Archive for Friday, May 24, 2013

Letter: Vet responds

May 24, 2013


To the editor:

This a follow-up to my May, 8 response to the May 5 Journal-World article “Concert … baby wildlife.” The article identified Operation Wildlife (OWL) as a reliable organization that would receive wounded or orphaned wildlife. Information on handling the animals or warnings regarding the danger of rabies exposure was not included. I didn’t want some good-hearted individual injured and exposed to rabies. I made no comments regarding OWL or their activities. Besides information on rabies, I commented on the dangers of handling cranes or herons. Untrained people have lost an eye or piece of their face trying to help these water fowl.

OWL volunteers have taken me to task for offering information regarding rabies public health.

I was a mixed animal practitioner in south-central Minnesota and northeast Iowa for 27 years and served as a federal veterinarian for six years.

An OWL volunteer used a state rabies lab’s data of one year to present an opinion. During the years of receiving this data, I never evaluated it in a like manner. However, 47 percent of positive cases are skunks. People do make pets of baby skunks and request veterinary clinics to de-scent and vaccinate them.

I must commend OWL in their dedication to operate a labor-, safety- and financially demanding organization dedicated to the care of varmints, bunnies, birds and other lesser species.


Ken Lassman 4 years, 12 months ago

Thanks for coming back to this public forum, Steve, and commending OWL for their efforts to monitor and rehabilitate local wildlife populations. It was important to distinguish your legitimate concerns for safety when working with wildlife from the actual performance of this organization, which has a good track record on all of these accounts as far as I can tell.

I do want to tweak your response in a small but important way, at least to me, though: the other species of animals that share our homes and landscapes with are certainly different, but I think your term "lesser species" is off the mark. Can you hear like a coyote, fly like a bird, swim like a fish, or burrow like a gopher? Can you survive the winter by digging into the mud and hibernate like a frog or a salamander? We like to think we are a superior animal because we can do things that others can't, especially rearranging the environment to suit our needs, but from a planetary perspective, we're definitely a Johnny-come-lately and the jury is definitely still out as to who is "lesser" in the grand scheme of things.

But thanks again for revisiting the issue of wildlife rehabilitation and the positive impact OWL is having for our larger community.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 12 months ago

"...of varmints, bunnies, birds and other lesser species."

I have no idea what this means.

Joe Hyde 4 years, 12 months ago

Dr. Willson and Operation Wildlife are both to be commended for educating the public on the danger of approaching, or improperly handling, animals that appear in need of rescue.

Once while paddling the Delaware River, I happened upon a great blue heron that had gotten one of its wings and a leg tangled in monofilament fishing line. A pitiful sight; I knew the bird was doomed unless that fishing line was cut free soon. So I maneuvered my canoe close, hoping for an opportunity to pin the bird. But the heron kept hopping ahead just beyond my reach; I couldn't grab it and finally left the scene feeling very disappointed that I'd been unable to help.

Relating this encounter to a wildlife volunteer later that same day, the volunteer told me how lucky I was not to have grabbed the bird. He told me about a wildlife volunteer in Florida who got killed after picking up an injured heron. The bird drew back its long neck, then with a lightning-quick stroke drove its long, sharp beak into the volunteer's neck like an Indian lance, puncturing the volunteer's carotid artery and killing the volunteer there on the spot. Same thing might have happened to me.

In another, similar local encounter, one winter day while paddling the Kaw River I happened across an adult bald eagle that was walking on the ground struggling in an obvious state of physical distress. Wounded or sick, I didn't know which. Our national bird: no way was I about to just let it die there. But due to the current speed at that particular spot, plus the almost vertical riverbank, I had no way to get out of my canoe, approach the eagle and throw my jacket over its head (which I'd seen done on TV as a way to calm birds of prey).

Relating this encounter days later to a federal wildlife biologist who is a bald eagle specialist, the biologist assured me how lucky I was for having been unable to reach the bird. A bald eagle, he told me, can drive home those 8 long talons with a force of over 200 lbs. pressure. If somehow the bird had grabbed hold of me...well, eagles don't let go until they're ready, and it could have been an hour or more before I was released. Meantime, the bird's talons could have punctured vital arteries, veins and nerves, not to mention what it could have done to me with its hooked beak.

Point being it's easy, it's an instinctive reaction, for us humans to be led by our feelings of compassion and concern into attempting direct physical contact with sick or injured wild animals. Happens all the time.

I was lucky twice, and I won't roll the dice again. Not because I don't care, but because I lack the protective gear and training to do such a high-risk task safely.

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