“Humane” traps are not necessarily humane – graphic image warning

I struggled with what to call this post. Either the title I used above, or perhaps, “Havahart , my ass!” would work. Because there is no ‘having a heart’ around these things sometimes.

So, I’m at work on a busy morning, in charge (i.e. my boss is not there) and while I’m standing in the parking lot,  a man pulls up,  gets out of his car and says to me, “I’ve been trapping squirrels, but this time I’ve caught a possum, and uh, his like, mouth is stuck in the trap.” I said, “Bring it in.” When I saw it, I was horrified, and the man must have read my face. He said, “I’ll pick it up later”, filled in our required paperwork, and left.

He came in with a ‘Havahart’ trap, and inside was an adult opossum, caught by its pointy jaw, which had pushed through one of the squares of the metal. The opossum’s two teeth were on the outside, which made it impossible to push the opossum’s jaw back through. The animal was suffering and terrified. It must have be panicking and just desperately tried to chew its way out, trapping and injuring itself in the process.I had to take a photo, to show that trapping animals is not always benign:


Reader, what would you do right now if you were me right now? My priorities were – freeing the opossum with the minimum of stress, as quickly as possible, without hurting him further.

I got out the tin snips and made a test cut away from the opossum. They wouldn’t cut the metal.

So, I got the bolt cutters. These have handles that are almost  as long as my arms, with a big cutting blade. The problem was, I had to be careful I didn’t cut the opossum’s mouth any further (he was already cut into), but I had to get the blades in to free him. Each time I accidentally jostled him, he winced in pain.

Finally, somehow, I did it. I freed the opossum by cutting the wires and didn’t hurt him further. I shot him in the ass with a painkiller and shut the lights off to let him calm down.

As I was admitting another animal an hour later, the guy came back. I was kind of shocked that he had the nerve to come back.

“How did it go?” he asked kind of sheepishly. I said, “I got the opossum out, but I had to cut the trap. It’s destroyed. Do you still want it back?” “Well no…not if it’s useless now” he said, and slinked off.  Ok, maybe I was a little…enthusiastic..when I cut the trap. But my priority was the oppossum.

When my boss and I examined the opossum, it turned out it was a female, with a pouch full of 13 babies (opossums are marsupials like kangaroos).

I was so angry. Later, one of my volunteers asked, “Why was he trapping squirrels, anyway?”

I was emotional and stressed, and I kind of went off on a rant:  “Because there are certain types of pathetic, impotent, suburban men who are bored, pedestrian, uninteresting and feel powerless over their sad lives so they need to exert control over something! And let me tell you, only comfortable, well fed people have the time and inclination to trap and relocate squirrels! Imagine doing this with your time! Read a damn book! Get a hobby!  It’s only when you are fat and comfortable and bored and needing to control something to make you feel powerful that you even notice these animals as a ‘problem’, let alone go out and buy a trap and use it! If your spouse had cancer or your house was in foreclosure or you had a worthwhile purpose to keep you busy,  you wouldn’t even notice the squirrels! Seriously, these men are pathetic!  It makes me so angry!” 

Then I realized I was ranting, and probably not all that coherently or logically,  and apologized. My volunteer is totally cool and said, “no, I get it, and I agree.”

Don’t get me wrong – if I had a raccoon or squirrel in my house I’d use a trap because animals like this in the house can cause damage. I have used these traps when an animal is loose in our building and can’t get out. But squirrels running through your yard? Opossums under the shed? Raccoons living in your neighborhood? Wildlife is all around us, and it can be argued that WE are living in THEIR backyard. We need to coexist. Are they REALLY bothering you, or are you just bored?  Find something else to do. If you can’t, that’s sad.

Why is it wrong to trap and relocate, by the way? Well, in most cases it’s illegal. Secondly, it’s cruel. You could be separating a mother and babies, who will die of starvation, the cruelest death. The adult who you so ‘kindly’ relocate to the park could be chased out of others’ territories, again and again, till, exhausted, it dies of starvation or injuries. Sometimes people call me and argue that it’s a kindness to trap and relocate. I disagree. If you MUST get rid of animals in your yard, call a wildlife exterminator. Whatever promises they make, in many states they are required to euthanize trapped animals, even if they give you a story about relocating the animal. And in my mind, in some cases, euthanasia is preferred to a cruel relocation.  After all, if I was the target animal, I’d rather have a quick painless death than a prolonged one of suffering and fear because someone ‘relocated’ me where I can’t survive.

Unless they are legitimately destroying your property – try to coexist. Just seeing a wild animal is not a cause to call the authorities (like the guy who called the police because a Red Tailed Hawk rested on his deck for a few minutes, then got patched through to me because the police didn’t know what to say to him.)  And if they ARE destroying property, perhaps some simple modifications are all that are needed to keep damage at bay. (Raccoons in your trash? Secure it with bungie cords and cinder blocks). Remember, whatever you believe in, god, evolution, both or neither – these animals are meant to be here with us. And usually, they get the short end of the stick.

As for this opossum, her mouth was terribly swollen for a few days, despite anti-inflammatory painkillers. Within a few days she was able to eat on her own, crucial for producing milk to feed her babies.

Why is one opossum important in the world? Not for me to decide. Why should you get rid of one who is doing no harm? Not for you to decide.


Screech Owl – A Mother’s Day Story

On Wednesday, when I arrived at work, my boss asked me to help with a newly admitted patient – a Screech Owl whose hollow dead tree home was cut down, injuring her with the chainsaw in the process. Owls do not make nests, but instead ‘repurpose’ places such as the hollow of a dead tree. These trees are sometimes cut down without the cutter realizing that an owl family is inside. In this case, a cut was made directly where the owls were.

As we entered the treatment room, I heard a cheeping/clicking sound. In addition to the adult owl, there were 3 tiny, fuzzy baby owlets, only recently hatched, snuggled together in the flower pot they were brought in. These were not injured. I gasped when I saw how adorable they are:


But I did not have time to admire them, since the adult owl needed immediate attention. She had a deep laceration in the breast muscle from where the chainsaw hit her, an injured wing, and an injured talon. She lost a nail, which was the thing that was bleeding the most. We gave her fluids, painkillers, cleaned the woodchips out of her wounds, which we then cleaned and dressed. Then we put her in a dark box to rest.

The next day we took her to our amazing avian vet to look at the wing injury. He also decided to stitch her breast wound, and repeat the fluids and painkillers and antibiotics. The following day, we had to check her out, see if she would eat, and re-introduce her to her baby owlets. When I took her out of her box, she clacked her beak at me, flapped her wings, and tried to bite me several times (Footing me with her talons was out of the question since I was holding her gently but firmly by her feet)


She was definitely doing better. One thing we noticed about her that really got to me. I knew she was a mother or father, because we had her owlets right in front of us. But when I saw her ‘brood patch’, I really understood that this bird was the mother, and was deep in the process of rearing chicks when humanity interrupted so violently and accidentally. A brood patch is a patch of bare skin on the belly of a bird, made when she lays her eggs, by pulling out feathers. The hot bare skin pressed on the eggs keeps them at the perfect incubation temperature so the chicks will grow, and later, helps keep the growing chicks warm. Here’s what an owl brood patch looks like (not our owl):


We also realized something else about this mother owl. She did not fly away when the chainsaws came. She covered her owlets, and took the brunt of the assault herself. Her owlets were completely uninjured. My heart ached for the father owl, who would return from a hunting trip to find his home gone, along with his partner and babies.

During the 2 days the mother owl was receiving emergency medical treatment, we had to feed the owlets. We chopped up lots of mice into small pieces and offered it on little tweezers to the babies. They ate readily, stuffing themselves an dropping off to sleep immediately when they were full. Here’s a few more images of them:



Usually, the owlets we care for at the clinic are orphans. We use non-releasable owls as surrogate parents to prevent the chicks from imprinting on humans. This time, we could try to reintroduce the babies to their own mother.

So, on the 3rd evening, my boss worked on constructing a little mini owl habitat for them. He made a hollow tree trunk nest, added branches, and put the whole thing in a mesh and fabric crate. He put the babies in, and the mother next to them. And he watched and waited. The mother did not attack the owlets. In fact, the next day, when I got to see the family, she was placidly sleeping in her faux nest, covering her sleeping babies:


We wondered if she would feed her babies. Of course she did. We should never have doubted that this mother, who protected her tiny, helpless babies from such danger, would accept them back and continue to care for them in even foreign, strange circumstances. Just in time for Mother’s Day.

Doves -Two for two!

Baby bird season is gently starting. Today, I am so lucky to report, I was able to be part of re-nesting two fallen baby Mourning Doves. That is, getting them back in their nest and back into their parents’ care (because both parents feed the babies when it comes to doves. And songbirds in general). Although I like being a bird rehabber, and taking care of baby birds, my real successes are getting babies reunited with their bird parents, who can do a much better job.

Call one – a very nervous woman who saw a baby bird on the ground. After a long discussion and description, I was able to ascertain they were doves (mother bird – beige/brown, larger than a robin, smaller than a pigeon; two babies – the number of babies almost confirmed it). The WHOLE nest fell down, and mama was sitting on the babies on the ground. IN other words, sitting ducks for predators, like cats (unnatural predators, by the way). I instructed the woman to pick up the babies and the nest (mama bird would fly away when she approached) and put it in a container, like a colander or basket – something with drainage (because if she put it in a plastic bowl with no drainage, and it rained, the babies could drown), and hang it in the original tree. She was very scared to do this, so got her neighbor to do it. He picked up the nest and babies, and placed them in the tree in their basket.  Momma bird was frightened and watched from a bit far away.

The woman was scared she chased the mom away forever. I assured her that if she left the area, the mother bird WOULD come back to her babies. She called me in an hour – ‘the mother is still not with the babies!” ‘Be patient”, I said. The mother bird sees you as a predator who tried to eat her babies. She doesn’t understand you are trying to help. Mourning doves are prey – only. So they are super skittish.

An hour later, the woman called: “The mother is with the babies! She is feeding them again!”. I was so, so happy. Babies we DON’T have to take into the clinic are a bigger success.

Caller 2 – a woman nearby who found a bird on the ground, also a Mourning Dove. She couldn’t find the nest, and this was a bird, by description, who was too young to be out of it. The only thing she could do was bring it to the clinic. But, she didn’t drive. Turns out, she was only a few blocks away so I said I’d come over and check it out. When I got there, the baby was in a box and they had located the nest. Momma dove was in the nest with this baby’s sibling.

I said, “Great! I am going to re-nest this baby!” “WAIT!”, the woman said, “If you touch it, won’t the mom reject it?!” I explained that this is an old wives’ tale, and the momma dove has invested so much time in these babies, she won’t refuse them back. I picked up the dove, and plopped him back in his nest, next to his sibling. Momma flew away, but perched on a roof only a few feet away. I advised the humans to go in the house, and mom would come back.  The people were amazed. “I can’t believe you just picked up that baby bird and plopped him into the nest! You are a hero!”. But again, anyone could have done it, like the woman in story one. You just have to know what to do.

Two great successes today, and they didn’t even come into the clinic. I’m happy with that.





Goose story

This is a story from last year, but I want to save it and I want to let others read it, so I am immortalizing it here.

We got a call at the wildlife clinic about a goose at a local canal, who had a blow dart through his neck. My boss and I went down to the site, and there were many Canada Geese there – at least 30 hanging around. Soon, though, we spotted the one with the dart. It went straight through his long neck, and out the other side.It looked like this:


Since we know the anatomy of a goose, we were worried that this dart penetrated the esophagus and or the trachea, so it could either start to obstruct his breathing or his eating.

So, we started the process of trying to catch him. We brought lots of goose treats, including bread, which is not very good for them, but which they like and they are used to people feeding to them. Our objective was to get ‘dart goose’ close enough to grab.We brougth cracked corn, apple and popcorn, too.

So we started to feed the geese and get them to come to us. They did. They came right up to us, close enough to touch. They ate our food. Except  dart goose, who stayed on the periphery, only occasionally eating. He was nervous, possibly because he knew of his ‘difference’ or because he knew, despite the subtle nonchalance we were trying to project, that we were actually focused on him. Who knows what clues we were showing with our body language? He was much more nervous than the other geese.

After a while, we gave up. We came back the next day, and gave up, too. Ultimately, we came back 5 days in a row. My boss and I were getting good at giving each other signals to isolate and surround the ‘target’ goose, but still he evaded us. We hadn’;t actually made an attempt to grab him at this point yet.

After about 3 days, the dart goose started to eat our food more readily. He started to trust us and join the flock. On the fifth day, we got him close. He was eating out of my boss’ hand. My boss looked at me and signaled me with his eyes to guard the goose’s escape. Then, he grabbed for the goose, and got him. All the other geese flew and ran away. The dart goose looked at us like we had betrayed him, and we had. We earned his trust over 5 days, and betrayed it by grabbing him.

We stuffed him into a box and took him to the clinic. I wanted to cry.

The dart was cleanly right through his long neck. It looked like we could pull it right out, but we felt a tiny lump at the point of entrance and exit of the dart through his neck. We decided to take him to a vet with an xray machine.

It turns out the dart went right through his trachea, but not his esophagus. This is why he could still eat with no problem. But the lumps we felt on the outside were present on the inside, too – scar tissue forming around the entrance and exit of the dart.  The vet said that the scar tissue would grow , both on the inside and outside, eventually obstructing the goose’s breathing and killing him. The vet felt confident, though, that he could pull the dart straight out. He did.

We kept the goose a few more days to give him a few more free meals so he could put on a little weight. Then we took him back to the canal, and to his flock. He lept from our box, back into the water, and joined his flock, an outcast no more.


A note to those of you who ‘hate’ Canada Geese – *why* are they a nuisance? They are non-agressive and benign. Yes, they poop a lot. But we’ve taken their natural habitats and given them lots of pristine grass office parks, complete with ponds, and we are surprised that they use them? Their poop is organic and deteriorates quickly. Not so the shit human kind pollutes the earth with. I can’t even begin to comment on someone who would deliberately try to hurt an animal, just to be cruel. And apparently geese are the ‘problem’.

The Claw

Late one evening an injured or sick Cooper’s Hawk came in. He was a little thin with poor feather condition, but no obvious injuries. The fact that  a member of the public was able to catch him easily suggested that there was something wrong with him: Cooper’s Hawks are like hawks on speed. They are flighty and fast and nervous and slick. He was found below a window, so I thought he might have hit the window, so he might be suffering from a concussion. Since it was night, I thought it best to give him anti-inflammatories and put him in a dark box for the night (a small, secure box is sometimes best, so he won’t thrash around and hurt himself).

The next morning, I had to get him out of his box to re-evaluate him and put him in a larger enclosure, and hopefully get him to eat something. This is what I was greeted with when I approached the box he was in:

I think he was giving me a message – showing me his weapons, “Look lady, I’ll mess you up if you hurt me.” Luckily, my boss has trained me well on how to remove a nervous hawk from a small box. I put him in a large cage and gave him a defrosted mourning dove to eat (a previous patient who died. Hey, it’s better to use his body for good, right?). I gave him the dove because it will be food he recognizes, since Cooper’s eat a lot of doves in the wild. It would be stressful for him to eat in captivity so I wanted him to have something he’d recognize instantly. That’s why, when certain animals die, and they haven’t been given any drugs, we freeze them for future patients. Anyway, the Cooper’s tore into this dove carcass like he hadn’t eaten in a week. He might not have. He is doing well and hopefully will be released soon.

What a Smashing Hawk…

Today I answered the phone, “Wildlife Clinic, may I help you?” as I do many times a day. A woman answered me calmly, “oh, I do hope so. A hawk has just crashed through my window into the house.”.  I wasn’t as shocked as I might have been, because it’s the second time I’ve dealt with this situation!

Since it was only a few minutes away, I went to rescue the hawk. Turns out this woman’s daughter, in her 20s, was sitting on her bed, reading a book, when a hawk crashed through the glass of her window, entering her bedroom. Imagine sitting on your bed, sleepily reading a book, when a hawk crashes through the window. She said it was incredibly loud, and can’t believe the hawk wasn’t seriously injured. He was a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk, with his juvenile tail, so at least under 2 years old (when they earn their red tail). However, just because he is a juvenile, doesn’t mean he isn’t huge – they achieve their full size before they achieve their adult plumage. Clearly he was flying like a lunatic, chasing a bird for his dinner. Here’s a pic of the window. Note the top part, which is all shattered and shards all around the frame:

The bottom half of the window was unaffected, and the hawk was ‘trapped’ between the bottom pane of glass and the window shade. I grabbed him by the legs, gave him a quick exam, and placed him in a dark box – and took him back to the clinic. Turns out he has no observable injuries, except for biting his tongue.  His body condition was good – not underweight or sick.He certainly has some head trauma, which we treated with anti-inflammatories and some dark and quiet time.  Here’s the lunatic flyer here, once I put her in a cage, where she was NOT happy:

And here’s the pile of glass he left in this young woman’s bedroom:

It seems likely that this hawk will be released soon, unless she has sustained some internal damage. Hopefully she’ll look where she’s going in the future. And the young lady is consulting a Native American friend who suggests that a hawk ‘entering your life’ has some sort of meaning. He certainly ‘entered her life’ dramatically.

Update! The hawk was released back behind the house where she came from . There is a huge, vast field and really tall thick trees surrounding it. Perfect. She flew off beautifully. No injuries or lasting damage.


Working in a wildlife rehabilitation clinic, you get used to people arriving with cardboard boxes – small, large, beer boxes, air conditioner boxes, shoe boxes, the lot.  Inside each box is an animal or bird requiring care. The funny thing is that often the size of the box does not relate at all to the size of the animal inside: a huge box might contain an injured sparrow; a tiny box might have a huge Red Tail Hawk stuffed and contorted inside.

Usually we get to watch people leaving their car with the box, so they tell us what is inside  the box as they enter the clinic, before we have to peek. However, sometimes people leave boxes in the lobby or on the doorstep when we are closed. Sometimes, they leave a note, saying what is inside, sometimes they don’t. So, a box that once contained a pair of boots could contain a squirrel, a crow, a small hawk, a sparrow, an oppossum, a nest of baby birds…who knows until you open it.

We’re in the so called ‘quiet season’ in wildlife rehab. It gets quieter because there are no baby animals being born. So, every animal we get is injured or sick. The other day, my boss and I had to go to a meeting for a half an hour. A sub-permitee watched the place for most of that time, but in perhaps 10 minutes, 3 boxes arrived. So when my boss and I got back, we had 3 boxes waiting for us. And they were all roughly the same size. They contained:

1.) A small, sickly dehydrated baby squirrel, about 6 weeks old (this is VERY late in the season for baby squirrels and quite unusual). We gave him an injection of fluids, started him on antibiotics, and began bottle feeding him. The next day, he perked up a bit.

2.) A Canada Goose. His feather condition was terrible. His wing and tail feathers were completely shredded and dirty. He had no use of his legs, which were dirty and road-burned. He also had no feeling in them.  He must have been dragging his legs along, propelling himself with his wings as crutches, for some time. He had no broken bones, but must have sustained spinal trauma. He was also completely emaciated. There was no chance of him ever recovering. So we ended his life humanely. The woman who had captured and dropped him off called, and we explained to her that she did him a kindness. Eventually, he would have died on the street, but it could have taken weeks. He was able to die peacefully and painlessly.

3.) A ‘seagull’ – (there is no such thing as a seagull, really – they’re ‘gulls’). He is a Herring Gull. Like the goose, was emaciated and he had no use of his legs, and kept falling over. However, the difference was that he has ‘deep pain relexes’ – in other words, when you squeeze his foot with an instrument, he can feel it, and pull his foot away. He could not stand up because he was weak, not because he was paralyzed. So, we gave him sub-q (under the skin) fluids, and we tube fed him (down the throat) a rich nutritional mixture. We did that a few times yesterday, and once this morning, and by the afternoon, he was standing up on his own! And, he was picking at the food in his dish (shrimp, soaked cat chow, and baby mice). I have high hopes for him. Gulls smell like the sea btw.

Later in the day, another box arrived. The woman said it was a turkey vulture. In fact, it was an actual turkey. Just in time for Thanksgiving. He has a terrible skin condition on his face – either avian pox or mange. We are working on him. Watch this space. I’ve never been this close to a large, male wild turkey. His feathers are varied and gorgeous.