As you might be able to tell from the video, our surprise visitor was a baby raccoon! Two of Dr. Bob’s clients found this little guy while getting their mail in the morning and drove him to us right away. Based on his size, he was too young to be off on his own and was likely dropped by Mom while transferring him from one den and another. He seemed to be in good health and we were hopeful we could reunite him with his mother.
Working in the countryside with Dr. Bob, I anticipated I might run into a situation like this. However, even with the preparation that it might happen, I was so excited when this boy landed on the doorstep! I have always been a fan of wildlife, both local and exotic. During the summers at the cottage with my family, we made trips to the dump to watch the bears rooting through the garbage. My parents were forced to buy a season pass to the zoo when I was a child, and every weekend, every PA Day from school, every opportunity there was, we had to make a trip to see the animals. And now, in my late 20s I was finally getting to work directly with wildlife as a student veterinarian. I was stoked!
First thing on the agenda: name him (of course). We all agreed on Rocky the Raccoon. He spent a short portion of the morning with us as we prepared him for “Operation Rocky”, a mission to reunite him with his mother. Operation Rocky was fairly straightforward (and outlined below in case you have an Operation Rocky of your own) but a few things should be noted first:
- Minimize any handling of the animal you’ve found. It is stressful for them, and can lead to injury from biting or scratching, or transmission of various diseases. If you need to handle the animal at all, wear protective equipment like gloves or utilize objects like a towel to move them.
- Contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately! They have a breadth of knowledge and resources that can help you get help for the animal you’ve found. Some great websites for more information and help are: Toronto Wildlife Centre, Ontario Wildlife Rescue and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
- Do not feed the animal! Although it’s the first thing that comes to mind to help, feeding can actually be detrimental to the animal’s health. For example: foods the animal is not used to eating may cause serious digestive problems. If they are sick or hurt, they may not be able to digest the food given to them and they may bloat or go into shock. Another possibility is that they may accidently inhale the food instead of swallowing, leading to aspiration pneumonia. Unfortunately, all of these scenarios can result in death.
Steps for Operation Rocky:
- Contain Rocky in a container that is large enough to prevent escape while still allowing Momma Rocky to retrieve him. Our choice was the cardboard box from our in-clinic syringes. It had tall enough sides to keep Rocky contained and had a folding lid that protected him from direct sunlight.
- Provide a heat source to prevent the risk of hypothermia. This is especially important in young animals and because Mom will not retrieve cold babies. We provided blankets and a hot water bottle for Rocky. Other options could include a heating pad (if electricity were available), microwaveable heating bags, or self-heating devices like the pods you can put in mittens or boots in the winter.
- Leave Rocky where we found him for Momma Rocky to come get him. We had to think of a game plan if it rained (place the box inside a plastic bag on its side or wait out a storm if it’s too crazy - Mom won’t come back anyways if it’s too bad out) and if passerbys attempted another rescue (equip the box with a sign like this ready made one).
Check to see if Momma Rocky returned after one full night. We placed Rocky out that afternoon and waited until after dawn the next day before checking on him again. Watch as we set Rocky out to reunite with his mother:
We had great success with Rocky and he was gone the next morning when we returned to check on him. We imagine Momma Rocky was happy to have her son back and I was super happy that my first wildlife rescue as a student veterinarian was victorious!