So the original idea of justadogcatcher was stemmed from the concept that in the public’s eye all we do is catch and contain dogs. Even in this day, I still get strange looks when I try to explain all the different services we provide to all the different species of animals that share our world, both indigenous and invasive. It seems in the last few months, I’ve done all sorts of work, mainly with anything but dogs.
I did have the foster puppies at the house for a while. Mom and babies, little poop machines, gaining weight and growing up as healthy as possible before being adopted into new homes, hopefully the right ones and hopefully for life. They took up a lot of space, and energy, and laundry detergent. And I do have another foster at the house already, now that they are gone, this one is an adult that came from a disturbingly questionable background that I probably won’t ever discuss with anyone fully; it doesn’t matter now, she’s headed in a new direction, once we can determine exactly what caused the lameness in her hind leg and how we can fix it. She is a complete pleasure and despite her past there isn’t a darn thing wrong with her emotionally, just a physical deformity that will soon be repaired or eliminated, whatever the vet decides.
Wildlife has been nonstop however, and sometimes I find the people are more exhausting than the rehab itself. People with good intentions breaking the law, people with selfish intentions averting assistance, ignoring counsel, lives hanging in the balance while we delicately maneuver the minefield of education and enforcement.
It’s no secret that when people find an animal, regardless of species but especially dogs, they instantly, sometimes subconsciously, assume a sort of ownership. They get possessive of a creature that an hour prior they didn’t even know existed. They refer to it’s personality with such confidence, as if they’ve known it since birth. Relatively quickly they decide the ownership status, and come to various conclusions about it’s diet, upbringing, and overall health. They make decisions based on lots of outside opinions (usually gleaned from social media) and very little information (also selectively gleaned from social media) on where it should go, to whom, and when. As officers, on a regular basis we have to delicately negotiate the release of an animal into our custody. Maintaining an open line of communication, educating without offending, encouraging without demanding, and supporting without judging, knowing that if a wrong word is said, or even if the right words are taken in the wrong way, the phone call is over and I will probably never see the animal. For me, for whatever reason, this situation often seems more important when I’m dealing with wildlife.
I actually had a caller the other day who informed me that since she found the fledgling barred owl on property her boyfriend owned, she wasn’t breaking the law by having it in a cage in her living room for two days. I could tell she felt entitled to take it. It is those rare few who illustrate a right, an assumed authority over a creature they have stumbled
upon, that must be handled with the most care. These types don’t necessarily want what is best for the animal. More often than not they want what’s best for themselves, which is undying gratitude from me for their selfless act of gathering up an animal simply because they could get close enough to it, a 3 minute telephonic course in how to rehabilitate and raise the animal themselves, and if they absolutely decide they can’t do it (usually after a short but precise description of what is actually involved in rearing whatever they have found), an accurate estimation of the time you will arrive to release them from the burden of care they have decided they no longer want. And it better be less than an hour, otherwise prepare for a tongue lashing about how I’m a bad person because I can’t help them immediately.
This woman had already called and hung up on numerous other rehabilitators because she wasn’t getting the answers that she wanted, those she spoke to didn’t pass her evaluation and weren’t deemed worthy I guess. By the time I spoke to her, she had more questions about my personal experience and associations than she did about the animal itself. I detailed to her how easy it is for owls to imprint, and that I hope she is keeping the owl covered and out of earshot and line of sight from her and her boyfriend, otherwise she could render him un-releasable (surely she learned that when she googled what to feed it, right?). I quickly touched on the federal laws in regards to migratory birds and raptors, (how dare I make her feel like a criminal) and advised of my profession and associations with various wildlife groups in the area, while she hemmed and hawed about wanting to tell me where she was and when I could send someone to pick up the animal. I assured her I would pass her info along to the raptor center and they would be in touch, and she said okay. That delicate creature was at the mercy of this woman, and it all hinged on her opinion of me, which would now be based on exactly 2 minutes and 47 seconds of conversation. It was like a job interview, with a life hanging in the balance.
I’ve had numerous conversations where I hang up the phone and know I won’t ever see the animal. You can tell when a conversation has gone wrong, or the person who called you never had any intention of turning the animal over in the first place and was just looking for advice. But some calls, within the first two sentences, you know it’s literally a life or death situation. Like when someone calls and asks if it’s legal for them to just kill it.
He had an opossum in a trap. He was angry about the damage it (according to him) had done to his pretty grass, his yard he had spent money on, and he wanted to kill the animal while it was in the trap. For whatever reason, he called to verify that it was in fact legal for him to proceed, he was insistent that someone at our facility had advised him previously that it was okay for him to dispatch anything he caught. I told him it was in fact not legal for him to harm the animal, and that he was legally responsible for it’s well being once it was contained. I asked him multiple times for his address and advised I would send an officer out quickly to remove the animal, but he continued to detail his hatred for it and the damage it had done to his property and how he wanted to kill it. AS he talked I quickly searched our multiple databases with the phone number on the caller ID to see if he was in the system… no luck. I convinced him that without our involvement, he would most assuredly continue to get other animals on his property, and that our services are free of charge and we are happy to help make this as easy as possible. He finally agreed to allow us to help, provided me his address, and we dispatched an officer to educate and remove the animal.
Once back at the shelter, the officer told me the property damage was from an armadillo. She was able to educate him about the multiple food sources he had on his property, including a large un-kept fruit tree, and various sources of shelter he was unknowingly providing the nature he so despised. She also revealed the multiple tentacles from the underbelly, (tiny tails from her pouch), and said that the man’s intention was to suffocate the animal in a bag. 8 little babies and one starved and struggling mom, in the wrong place at the wrong time, saved from an unnecessary and incredibly cruel, senseless death.
Bat season is right around the corner. All the squirrels are outside in various pre-release cages, and the rehab room is ready for the tiny moms and tinier babies to come in. We have already started getting in reds and evenings waking from torpor and getting tossed around by windy days and stormy nights. Most of them I keep for a few days to fill their
bellies and observe their flight capabilities, then let them on their way. The last one I got was a feisty female, she had been hanging above a doorway in an apartment complex breezeway overnight. They called on Sunday night, and I asked them to observe her overnight, since the previous evening was quite windy there was a possibility she was waiting for the weather to calm down before she left. I received a text message the next morning that she was still there, and they were over it, and if I didn’t come out soon then the broom would be coming out of the closet. She was not in the living area of the home. She hadn’t moved, wasn’t threatening anyone. But still, the desire was to sweep her away like an old cobweb. Luckily I was off work that morning, and was able to drop everything to go pick her up. She was dehydrated and starving, and eventually released just fine.
Some days these scenarios are harder to swallow than others. Some days at work are relentless with anxiety. An angry dog owner being cited for no rabies proof after a dog bite; a mother and daughter becoming increasingly agitated because they live in an apartment with breed restrictions and only want to visit with Pit Bulls and German Shepards; A man getting louder and louder about how he drove 60 minutes only to find out that we don’t have any kittens the exact sex and age he wants; an impatient woman placing a dirty box trap with a rat inside on the same counter we place young puppies on during adoption; a citizen from another city leaving an unwanted dog in the reclaim area and slipping out the door. Just another day, same old same old, expect it again tomorrow. We learn how to cope, how to deescalate, how to apologize, how to back each other up, how to make each other laugh, how to get through things when it gets this thick. Without a dedicated team, a support system of camaraderie with a common goal, one would crumble beneath the weight of these constant pressures. With the combined compassion of the chosen few, we can continue to save the lives of the ones who end up at the mercy of those without.