Getting Skunked

The thought of a skunk might elicit an immediate response for most people – plug your nose! But is that really all there is to it? Some of what we think we know about skunks stems from what we see portrayed in the media. Or perhaps you’ve experienced an unlucky encounter with a skunk who felt threatened and sprayed you (or your pet!)

You might be surprised to learn that skunks are relatively mild-tempered and do not tend to spray unless they feel threatened – and even then, they give us ample warning beforehand.

Have you ever wondered how we handle caring for skunks at our rehabilitation center? Our Wednesday PM shift leader, Cherie MacDougall, tells us about a time when she brought orphaned skunk kits to the clinic. Along the way, she’s learned a lot about skunks!

“I had only been volunteering for Chintimini Wildlife Center for a few months when I answered a call for help.  A litter of Striped skunks had been orphaned and a local homeowner was able to safely and humanely trap them.  I arrived on the scene with images of cartoon skunks and tubs of tomato juice running through my head.  Exiting my vehicle, I cautiously sniffed the air expecting the pungent, overwhelming, distinctive smell of skunk.  To my surprise all I smelled was a faint rotten egg odor.  I would later learn that skunks produce their infamous smell from a highly specialized anal scent gland that develops as the skunk matures.  Following my nose and the homeowner’s directions I found the skunk kits. They were immediately identifiable by their black fur, white stripes, and bushy tails.

As I carefully reached in with gloved hands, my real education about skunks began. Nothing had prepared me for how cute skunk kits are!  A few weeks old, each kit weighed about half a pound and could fit in my hand.  Tiny and fierce they instinctively used their defensive tactics and faced me directly, arching their backs, fluffing their thick fur, sticking their tails straight into the air like tiny exclamation marks, and thumping the ground with their paws. A few even pointed their tails at me and did their best to spray.  Luckily their scent glands were not fully developed!  Undeterred, I collected the tiny mammals and drove them to the wildlife center for an exam and proper care.

Striped skunks, a primarily nocturnal animal, are omnivores and eat a highly varied diet.  They forage for plant matter, eggs, and insects.  With their excellent digging skills they are also expert hunters of small vertebrates like mice and rats.  About the size of a house cat, the Striped skunk is a valuable partner in the farmer’s constant battle against harmful agricultural pests like insects and rodents.

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Over the course of a few months, the six skunk kits grew quickly into large, sleek, adults who retained their fear and caution of humans.  As the kits got older, their scent glands began to become more developed.  The young skunks needed to be fed, watered, and have their enclosure cleaned twice a day as Chintimini staff closely monitored and assessed each animal’s growth and development. Striped skunks will only spray when threatened and after a defensive display. They can release a large cloud of scent or release a well-aimed stream that is accurate up to a distance of six feet.  Each feeding became an exercise in slow, cautious movements. As long as the skunks didn’t feel threatened we volunteers were able to avoid any unfortunate encounters.

Since my experience with the Striped skunk kits, I have had the pleasure of caring for many more skunks over the past few years.  I continue to learn more with each patient.  For example, Striped skunks are not the only species of skunk found in Oregon.  Less common is the Western spotted skunk. Although similar in appearance to the Striped skunk, the Spotted skunk is smaller and has white spots on its forehead and under its ears.  When spraying, the Western spotted skunk will often stand on its front legs when “aiming” at their predator.

When the skunks were full grown and capable of surviving in the wild, Chintimini staff released them in suitable habitat near where they were originally found. Once small and helpless, these amazing mammals were getting another shot at living the life they were born to.  If you ever come across a skunk in the wild, the best thing to do is stop and back very slowly away without making any sudden movements.  As long as the skunk doesn’t feel threatened, the shy animal will be happy to go its separate way without spraying.

As always, if you see an orphaned or injured animal please call Chintimini Wildlife Center at (541) 745-5324.

Cherie MacDougall

Wednesday PM shift leader

Volunteer since 2015

Source: https://www.britannica.com/animal/skunk

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Volunteer “Level 2” Training

Every year we host multiple “Level 2” trainings for our volunteers. This provides them the opportunity to expand on their responsibilities in the clinic and learn more about what staff does to handle specific injuries that they might not get to experience as a Level 1 trained volunteer.

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Level 1 volunteers are essential to the consistent flow of our daily tasks and routines. They keep laundry hosed down, clean, dried, and folded. They bleach, wash, and put away dishes. They prepare specialized diets, clean cages, and weigh our patients. They are oftentimes the “face” of the clinic when they greet the public during animal admissions.

It isn’t glamorous by any means, but it is completely necessary in order to provide the high quality care our patients need by preparing clean bedding, dishes, and fresh diets every single day.

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Some volunteers choose to remain at the Level 1 position for the duration of their volunteer experience. Others choose to expand their skills by opting to attend our continuing education courses. Level 2 training sessions are 2 – 2 1/2 hours long and are held at least twice a year.

Wondering what new skills volunteers get to learn?

  • How to perform a basic exam: Volunteers learn how to properly fill out preliminary exam notes, check basic vital stats (For example, is the animal warm? Does it have obvious injuries? Is it dehydrated/emaciated?) Each patient will still receive a comprehensive exam by our staff, but this initial exam gives us a quick look at how urgent each case is and what appropriate steps need to be taken upon arrival. 
  • How to tube feed critical patients: Each species has very specific dietary requirements. But what do we feed our critical patients who are unable to eat on their own? Some patients require tube feeding, which is a skill that requires a careful hand and an attentive volunteer. This skill is not something that is taught only once, it requires a lot of observation and practice.
  • How to give subcutaneous fluids to birds: We assume that most patients are at least somewhat dehydrated by the time they are found and brought to the clinic. Volunteers learn how to carefully administer sterile electrolyte fluids such as  Lactated Ringer’s Solution to dehydrated avian patients.
  • How to wrap a broken wing: Wing wraps can be crucial to the recovery of a broken wing. A wing wrap, when done correctly, immobilizes the fracture and allows for proper healing without being cumbersome. A bird with an improperly healed fracture will usually be unable to fly and therefore cannot be released. Practice, practice, practice! We want our volunteers to have ample opportunity to practice this skill, as it can be a “use it or lose it” ability. Fractured wings sometimes need more medical attention than a wing wrap alone. Each patient with a fracture receives an x-ray and a treatment plan, which sometimes includes surgical pinning.

If this sounds like something that interests you, please join us in our mission! We can never have too many volunteers, and with busy season just beginning – we welcome you to attend an orientation and sign up to volunteer with us.

To volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center, contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Kathi Franklin at volunteer@chintiminiwildlifecenter.org

– Erika Seirup, Animal Care Assistant

Rescue: Bald Eagle #18-0371

Most of the time, our patients are brought to us in a small shoe box or a little crate. Songbirds, small mammals, and even owls are usually scooped up by a caring passerby and brought to us, ready for examination and treatment. Sometimes we get calls for extra help. There are some patients that require a search party of sorts, or need a skilled restrainer for a safe capture. This is the story of one of our most recent Bald Eagle patients, and how he came to arrive at our Center.

Claudia Benfield, who is trained in eagle restraint and is a dedicated volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center, writes about the adventure she and her husband had while they attempted (and succeeded!) to rescue a Bald Eagle:

“Finally. After patiently waiting for six years, I got to rescue a Bald Eagle. This was my first eagle rescue and I am so thankful to have had the help of my husband, Tim. It was through some awesome teamwork that we were able to rescue the young Bald Eagle.

I got the call that there was an injured eagle in Halsey, OR. I was told I would have to ride a four wheeler in order to get to where the eagle was located. I really didn’t want to believe that one…I did invite my husband to help ensure we would successfully rescue this eagle. We rushed over to Halsey and rode about a mile off the pavement on the back of a four wheeler to where the eagle was.  At one point the terrain was so rough that we had to get off the four wheeler and walk! When we arrived at the site we found that the eagle was down a 10-15 foot embankment on Lake Creek. Of course, a creek… then the real adventure began.

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Right away, Tim went down the embankment to try to get to the eagle. The eagle on the other hand, had something else in mind.  Even though he was very weak and had been in the same spot for over a day, this eagle would not easily be caught despite his injuries.  As Tim got closer, the eagle started hopping away. Tim followed him down the creek, having to make his way through some very tall brush and even falling into “stinging nettles.” Ouch! Those really hurt! I felt so bad for my husband.  Meanwhile, I was running around trying to find a more accessible path to head off and corner the eagle with Tim on the other side. I did find a path but the water was too deep and the eagle was getting really far downstream. The farmer offered to drive me on the four wheeler to the other side of the creek, about another mile around. By the time I got to the other side, Tim had cornered the eagle against a dam of some type. There they were, eagle partially in the water trying to rest on a small branch and my husband – waist deep in murky water and thick mud right next to him. I immediately took off my socks and shoes and started going in the creek too. I was up to my knees in seconds and knew that this was not a good choice. I figured if my husband was up to his waist, I would be up to my neck in mud and water with an eagle in my arms.

I got out and ran over to the other side of the dam and got on top of it.  All I could think of was, “there’s going to be a hole somewhere that I will fall through”… I took a few steps feeling for weak spots on the dam but didn’t find anything. We were able to get a towel on top of the eagle to make sure he wouldn’t get away again. The towel was sopping wet in seconds. With the eagle sinking from the weight and my husband getting deeper in the mud, he carefully and quickly lifted the heavy eagle up to me on top of the dam. My training instantly took over and I quickly grabbed the eagle – wet towel and all.  It was when I turned around with the eagle secure in my arms that I took one step and found that hole. Down I went! I was now through the dam, eagle inches away from my face and my feet in a dam built by who-knows-what other wildlife. So many thoughts rushed through my head: from hoping the eagle wouldn’t tear my face off to thoughts of “please don’t let there be a nutria or beaver to bite my foot off.” I was also hoping my fall didn’t further injure the eagle (it didn’t). I don’t know how he did it, but my husband was out of the water in seconds and was pulling me up and out in an instant. He didn’t even lose a shoe! So now we were all safe – muddy and stinky, but in one piece and with a rescued eagle in tow. It is always astounding at how these injured eagles still have so much strength! It takes all of my strength to keep control of eagles, even when they are sick. This eagle was very spunky even though he had been out on the embankment of the creek for over a day.

Now we had to think of how to get the eagle back to civilization…

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One of the farmers had a four wheeler with a small trailer on the back. So , I got on the trailer and my husband had to push me (with the eagle in my arms) to the back of the trailer so we wouldn’t tip. On we went, with a spunky Bald Eagle on top of me, on this rough terrain and back to the car where I had a cage waiting.  When we arrived to the car, my husband had to pull me off of the trailer too… By this time we had gotten the wet towel off of the eagle and had a sheet over him to lessen his stress. After I put him in the cage, I could see his relief. First, at not being in my arms anymore and second, just being somewhere he could finally rest – alone. I did cover the cage in a sheet to keep him quiet in the dark which he seemed to like. It was such a harrowing ordeal for the eagle that I even felt the need to wait about 10 minutes before I took him on the ride to the clinic which was maybe 30 to 40 minutes away.

When I got to the clinic, it was more obvious how very stinky we both were from the murky water. I did get to hold him again as the Animal Care Director examined his injuries and wrapped his wing. X-rays would need to be taken the next day in order to see the extent of the damages to his body. There was a point during the examination where I could feel how very tired we both were. As I sat with him, at moments I almost felt like I could even fall asleep with this eagle in my arms. Even though I relaxed a bit, I still knew that he could let me know he was not happy in an instant! I never forget they are wild animals, that’s for sure. It just felt good to relax with a Bald Eagle in my arms for once. Not many can say they’ve done that. But afterwards, my arms were so weak from holding the eagle for so long that it was hard for me to hold my phone up for awhile! This is how strong they are – I just can’t imagine how strong they are when they are completely healthy!

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When we were done with the rescue, we looked up to see there was even a rainbow after the rescue was completed…”

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Patient Update: We are sad to report that Bald Eagle patient #18-0371 had to be humanely euthanized, as his injuries were determined to be too severe for a successful recovery. It is a bittersweet ending to an adventurous rescue – we never like to have to euthanize, however we are grateful for the ability to be able to relieve suffering. We thank Claudia and her husband Tim for their whole-hearted commitment to the well-being of the eagle.

Re-nesting Owlets

Have you ever wondered what happens when our clinic receives a baby owl?

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Baby owls fall from their nests for a variety of reasons, and oftentimes the finder isn’t sure if the baby is injured or orphaned. They bring us the owlet for evaluation, just to be safe. We check for injuries and assess their hydration and overall condition. If the owl needs rehabilitation, we have very specific criteria we follow to ensure the babies do not imprint on humans and can be released back to the wild once they are grown. Fortunately, more often than not the baby is healthy and uninjured, and after a feeding is able to be re-united with its parents. We do this by re-nesting; it is quite an adventure! Here, you can read Mark’s behind-the-scenes info (Mark is one of our main tree climbers).

“Spring is here and the time approaches where we start getting calls about juvenile owls found down on the ground. Whether they’ve fallen from branches, been blown out of their nest, or the nest has fallen apart, we retrieve them and evaluate for good health. We then try to return them either to their nest, or to a nearby spot in a “basket nest.” We have had a number of Barn Owls, which can be re-nested with a ladder because they usually nest inside barns. We may even get a hawk or two. But for the most part, the re-nestings involve Great Horned owlets.

Great Horned Owls (sometimes referred to as GHOW or GHO in the bird world) usually take over existing nests and don’t seem to be too particular about them. I have encountered situations where the old ‘nest’ has nothing left to it but the bottom. Often, I can locate an adult and be sure that I am in the right vicinity, but am unable to locate the actual nest. In those cases, I haul up a basket about 2′ in diameter and I latch it to a secure spot, preferably with a couple of branches supporting it, and about 60′ or so up the tree. I line the basket with leaves, twigs, and moss, and place the juvenile into it. If I haven’t actually seen an adult present during this process, I will ask the person who found the owl to keep an eye on the nest and let us know ASAP whether or not they have spotted an adult taking care of the juvenile. I have personally been surprised by how many landowners actually do keep track of who is nesting up in the trees on their property.

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In our experience, the key to most successful re-nestings is getting the owlet back up the tree as soon as possible. If the baby is gone, the adults will not stick around long, unless there is a sibling in the nest.  We usually do not have that information in advance, so promptness is vital. We endeavor to re-nest within 24 hours of the juvenile being found. This will give the baby its best chance of rejoining its parents and being cared for. That being the case, it is vitally important that if you do encounter a juvenile on the ground, please notify us at Chintimini Wildlife Center right away and we can work together to try to ensure the health and continuation of our wildlife population.”

Mark Meyer, In-house Tree Climber at CWC

Wildlife Sketches

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With “Art Is Wild” right around the corner, we’ve got all things art on our minds! Art Is Wild is our biggest fundraising event of the year – it’s a magical evening filled with delicious hors d’oeuvres, drinks, beautiful art, auctions, and [most importantly], great people. Perhaps you’ll join us?

When: April 27th from 5:30-8:30pm

Where: Philomath Scout Lodge, 660 Clemens Mill Rd, Philomath, OR 97370

Cost: $40 entry ticket [kids under 16 are free!]

One of our volunteers, Camille Eckel, gathers inspiration for her art from our patients. We are so glad she gave us permission to share her drawings with you. Camille calls them doodles, but we think they’re pretty amazing. Check these out…isn’t she talented?

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“Working with pencil and colored pencil on card stock, I have tried to capture snapshots of the wildlife I have encountered in and around Corvallis. While I have just begun volunteering with Chintimini, the patients there have already left a mark on me. On my first day a wary Barred Owl watched us from above as we tried to capture and weigh it, and curious raccoons looked on as we delivered their breakfast. Chintimini is truly a special place and I am looking forward to spending more time helping (and drawing) these great creatures.”

 

 

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We hope you’ll join us at Art Is Wild 2018! For more information and to purchase tickets, click HERE.

The Barred Owl: The “Clamorous Owl that Nightly Hoots”

Oftentimes owls are seen as elusive, night-hunting birds that we know little about. It’s a special treat to spy one sleeping in a tree or flying in the evening. Wildlife photographers have their secret spots they frequent in the hopes of catching a glimpse of these mysterious birds. Owls are often portrayed as the old and wise bird – a bird whose head can turn an entire 360 degrees, who only call out “hooo hooo,” and who only eat mice at night by using their incredible vision.

How much of this is true? None of it! They really don’t turn their heads 360 degrees contrary to popular belief. Cindy Lefton, one of our clinic volunteers, writes about the (sometimes controversial) Barred Owl:

I encountered my first Barred Owl while volunteering last week at Chintimini Wildlife; and remarkably, I encountered my second Barred Owl that afternoon in my neighbor’s backyard. As I reviewed my volunteer duties for the day, I saw that we had to weigh a Barred Owl. I was not very familiar with this species of owl, other than a few news articles concerning the Northern Spotted Owl. The Barred Owl? Or perhaps, the “Bard owl?” After all, Shakespeare was known for his bird references: “The clamorous owl that nightly hoots.”

 
When I entered the flight cage, I realized that it wasn’t from Shakespeare, but simply its appearance that inspired its name. Most of its body consists of a series of brown and white spotty patterns, while its chest is off-white with thick, vertical brown stripes, or “bars.” What struck me the most were the eyes. Most owls have yellow eyes, but the Barred’s are dark brown, appearing almost solid black. The owl stands about 20-24 inches tall and does not have noticeable ear tufts (like the Great Horned Owl). After weighing the bird, I let it out of its box into the flight cage. It immediately turned towards me with its wings up over its head and glared at me with those large, black eyes. I was impressed.

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As I arrived home from Chintimini, I noticed that I had a text with a photo attachment from a neighbor. Who should be staring at me from the photo? Another Barred Owl! This one was perched only five feet from the back porch; a sleepy-eyed bird who was probably wondering why it was receiving so much quiet attention. I immediately wanted to learn more about this owl.

 
Worldwide, there are approximately 220 species of owls, according to the National Geographic website. The United States only has 19 species, and Oregon is fortunate to have 14 of these.

 
Originally from the East Coast, Barred Owls can now be found all over the United States. The species expanded its range to Oregon in the 1970s. Oregon suits them well, because they prefer to live in wooded areas, and only use open areas to hunt. The Barred Owl gained notoriety in the news due to its competition with the threatened Northwest Spotted Owl. The two species look very similar, except that the Barred Owl has thick stripes on its chest, while the Spotted Owl is well, spotted.

What’s That, You Say?

Besides the notable stripe-pattern, the Barred Owl is known for its unique calls. Like many animals, owls don’t have just one sound or call. They vocalize differently depending on the situation (mating, warnings, etc.). But the most recognized Barred Owl call is the “Who cooks for you?” vocalization. They are considered to be more vocal than other owls, so listen carefully—you are more likely to hear one than see one. The good news is that they are not strictly nocturnal birds (only active at night). They are called “crepuscular,” which means they are mostly active at dawn and dusk. On an overcast day (which is often in Oregon), they can be active in the daytime as well. They begin mating in January/February, so now is the ideal time to hear that male owl calling for a mate!

Click here to hear a Barred Owl call.

 

Don’t Let the Sweet Face Fool You: the Barred is a Serious Predator

The Barred Owl is known to be an efficient predator and is not a picky eater. While it prefers to catch mice and other rodents, they have been seen catching rabbits, foxes, bats, birds, fish, and even the stray house cat. It can be territorial: there have been reports of Barreds swooping down on unsuspecting runners—but this is rare.

This owl is not a migratory bird and if it finds a good place to live—with plenty of food nearby, it might stay in the same location and breed with the same mate year after year. Its only true predator is the Great Horned Owl; and given that it can be found living close to humans, car strikes are a problem. These owls can live to be 24 years old in the wild, which is remarkable.

Yes, the Barred Owl has been controversial in its contributing role to the decline of the Northern Spotted Owl, but I have to admit, the Barred is a beautiful and fascinating bird.

 

 

 

 

Searching For A Bird’s Eye View

The majority of our blogs are written from the perspective of patient caregiver or community educator. We describe patients and their condition, or explain various ways we should (or shouldn’t) interact with wildlife – particularly as it relates to urban settings. Sarah, a Thursday PM volunteer, takes a twist to our standard writings and contemplates her relationship to our wild patients as she writes about it from how she might imagine their point of view.

“The other morning, I woke with a sniffle and a sneeze. At first I blamed it on inhaling too much incense cedar pollen when arranging festive greenery for the holidays. But half a day and tons of sneezes later, I knew I was just sick, suffering from what turned out to be a full-blown sinus infection.

Of course, being sick meant missing my last Chintimini volunteer shift of 2017. As I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself for not getting to clean bird poop off walls or behead dead mice for a raptor’s dinner, I suddenly realized that I could look at being sick as an opportunity to relate to the winged and non-winged convalescents at Chintimini Wildlife Center (CWC) in an entirely a new way. For the record: I do not eat mice and I generally manage to not poop on walls. Those aren’t the areas of relating I’m getting at. Rather, it’s that I could not reliably gauge my caregiver’s intentions toward me as I recovered.

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It’s true my caregiver is a loving, domesticated (at times unscrupulous) beast, and there does exist greater understanding between domesticated animals and humans relative to that between wild animals and humans. Even so, how can I really know whether my cat was sleeping on my feet to keep them cozy OR if it she was merely setting an ‘alarm’ to ensure she wouldn’t miss a potential feeding opportunity if I got up to rewarm my tea? Being on the other side of this inter-species interaction made me wonder: If I can’t discern my beloved cat’s intentions, how can I presume to understand the thoughts of injured wildlife anymore than they can understand mine?

One of CWC’s primary goals is to provide “a place where impacted wildlife can receive quality care while being treated with the respect and admiration that is their due.” BOTH domesticated and wild animals deserve respect; however, the ways in which we express those values look very different in practice.

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You won’t find volunteers with bigger hearts than those of CWC. And it is wonderful to see how rewarding it is for community members who successfully deliver struggling wildlife to safety. Empathy is such a rush!! It just makes you want to help every single patient in every way possible!! This is such a good thing…to a point.

Such states of unbridled empathy also come with the risk of forgetting that our patients are, in fact, wild creatures, not pets or babies to be held and petted and talked to.

Handling wildlife in this manner can potentially cause even the very best of intentions to backfire. But more than simply acknowledging our inability to read animals’ minds, we need also to realize, internally, that empathy is not a license to thrust human conceptions of ‘soothing care’ onto creatures completely unaccustomed to them.

This fundamental respect for wildlife is not limited to volunteers at wildlife care centers, nor is it limited only to encounters with sick, injured, or lost wildlife.

Rather, we all share the responsibility of treating wildlife with the utmost respect and awe. They are not just around to pose with you for selfies! If you find yourself struggling in the quest to tame your empathy, the following ‘approximations’ may be an illuminating place to start:

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Can You Relate?
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To understand why injured, lost, or sick wildlife don’t seem ‘to like’ you:
Imagine waking to a strange environment with no clue as to how you got there. Notice the creatures hovering above you. Didn’t you just see these guys in a re-run of The X-Files? Why are they just staring at you? Oh no, are they poking you?! Personally, if I woke up to find myself kidnapped by aliens in a real-life X-Files scenario I might find it a little disconcerting.

To understand why wildlife patients don’t understand that we’re trying to
help them:
Remember how scary it was to get vaccinations as a child, not understanding that it was actually in your best interest? There’s a reason the nurse had to lure you into the exam room with lollipops.

To understand why maintaining healthy fear of humans is desirable:
Do you remember when you learned not to touch a hot stovetop? Animals released to the wild must continue to avoid humans in the future, possibly saving their or their offsprings’ lives.”

Sarah, Thursday PM Volunteer