Seeing the occasional possum or backyard squirrel nest is just part of living in Florida. As the population in Pinellas surges, close contact with the local critters is unavoidable.
Reef Dog Gifts and Grooming owner Karen DeSocio experienced that first-hand in July when she came across an 8-week-old, seemingly dead possum in the road.
“I pulled up next to it, opened my door, looked down and it lifted its head and looked right at me,” DeSocio said. “I had a small jacket next to me that I used to pick up the tiny little [joey] and place it in my [pet carrier] that is always in my car in case things like this happen.”
A call to local rescue SPCA Wildlife Intake put the animal in the hands of rehabilitators. After three weeks of formula feedings, she was released back into the wild.
According to Birds in Helping Hands Director Shelley Vickery, this is one of the best outcomes for displaced or injured animals.
Vickery, who is the “on the ground” rescuer for many of the calls to her nonprofit, stands by the biggest rule for those who find themselves in the presence of an injured animal: Do not try to rehabilitate the animal yourself.
“The best thing to do is get a box and throw a towel over it,” Vickery said. “Wait for a rescue or wrap the animal in a towel and take it to the nearest place that will accept it.”
A towel can keep the animal – especially young animals – warm and keep it from injuring itself or you.
In the case of larger animals, a laundry basket with a heavy book over it can keep the creature in place while you wait for help to come.
“Please stay with the animal; it’s so difficult to find them once you move on,” Vickery said.
Another misconception about local wildlife, particularly in the case of an baby falling from a nest, is that the animal’s mother will come back for it.
Birds are not capable of doing this, Vickery says.
“Squirrels might, [but] the best bet is to get them off the ground, into a box and play baby squirrel noises on Youtube near them for about 40 minutes,” she said. “If the baby is injured [the mother] most likely won’t come back.”
However, as Gulfport resident Sara Anderson found out, it’s best to consult an expert for each unique situation.
Anderson found herself with two screech owl babies, which she named Biscuits and Gravy, when she had a diseased tree removed from her property last May.
A volunteer from Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife came to assess the situation and confirm that the babies were almost flying age.
“They gave us a wooden owl’s nest and we nailed it to the closest tree where the babies’ old tree was,” Anderson said. “As soon as dusk came, momma owl was in the new tree near the nest. She found them!”
Depending on where you are located, these rescues can offer help and advice in the face of a furry, or feathered catastrophe. Rescue and drop off times vary by situation.
Birds in Helping Hands: 727-365-4592
Blue Pearl Pet Hospital and Specialty Veterinarian: 24/7 hours. 727- 572-0132
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary: 727-391-6211
Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife: 813-598-5926
Josephine’s Rattery & Small Pet Rescue: 561-510-3728
More Tips from Birds in Helping Hands
Do not try to give an injured or abandoned baby animal water or food; if not done properly they can drown.
Do not keep an animal for a prolonged period of time before bringing it to a rehabilitation center. The animal, particularly babies, can imprint on rescuers and face difficulty being released.
It is illegal to set traps without checking them every 24 hours.
In the case of ducks, if you see one limping and there is no visible blood or bone, it’s most likely fine. Ducks are prone to sprained legs and can recover fast.
And, though it should go without saying, dumping or releasing any pet is illegal – and cruel. Call a local vet or animal shelter to learn how to surrender your animal responsibly.
“What to Do” is a new, semi-regular series from the Gabber helping readers know what to do in various situations. Got a subject you’d like to learn more about? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.