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Rehabilitators ask the public to leave wildlife alone

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Wildlife rehabilitators love their work, but would rather not have so much of it to do.

The north country has few enough rehabilitators as it is, especially those who deal with animals that can carry rabies, such as raccoons, and most of them are inundated with calls to take care of “rescued” animals.

“There’s not many of us doing it,” said Dinah J. Manley, a rabies vector species rehabilitator in Franklin County who works with fellow RVS rehabilitators Patricia A. Murphy-Stickney and Amy E. Ouimet. “We’ve had to turn people away.”

With the onset of spring, when animals start to move around, they are expecting a new onslaught of emergency calls. Asking people to think before they try to save an animal that does not need saving was their message. In the five years they have been certified, the three have returned to the wild hundreds of animals.

Many would have done as well or better left in place.

“A lot of these things are preventable,” Ms. Murphy-Stickney said. “If you see babies, just let them stay because mama will eventually move them.”

Some people try to do the work of rehabilitators, raising animals in their own homes — also not a good idea, because their release can be problematic for many reasons, such as they are too fat, have been treated as a pet or are let go in an inhospitable location.

Some animals end up being brought to rehabilitators because they are a nuisance.

Live trapping is a last resort because many animals suffer when released in a different location, she said.

“If you trap the mother, then we end up with the babies or they starve to death, which is horrible,” Mrs. Manley said.

Animals are opportunistic, coming to areas they like for food or shelter.

“Unless you deal with the problem, there’s always another one waiting,” Mrs. Ouimet said. “You humanely encourage them to move on.”

Solutions can be simple, such as closing garage doors or bringing in the cat food and bird feeders at night, Ms. Murphy-Stickney said.

Many websites are available that list remedies for dealing with nuisance animals, such as the skunk whisperer at www.totalwildlifecontrol.com, www.wildlifehavenrehab.org, www.wildthingssanctuary.org or www.kywildlife.org.

There are times when rescue is in order, such as when David A. LaShomb, Norwood, saved two starving baby raccoons last year. Mr. LaShomb tried unsuccessfully to find a rehabilitator so he was raising the animals himself when a state Department of Environmental Conservation officer picked them up and they were killed by the state Health Department for rabies testing.

Outcry over what happened has led to a better working relationship among the Health Department, DEC officers, and rehabilitators, Mrs. Ouimet said.

She has not been as happy with the response to some of the other suggestions she has made, such as having more locations for rehabilitation training or using the Internet to reach more people.

“We live in the world of Skype,” Mrs. Ouimet said.

She also has had little luck in persuading the state to offer rehabilitators reduced cost pre-exposure rabies vaccinations, which is required for a license and which costs about $700, or in having vaccine-laced bait made available for animals under care.

A DEC spokesman had no immediate response to ways it could encourage more wildlife rehabilitators.

Mr. LaShomb’s situation also led him to create an organization, FLO Foundation, short for Feisty and Little One, the names of the baby raccoons he tried to save. Mr. LaShomb has filed for nonprofit status and the organization already has raised about $1,300 toward helping rehabillitators, whose work is often expensive.

The organization gave $100 to a rehabilitator in Adams Center and $100 in supplies to Mrs. Ouimet.

“We might expand it to make it more for all wildlife rehabilitators, not just those who take care of raccoons,” Mr. LaShomb said.

FLO Foundation would like to sponsor someone to become a rabies vector species rehabilitator in St. Lawrence County, where there isn’t one.

“It’s an amazing commitment they have to make,” Mr. LaShomb said. “We’re still plugging away. We’re getting somewhere.”

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