Meeting Baby in the Park

Baby Raccoon. Photo by Heather Kelly.

This little cutie was the joyful and worrisome adventure of the morning.

Baby raccoon was asleep in the middle of a busy path, in the middle of a busy park. Claire, a woman on her morning run, found baby and moved her to a safer spot on a side path in the shade. That’s where I came across them.

I met Claire and this sweet baby for the first time at that moment. We discovered that Claire and I are both rabies vaccinated, and comfortable though cautious with the young raccoon. Claire is a veterinarian with more than a decade of experience mostly with cats and dogs, and I have experience caring for baby raccoons once they are accepted into a rehab/rescue facility. But neither of us felt sure about the best thing for baby, here in the park.

Claire had called 311. I called the Toronto Wildlife Centre. I knew that the TWC is currently full – over capacity with so many baby raccoons – and not accepting more. But I called to get advice about the best thing to do for baby.

Baby Raccoon. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Baby Raccoon. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Baby was way too fearless around people. Possibly habituated to people, possibly a starving orphan looking for someone to feed her. She would waddle right up to anyone. Sniff their shoes. Keep looking.

As we waited, we watched over baby to keep her safe from dogs and cyclists. We were joined by a friendly cyclist and his curious dog (ironically), who was enthralled with baby and wanted to help. We were also watched and commented to by many, many other people in the park.

Claire and I talked (physically distanced) about what would be the best thing to do for baby – take her with us or put her somewhere in the park further away from people?

Watch and listen with audio on! Baby Raccoon. Video by Heather Kelly.

Here is what Toronto Wildlife Centre advises if you ever find a baby raccoon all alone:

“Sometimes baby raccoons can fall out of a nest or get separated from their mother. If the baby isn’t injured, getting it back to its mom is the best possible option. Raccoons are excellent mothers and will come back for their babies if given a chance! Raccoon moms will also take much better care of their babies than any human possibly could.”

“Place the box with the raccoon (and a heat source) as close as possible to where the raccoon was found. If there is a tree nearby, put it at the base of the tree. Raccoons don’t always nest in trees, so next to a house or building will work too.”

“MYTH! If you touch a baby raccoon, its mother will NOT abandon it. Raccoons are excellent moms. All they want is their baby back.”

“In very busy areas, it may make more sense to bring the baby inside and keep it somewhere dark and quiet for the day. As soon as the sun starts to set and traffic dies down, get it outside right away. No matter what, make sure to leave baby raccoons out for their mother for at least one whole overnight period.”

TWC even has a great sign that people can print and place with the baby in the box, available online.

In high traffic areas, you can put a sign on the box to let other people know that the raccoon is waiting for its mother. Here’s one you can print off: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/I-Am-Waiting-for-My-Mother-Sign.pdf

If you are someone (like me) who might think for a moment about taking a baby raccoon home and caring for it until it can fend for itself and be released, here is good info from the TWC:

“Baby raccoons need specialized formula, species-specific housing, and medical treatment that you cannot provide at home. They also have to be raised with other baby raccoons to learn the social behaviours they need to survive in the wild.  It is illegal to keep any wild animal at home without a permit for longer than 48 hours. Please contact a wildlife rehabilitator right away for help with the baby raccoon you have found.”

Ultimately Claire and I took baby back to near where she was found, and placed her in a spot deep in the bushes, away from the busiest paths – where hopefully her mama will find her.

On top of it all, it turns out that today is Claire’s birthday. What a birthday adventure!

How to be Focused and Industrious

This little chipmunk barely noticed as I walked strangely close to it – we were on each other’s path. He/she was there first, deeply focused on the task at hand. I have no idea what that task was, but the relentless industriousness was inspiring. I’d love to be that deeply into my work first thing each morning.

Can you spot him/her here?

Baby Skunkaroos

Ok, there are few things as adorable and funny as baby skunks.

They practice being scary: tails straight up, aiming their tiny pink bum, and stomping.

Stomping is a defense behaviour where skunks slap their two front paws down to scare away anything that seems threatening. The furball babies do it with a little jump! Adorable and hilarious! Could be in a Disney movie.

The trick to handling a skunk is to tuck its tail under their body so he/she can’t spray.

Of course, the trick to that is getting close enough to the skunk (without getting sprayed) to tuck the tail, ha! With the babies it is not difficult, but I would not recommend trying with an adult. Especially not an adult protecting her babies.

A skunk can spray its musk more than 10 feet with extreme accuracy. But it would rather not, since it takes skunks weeks to replenish that last-resort defense mechanism. Ideally what they perceive as a threat is scared off by the stomping and growling that babies practice.

Most skunk litters are around 5-7 kits in May, so the babies we are seeing now are approximately 2-4 weeks old.

Bringing Milksnake Her Easter Dinner

At the end of the day, I discovered that the gorgeous milk snake had shed!

I was able to remove the shed skin in one perfect piece, head to tail. And place it gently in-tact in a large Ziploc bag that I labelled with her patient number and the date on it.

Everyone has been waiting for her to shed. Which is not surprising as her wounds heal. She is the only snake who has not been placed in foster care while staffing is reduced due to Covid19, because she has been healing from some significant wounds on her belly. I noticed about 3 weeks ago that her eyes were starting to get cloudy – a sign of preparing to shed. 

The beautiful snake was hiding under the large rock in her enclosure as I removed the shed skin. I let staff member J know, and since snakes don’t eat much before shedding, I was asked to bring her a little feast of a variety of small foods. Well no problem – except for the earthworms from outside.

I grabbed a fork from the kitchen and first went out the back door and into the ditch area to look for worms. I promptly stepped deeply into muck, covering my right shoe and pant hem. Ugh. No worms.

Then I went over the road to the farther ditch to dig and look under garbage in the wet ditch. No worms.

I have no idea where to find worms. On my way back into the centre, taking a route back that appeared drier, I slipped into the deep muck. Covered my left shoe. Ugh.

Ok, so wiped my feet as well as I could on the grass, then on the door mat, I went inside and went to the room where the dirty kennel cabs and waterfowl mats are hosed down. I hosed down my shoes and pants. Soaking wet shoes and socks now. Still no worms. I know nothing about wild worms.

So I went out the front door, to the park-like area in front of the building. Dug my fork into the grass. No worms. Dug into the slope of the planted area, covered in leaves. No worms.  But there was a nice surprise: as I was returning to the TWC I noticed a groundhog looking at me!

A groundhog has made a home in the planted mound, in the park-like space in front of the Centre. What a treat to see her looking at me looking at her looking at me. Then back in to the Centre. I asked A if she knew where to find worms. Nope. I asked T. Good thing I asked T! She told me where to look. It was outside of course but could not be any closer or easier. I found two small wild earthworms. Thank goodness!

The milksnake’s post-shed Easter Sunday feast was complete and placed in a tiny dish in front of her, for her to enjoy.