Would you know what to do if you found a tiny opossum or other young wildlife in your backyard? It’s always best to find out the right protocol before the situation happens so you are prepared and can really look like the hero to your kids and neighbors! The surprising answer is often “do nothing.” Don’t interfere with wildlife unless you are 100 percent sure the animal is an orphan or in trouble. And by being 100 percent sure, I mean you see the dead mom lying nearby or you’ve waited 24 hours with no signs of the mother (sprinkle a bit of flour around the nest of the young so you can see if there are footprints – you’ve obviously not been staring at the spot for the whole night).
We have a wonderful wildlife rescue organization in our county, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue off Meacham Road and they are staffed seven days a week from 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. for drop-off of injured and orphaned wildlife. Before you rush a youngster there, though, please call and talk to one of their trained staff and volunteers to verify that a rescue is in order. They have a hotline that is covered by volunteers until 10 p.m., (707) 526-9453. Many babies are left alone, often for hours, while the mom goes off in search of food so don’t assume that a baby alone is automatically in trouble. If it’s not obviously sick or injured, don’t touch the animal and come back in 24 hours to see if he’s still there. If it’s determined that the animal needs help and you can’t get to the wildlife rescue location, you can bring the animal to our shelter and we can coordinate transport.
One of my staff recently found an obviously orphaned baby opossum (she saw dogs kill the mom) and her kitten foster instincts kicked in. But there are major differences between kittens and wild animals! First of all, we found out that opossum babies don’t suckle! So instead of a bottle they need to be syringe fed. They imprint easily so it’s important not to handle them any more than absolutely necessary and since their dietary needs are very specific it’s really best to let the experts take over as soon as you can get the critter to them. Besides how fragile baby animals are and how easy it is to screw up even with the best of intentions, it is also illegal to keep wild animals for more than 48 hours. Baby animals are all cute but they do grow up into wild animals!
There is a ton of information on the web of course. Our wildlife rescue has lots of instructions and advice on their site: www.scwildliferescue.org. If you’ve never been to their facility, public tours are available on Saturdays (reservations required) and they have a great educational program as well. At their location, besides their hospital, they do house a few non-releasable animals so you can get up close to mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and others. They offer other programs and services too, such as a wildlife exclusion service for those who need help getting rid of problem wildlife in their homes and they have links to other rescues in our county like fawn rescue and songbird rescue.
It’s important not to intervene unless you know the situation is dire and the animal’s life is at risk. So often people with good intentions make things harder and more stressful for the animal and stress can kill! A baby’s best chance of survival is to remain with his mom so call first and read up on the signs to look for before you take a wild animal into human care. And thank you for caring enough to get involved!
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30 p.m.; Thur.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30 p.m.; Sun. 1-4:30 p.m.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.