“I need your help. I found an animal…”

Springtime is in full bloom here in Texas and our phones have been ringing off the hook with animal lovers who have stumbled upon a wild species that they think needs our help. Lots of baby bird, baby cottontail, opossum, and "I’m not sure what this is" phone pleas for help and "rescue."

Abandoned Babies: One thing we’ve learned at Zooniversity is that "rescue" is not only sometimes unwarranted, often it can be downright detrimental to the animal. A human’s sweet-hearted empathy for a small, young creature makes us want to cuddle it, feed it, warm it in our hands, bring it into our homes for our children to play with—all of which can quickly send an animal into shock and sudden death. And, some animals may appear abandoned, when in fact the animal’s mommy is doing what she normally does from a distance—watching, grazing, food gathering—and the baby is fine where it is. Nature doesn’t always need our good-hearted intervention.

Injured wildlife: Finding a native animal hurt by the dog or a car is another matter. Our advice is to call in the experts—a veterinarian or a state licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist. In Texas, it is against the law to own or to rescue most local species. Besides, rescuing native wildlife is an exact science that takes years of training and internship in order to do it properly and responsibly. Some veterinarians will accept injured wildlife if they have the expertise, some will not. The other option is a licensed wildlife rehabber—everyday folks like you and me who have spent years studying and training on a specific species of animal and have earned a permit to do this. The State of Texas strictly controls the lists of folks who have earned their rehab permits and each submits detailed rehab reports to the State for evaluation and tracking. This is a regulated thing, so don’t even think about keeping that injured young opossum—their dietary needs are so exacting that your well-intended dog kibble will quickly cripple it for life.

Where to get help: Dallas-Fort Worth has an incredible network of wildlife rehabilitation experts. First, start at two websites: www.dfwwildlife.org and www.wildcaretx.org. Both have decision trees and explanations that will help you determine if the animal needs your help or not. If it does, the sites will give you immediate instructions, as well as web links and phone numbers to connect you with a rehabber permitted for that particular species of animal. Licensed rehabbers do this as a personal mission. They are volunteers and they rehab wildlife using their own time and money. Please remember this and be patient while waiting for call-backs. And, please offer to pay them a modest (or sizable) donation to help care for the animal you are handing over to them. They’ll rarely ask you for money, but they will forever appreciate the gesture and your support for their dedicated efforts.

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