of bat strain rabies in Ontario.

Just because this type of rabies is called raccoon strain it does not mean that only raccoons can get it. Realistically any mammal can contract any strain of rabies. Raccoons are simply more susceptible to the raccoon strain.

Early January of this year a cow in Perth County (Stratford area) tested positive for the arctic-fox strain of rabies. The how’s and why’s are a whole different story, but it proves my point about rabies strains being non-discriminatory and a health concern to all mammals.

Symptoms of rabies can vary and can basically be summarized as an animal behaving oddly (no fear of people, being overly aggressive, biting at thing, super excited behavior etc). Unfortunately these symptoms closely mimic the symptoms of Canine Distemper. Our raccoon population has been plagues by canine distemper for some time and visually the symptoms look pretty much identical to rabies. Both these diseases are usually lethal and testing for either disease is done post-mortem.

Rabies is considered a human health concern and Canine Distemper is a dog health concern (as the name indicates). It is important that you ensure your pets are up to date on their vaccines. It is actually mandatory to vaccinate your dogs and cats for rabies. Canine Distemper is also included in a basic vaccination protocol for dogs as are other commonly occurring diseases such as Parvo. Both the rabies and distemper vaccine for dogs has been proven to be effective in most cases.

Transmission of the rabies usually occurs through contact with saliva of an infected animal and is lethal in most cases. For humans we have post-exposure shots available. If you think you have been in contact with a rabid animal it is important that you contact your local health unit immediately.

If you see a mammal behaving oddly contact MNRF rabies hot line: 1-888-574-6656

If you suspect a domestic animal has been in contact with a rabid animal please contact OMAFRA: 1-877-424-1300

In all cases please err on the side of caution and don’t take any unnecessary risk.

Feeding bread to ducks…why you shouldn’t

With the weather finally turning colder many people feel compelled to ‘help out’ waterfowl by bringing them left over bread, chips and other such ‘treats’.

In larger quantities bread can actually be very harmful to waterfowl. Bread (particularly white bread) is high in carbohydrates, but devoid of any other useful nutrient required by ducks and geese.

Ducks and geese naturally have a varied diet including food sources such as aquatic plants, seeds, grasses and insects, but if large quantities of bread are available they will soon succumb and become obese junk food-junkies.

They will also start to suffer from the effects of malnourishment. In both ducks and geese a condition called Angel Wings can be caused by too much bread consumption.  Angel Wings will usually render the sufferer flightless for the rest of its life and long-term malnourishment will cause death.

Often people will go to roughly the same area to feed bread to ducks and geese. This will attract large numbers of ducks and geese to these areas causing them to become over populated and in turn causing large deposit of feces both in the water and on land. These feces combined with left over bread (not consumed by the ducks) can cause excessive algae growth in the water as well as bad smell (particularly in the summer).  Poor water quality will have an impact on the overall health of the waterfowl as well as the availability of their natural food sources.

Habituation and altered natural behaviors have been observed in some wild waterfowl as a result of habitually being fed by humans. Habituation of wildlife to humans is never a good thing and should never be encouraged.

Ducks and geese rarely need our assistance by way of food. During lengthy extreme cold spells it might be helpful to supplement dabbling ducks such as mallards and also maybe geese or swans with some extra food in the form of cracked corn or duck pellets, but that is not a common occurrence or necessity.

As an alternative to duck feeding I would highly recommend taking your children to a variety of areas where you might sight waterfowl. Pack a bird identification book and binoculars and try to identify the waterfowl you see. This is a great way to enjoy time with your children while learning something.

We are so lucky to have such an abundance of amazing waterfowl migrating through this area and if you look a little closer you will be amazed too.

Bats and Hibernation

Bats

We have 8 species of bats in Ontario. Some are migratory and some are true hibernators. The hibernators slow down their metabolism and heart rate as they huddle together as a colony to survive the colder months.

Each winter we get many calls from people who have bats flying around their home during the colder months. This is of great concern to us.

There is a variety of issues that can cause a bat to awaken from hibernation to early. It could simply be a matter of a serious temperature change or often home renovations will disturb a colony, but rabies will also awaken a bat.

Most commonly we find Big Brown Bats in people’s homes and occasionally Little Brown Bats. The Little Brown Bat is listed as ‘endangered’ on the Species at Risk Ontario list. This means that it is protected both under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act as well as the Endangered Species Act.

It also means that we need to try and protect and save as many as we can. Our general bat population is rapidly declining mostly due to habitat loss, a fungal disease called White Nose Bat Syndrome  and some man made challenges we have put in their way.

The problem with bats flying free in a house during hibernation time is that we don’t always know why they are awake and so rabies is always on our mind. Rabies is rare in Ontario, but it is still an option.

Rabies is most often transmitted through saliva and because of that we consider a bat bite a serious incident. Rabies is almost always lethal once contracted, but we do have both pre and post exposure shots available for humans. I and some people like me have been vaccinated for rabies and this reduces the risk of me contracting it.

You should also make sure that your pets are up to date on their vaccines. Rabies is a disease all cats and dogs should be vaccinated for.

A bat bite itself  is barely noticeable in a human. It is the equivalent of getting pricked with a needle. Something you will notice when you are awake, but you might not notice it when you are sleeping.

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This Big Brown Bat is eating a meal worm. Look at the diminutive size of it’s teeth compared to the meal worm

The rule of thumb is that all bats found flying in a room where people sleep should be send for rabies testing. To test for rabies the bats brain needs to be examined, so this can only be done after the bat has been euthanized.

If you feel you have been potentially exposed to a bat with rabies please contact your local health unit.

When there has been no humans sleeping in the room the bat is found and no human exposure to saliva (make sure to check your small children for potential bites) we ask that you contact us or a wildlife center near you.

Every winter at Hobbitstee as well as other rehab facilities throughout Ontario hundreds of bats get safely over wintered and released back to their colonies in the spring.

Bats are very small, but should never be handled without gloves. Better yet, don’t touch them at all. They can usually easily be captured by placing a tupperware type container over top of them and sliding the lid (with small air holes) underneath. If possible give them a piece of paper towel in the tupperware container for them to hide in.

If the bat is in flight and needs to be captured you can do this by way of holding a towel up and have the bat fly into it (make sure you are wearing gloves). You can than pop the towel in a container with air holes.

Bats can fit through tiny cracks, so keep that in  mind when you are trying to contain one.

If you capture a bat in your house during the winter months, please contact a wildlife center near you and don’t throw it outdoors where it will surely die from exposure and dehydration.

If you are in doubt about what to do feel free to contact us anytime.

If you want to help and are handy, we are always in need of more bat houses. All of our bats are released back where they where found with a bat house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife in captivity

During the fall and early winter of each year I receive countless call from people who ask me to ‘wild up’ wildlife.

Usually when I get this request it involves wildlife that was kept as a pet or pet-like conditions. Wildlife that might have been found orphaned or perceived orphaned in the spring and kept/raised by the finder for the summer, but as it get’s colder and the orphans grow bigger people often are at a loss about what to do next.

I understand people’s need to help and nurture, but there is a huge difference between keeping baby wildlife alive and raising them. Most species of baby wildlife require specie specific care and nutrition to grow up healthy and wild. This you cannot find on Google or learn from a YouTube video.

I just had a young raccoon brought out by animal services. This raccoon was found in a residential neighborhood, approaching people for attention/food. He was clearly hand raised and released. He has no idea how to fend for himself. Human hands have always provided him with food…Luckily in the case of raccoons they usually revert to being wild enough for release after some time in a controlled environment where they can learn to find their own food without having to rely on people etc.

However, many species of wildlife imprint or habituate to humans permanently and will be rendered un-releasable as a result.  It is very sad to see waterfowl who are afraid of water, or fawns who freak out when they see another fawn or deer to name a couple of examples.

Every year I get confronted with countless animals that need to be ‘re-programmed’ so that they can maybe someday be released back into the wild. We try to help when we can and educate the people involved to prevent future issues.

It is a violation under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to keep wildlife in your possession for more than 48 hours without a special permit and it is not in the best interest of the wildlife.

Do the right thing and contact your local wildlife custodian or local humane society as soon as possible when you find wildlife in need of help, and not after the novelty of having a wild animal has worn off.

Wildlife belongs in the wild and not in a cage …

Charlie’s story…

We where recently contacted by a Humane Society in Ontario inquiring if we where able to take a Mink. I consented and that is how Charlie the little mink arrived at Hobbitstee.

Charlie’s story is unusual and sad in a way. Charlie is a juvenile mink who was released from a mink farm by animal rights activist. Due to disease risks (because he had actually left the farm) the farmer would not take Charlie back, so I agreed to give Charlie a home. This was an unusual decision on my part as we do not deal with domestic animals, but mink are considered native wildlife and so I agreed to give it a try. I did however state that I would only keep Charlie if his new life did not cause him to much stress.

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Luckily Charlie is adapting fine and is showing stress free behavior. He is eating well and loves to play in his new enclosure. Plans are underway to build an enclosure with a build in swimming pool because mink are considered to be semi-aquatic. We will work with Charlie so that he will hopefully be able to serve as an Animal Ambassador for Hobbitstee and join us out and about when we do educational events. Charlie can help educate people about Mink and others in the weasel family and he will serve as a reminder as to why we as humans really need to think through our actions and the consequences of these actions.

Charlie was lucky, but many of the released mink will not be so lucky…

Mink are a native species of wildlife in Ontario, but are also kept in domestic settings for the production of fur coats. Setting personal feelings about the fur farming industry aside I will go out on a limb and speak out strongly against what these animal rights activists have done. These types of actions can potentially have devastating effects on our natural wildlife and cause harm to the animals directly involved.

By releasing hundreds of non-native mink amongst the native population of mink and other wildlife the natural balance gets upset. Mink are fierce little predators and there is only so much prey to go around. Habitat space can also become an issue. Never mind the chances of potential disease transfer or the introduction of non-native genetic strains into our wild population.

Aside from that the farmed mink have been bred in captivity for generation after generation. In doing so they have been domesticated. They have had their meals served in bowls their whole lives and for many generations. Many of the mink after having been ‘released’ simply returned to their cages when feeding time came around.

Not all of them did, some got run over on the road, some got eaten by predators and many will have starved to death by now because they do not know how to catch live prey like their wild counter parts.

I can not call this act by these animal rights activist anything other than cruelty to animals. The released mink who starved to death will certainly agree with me.

I have experience with handling wild mink and they are ferocious creatures who are very difficult to handle. Charlie is fond of having his belly rubbed and he will beg for every person who comes near him to do so.  Not exactly behavior I have ever seen in wild mink. This is further to prove my point that farmed mink are domesticated.

Non of this is taking into account the hardship this caused to the farmer and his family who suffered serious financial losses as a result of these actions.

I understand that people might not agree with fur-farming, but you can only make a fundamental changes by educating the public about the ‘plight’ of these fur-farmed animals.

When there is no demand for the product, production will seize.