If you have an animal that needs care…
The first step is to call my hotline number: 978-820-0124. I need to help you assess the situation, and then affirm that I can accept the animal(s) and have room in my clinic. I do not accept any animals on site without a prior phone call. If I can accept, I will make arrangements with you to meet. If I cannot, I will guide you to other rehabilitators in the state.
Wildlife clinics are necessarily private (wildlife are not like dogs or cats – they need extreme quiet and isolation from humans to recover) and not open to the public, so once an animal is dropped off there are no visits, though I can report to you on the status of the animal.
Currently I accept (when I have room): eastern cottontail rabbits, eastern grey squirrels, red squirrels, southern flying squirrels, eastern chipmunks, Virginia opossums, porcupines, and painted, spotted, red-eared slider, eastern musk and snapping turtle hatchlings. I do not accept any rabies vector-prone mammals (such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats) or large turtles but can refer you to a rehabilitator who does. If you are unsure what species you have, please call me for help.
Worst case scenario - you can’t find anyone to help…
If you cannot make contact with me or another rehabilitator and you feel you need to act quickly, here are some guidelines to help you assess the situation.
The number one priority is your own safety. If the animal you are observing acts erratically or aggressively, remove yourself from the situation. This includes other people and domestic animals, too. You do not want to be bitten or attacked. Certain animals, such as raccoons, foxes, bats and skunks are designated as “rabies-vector” species, meaning they are more susceptible to catching and transmitting the disease. I recommend the public not handle these species for this reason, regardless of their behaviors.
If the animal of concern is submissive and you are able to approach it, then your timely help may save it. Wear gloves that protect but still enable you to get a firm grasp of the animal. In the case of a mammal, get a cardboard box and punch some small holes in it ahead of time. Then get a pillowcase, towel (preferably non-terry ) or fleece throw and drop the cloth over the animal, especially over its eyes. Gently tuck the cloth around the body to keep it from squirming. The sooner the animal’s eyes are covered the sooner it will calm down. Most wildlife will think you a predator, so removing that vision-connection helps them calm down.
If there is evidence of a broken wing or limb (it hangs, droops, or juts out at an awkward angle), keep the animal loosely wrapped in the cloth (making sure it can breathe) to keep it from further injuring itself. Close and tape the box. Do NOT administer food or water or attempt to fix an injury. Stressed animals need quiet and darkness to recover from trauma. Some animals, such as rabbits, can die simply of shock, so resist the temptation to watch the animal or allow children and play with it. The sooner a quiet, dark place is secured, the better the chance for its survival.
Babies need to be kept warm. A hot water bottle or heating pad covered by a blanket may be placed in the box. If you do not have one of these, try putting very warm water in a plastic water bottle and insert it in a sock as a makeshift heat source and place in the box. If the animal seems to be suffering from overheating (panting, sunken eyes, lethargy), keep the box out of the sun or heat, in a ventilated location. Weakened animals rarely drink from a dish of water, but after a period of quiet, thirsty babies may occasionally suck warm(not hot or cool) water or warmed unflavored Pedialyte from a Q-tip or soft, clean paint brush tip. Do not force any animal to feed or drink as it can aspirate and die. Wait for a rehabilitator to give you further instructions.
Once the animal is contained, try to reach a rehabilitator from the Massachusetts Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife List:
or call Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Grafton at 508-839-7918 or the New England Wildlife Center in South Weymouth at 871-682-4878 to determine your next step.
Reptiles are different…
If you find a turtle on the road and it is uninjured - whether it is a baby or an adult - do not capture it. Turtles instinctively want to live close to where they were hatched. Simply move it out of harm’s way off the roadway in the direction it was going, so it can get on its way. However, do not attempt to move or handle a snapping turtle unless you have training.
If you find an injured turtle (most have shell injuries from getting hit by cars), gently lift it by grabbing under the shell on either side with both hands and placing it into a plastic bin, being careful not to further crack the shell. Occasionally turtles also get stuck on hot pavement that semi-melts. These animals need rehydration. I recommend adding water in bottom of the bin, just below the level of the turtle’s head. There is some discussion about the value of rehydration soaks, but it appears clear that they help stimulate turtles to urinate and “wake” their systems after dehydration lethargy.
If you discover a large turtle with extensive shell injuries and you can not manage it, record where you saw it and contact one of the large turtle rehabilitators in the state, such as The Turtle Rescue League (phone: 774-318-0734).
Hard facts — your best intentions can kill…
Wildlife have fragile wills when taken out of their natural landscapes. Never administer pain medications used for domestic animals, and never offer pet food or cow’s milk to baby animals. Dosages, formulas and nutritional protocols are different for wild animals and are species-specific. Keep in mind, too, that YouTube videos are not reliable tutorials when it comes to caring for wild animals. Most are well-meaning but not always accurate. A light touch is always best during the first several hours.