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Dude, a wild animal is not your bro

Photo by Vrieze Photography

Have you ever rescued an orphaned wild animal? Then you probably know how easy it is to become emotionally attached. Adorable and helpless, these orphans bring out the best in us, our desire to nurture, protect and love.

While in the grip of these feelings, we may sometimes lose sight of what is best for these babies, which is to grow up wild and free. Though it can be hard to give these orphans to wildlife rehabilitators to raise, people usually do the right thing. Brian and Kelly, who brought in a baby raccoon, were no exception, though Brian's emotional attachment to his "baby" was especially strong.

Brian found the raccoon kit alone and starving and brought it back to his apartment, where he and his wife cared for it for several weeks. The routine of caring for the raccoon had taken over their lives and Brian had turned the kit into a surrogate child. Kelly was more realistic. She knew the raccoon needed to be raised with other raccoons and released back to the wild someday.

Brian's love clouded his judgment. Though he wanted what was best for his "baby," letting go was difficult. After phone conversations with Brian failed to convince him to bring in the kit, we eventually made our case face-to-face. It took all of our powers of persuasion to convince Brian that letting his baby go was the best course for everyone.

The raccoon kit was called Dude. Brian had intended to name him Bandit but, after getting a whiff of the baby's poop for the first time, he reproachfully exclaimed, "Oh, dude!" and the name stuck. (Carnivore and omnivore poop can be foul-smelling. An incorrect diet only makes things worse.)

When Brian brought Dude to us, he was like a nervous parent taking his child to kindergarten for the first time. He was full of worries, rules and restrictions to safeguard his "child." At the time we had three other raccoons about Dude's age. Brian insisted that we keep Dude separate from the others because he worried that they would bully Dude. He also requested that we keep Dude's special slipper, T-shirt and teddy bear with him, so that Brian's smell would keep Dude from feeling homesick.

After Brian left, we gradually introduced Dude to the other raccoons. Soon they were all happily romping around and playing together. Later, they collapsed into a shaggy heap of grizzled fur, individual animals indistinguishable.

Brian called that evening to ask how Dude was doing and to tell us that he'd been worrying about him all day. Thinking he'd be delighted to hear how well things were going, we told him how happy Dude was to be with the others. However, interpretation is in the ear of the listener, and Brian had an unexpected take on our news. "It's because Dude is lonely and misses me!" he said.

Given Brian's take on things, we were not surprised to see his hatchback pull into the driveway the next morning. A bleary-eyed Brian emerged clutching another T-shirt for Dude as well as a bagful of food treats. He hadn't been able to sleep the previous night, he said. "I knew Dude was crying for me all night," he said. "I just know he missed me and that he couldn't sleep, either."

Usually we don't let non-volunteers into our rehab area, but we thought it would be good for Brian to see how happy Dude was. Dude was snoozing contentedly, buried in the pile of raccoons. Brian dug the sleeping Dude out from the pile and hugged him, but Dude struggled. When Brian released him, Dude did not acknowledge him. Instead, he bolted straight for the cage containing the other raccoons. Brian left, realizing that Dude was already becoming wild and didn't need him.

Dude grew up playful, curious and wild and was successfully released in the fall. Brian's sacrifice gave Dude the life he was born to live, wild and free.

Peggy Farr

Peggy Farr is a volunteer and board member of Wildwoods and works in human health care.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

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