Theodore the Raccoon: A Case Study for Helping Injured Wildlife

Posted by Chris Berry, ALDF's Litigation Fellow on July 2, 2012

Theodore is the impromptu name my friends and I gave to a raccoon sullenly limping through downtown Berkeley last Friday night. But he wasn’t just limping – he slogged forward with speed that would boost the self-esteem of a sloth. He barely even bothered to glance over his shoulder to keep his curious human onlookers in check.

I looked up the emergency number for Yggrasil, a local wildlife rescue that specializes in rehabilitating free-roaming mammals. A friend made the call while I fended off inebriated UC Berkeley undergrads gawking and pointing at our new furry friend. The emergency number on the Yggrasil voicemail message led us to someone who was only able to refer us to Berkeley Animal Control due to the limited help available that late at night.

Concerned about the risk of euthanasia for Theodore at the hands of Animal Control, we decided that the best thing we could do for him was to offer him some sustenance, and leave him alone. I offered the only thing resembling raccoon food available to me – peanut butter dog treats.

The way Theodore ate the peanut butter treats struck a chord with me because it was eerily similar to how my dogs eat. As he happily gobbled down the treats I felt ambivalent, knowing that he probably needed more help but wary of intervening if it wasn’t necessary.

The next day I knew I had to do something. So I did what I always do, I hit the books. Hopefully my lessons learned in interacting with Theodore, and researching ways to help wildlife, will help readers who come across a similar situation in the future.

Does the animal need help?

The first step in this type of situation is to determine whether the animal needs help. This question is especially important when dealing with baby animals because parents often leave babies alone for several hours at a time.

Wildlife rehabilitators estimate that the majority of “rescued” orphan animals were not really orphans at all. Whether an animal needs help will also vary based on the species of animal, and the behavior she is exhibiting. Wild rabbits only “check in” with their kits once or twice a day to nurse them, staying away from the nest at other times to avoid calling the attention of predators to the babies. If in doubt, consult a reputable wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group, such as WildCare or Yggrasil.

What are the nearby wildlife rescue groups?

If you are sure the animal needs help, locate the phone numbers to local wildlife rescue groups that specialize in the type of animal you found. Searching the internet (or calling somebody who has internet access) is the best way to find these groups. Be persistent, if you don’t get an answer, keep calling around.

Is animal control the best option for the animal?

If no wildlife rescue groups are available, consider whether to call animal control or a state wildlife agency. Municipal animal control and state agencies often have policies to euthanize wildlife right away instead of rehabilitating them. Find out their euthanasia policy before surrendering any animal. Unless you plan on helping the animal survive, the best option may be to leave them alone. In the case of Theodore, I thought that leaving him alone was a better option than calling animal control since he was strong enough to eat, move (albeit slowly), and was not endangering anybody’s safety.

Will my intervention help or harm?

If there is no help available from a rescue group, and you do not want to call animal control, look online to see if there is any safe and effective assistance you can offer. Wild animals can be dangerous and can carry disease, so be cautious when dealing with them. As far as the animal is concerned, your well-meaning intervention might cause more harm than good. Interactions with humans can be stressful, and the treatment you offer might not be appropriate.

My friends and I found ourselves at this last step since the rescue groups were closed and felt animal control was not an option. As unsatisfied as I was stepping away from Theodore, I felt that his best chance of survival at that time was on his own, without human intervention.

Ultimately it’s impossible to know whether our actions caused the most ideal outcome, but we utilized the available resources and acted reasonably with Theodore’s best interest in mind. We can only hope that all animals are someday treated this way by humans.

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