Spring Babies

Spring is here, and that means baby animals cavorting through backyards. Baby animals are about as heart-warming as mammals can get, and that’s a deliberate act on nature’s part. Round faces, big eyes, short noses, and large foreheads are the hallmark of babyness, and those features are deliberately meant to instill attraction and protection in adults so that we will attach and nurture those babies, ensuring survival of the species. We are genetically engineered to think babies are cute, whether they’re human or bunny. This is the entire rationale behind Persian cats and teacup dogs.

 Dogs and cats we know and love, but what do we do when we find a wild baby animal all alone? They’re no less adorable than that puppy or kitty, and no one on your street has a baby squirrel or fox or raccoon, so why not keep it and raise it as your own?

  1. It may not be abandoned
  2. It may be sick or carrying something harmful (squirrels and prairie dogs carry bubonic plague; groundhogs can carry hepatitis). 
  3. You have no idea how to feed it to keep it healthy.
  4. It’s a wild animal. No matter how much you love it and how tame it might get, the call of the wild is too strong. It will try to return to nature but won’t know how, because it hasn’t been raised with others of its kind. They will not respond to it. Your animal won’t know how to fend for itself, find food, hide from predators, and has a high chance of dying miserably. Or it may attack you, your pets, or your children.

So what should you do if you find a baby animal all alone?

Different animals require different approaches. The best thing to do is just wait, and watch. Some babies are left alone during the day, and mom comes back every few hours to check and feed. Baby bunnies nest in tall grass, so finding them alone in brush is normal. While you shouldn’t randomly handle wild babies, few mothers will abandon them just because you touched them. The mother may not like your smell, but their need to nurture is too strong. 

If you find a bird with no feathers, or the beginnings of them, put the bird gently back in the nest if possible. If it’s fluffy with feathers, leave it alone. Birds mature in 2-3 weeks, and it’s probably ready to leave.

Deer: If it is wandering around and crying, leave it alone. Mom will return. If it’s moving about and distressed, call rescue.

Squirrels: if it’s got a bushy tail and is playing and climbing, leave it alone. If it’s tiny, give mom a chance to find it. If mom hasn’t returned by nightfall, put it in a warm box and call for help.

Fox: If they’re happy and playing, they’re fine. Call for help if they look weak or sickly.

Raccoons and skunks: DO NOT handle raccoons or skunks, as they have a very high rate of rabies. If in doubt, place a laundry basket over the baby and place a weight on top. Mom will flip the basket to get her baby back.

Rabbits: Baby rabbits may be left alone for hours at a time. Mark the spot with an X of yarn. If mom comes back, she’ll disturb the string. 

Possums: if a possum is more than 7” long, it’s old enough to be on its own. If smaller, call for help. Possums are marsupials, not mammals. They need pouches and don’t feed like a “regular” baby. 

Do not attempt to rehabilitate wildlife by yourself. In many cases, it’s illegal to do so. Call the police department, or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Dispatch  at 860-424-3333, and they’ll send someone out.

For a safer approach to wildlife and animal rescues, check out these books!

Easter Pets

They’re adorable, all fluff and big watery eyes, but if you’re thinking about getting or giving a live pet for Easter, think twice! According to the Humane Society, 30% of all Easter pets will die in the first few weeks after Easter. Another 60 to 70% will be turned in at shelters, and almost all will not live to see a single birthday. If you’re thinking about adding a pet to your family, take your time and do your research first.
        Rabbits come in all types and sizes, and they live an average of seven to ten years. Their health can be delicate, and simple diarrhea – most often from too many fresh veggies – can kill them. Inside a house, they will dig and chew at everything, so don’t feel bad when your couch gets a hole in it. If you choose a beautiful angora, with long fluffy hair, remember they need to be brushed and combed daily, or at least shaved down. Rabbits love to run and kick up their heels (which is very amusing to watch), so keeping them in a small cage all the time is just plain cruel. They are not hamsters; think of rabbits as your cat’s slow-witted little brother. You wouldn’t cage up a cat all the time, would you?

Ducks may live eight to fifteen years, and come in a huge variety of types and colors. Ducks are very social, and you may need more than one to keep your animal happy. Remember, ducks like water and are natural swimmers; keeping them in a dry environment like a dark basement does not result in a happy duck. Remember, ducks shed feathers everywhere, their water-proof feathers may leave grease on your carpets, and they will not be house-trained.

Baby chicks are one of the icons of spring, but they live five to eight years. It is their nature to hunt for bugs in the grass, and they will scratch and peck at whatever flooring is underneath them; they can crater dirt fairly quickly. Chickens (and ducks, too) may be subject to town ordinances, so check with your town first to see if you’re even allowed to keep them! Roosters can cause a ruckus; they don’t just crow at dawn, but any time they feel like it, which may not sit well with your neighbors. Both chicks and ducks have to be kept safe at all time from predators, including hawks.

If you’re not sure a live pet is right for your family, try sponsoring an animal instead. You can buy into a “share” of an animal at a zoo or refuge, and help keep it happy and healthy. You can also “donate” an animal through programs such as Heifer International, which helps people out of poverty by teaching them to raise and sell animals in developing nations.
If you do bring home that cute and fluffy new friend, check out these books to help you keep them around for a long time to come:

The Rabbit Handbook by Karen Parker

Keeping Chickens by Ashley English

Mini Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds & Care by Frances Bassom

Barnyard in Your Backyard by Gail Damerow