Monday, August 13, 2007

My soft spot...

I have a soft spot for the fuzzy critters. It has, in the past, led my mother to shake her head and sigh, before getting me an old towel and the kitten bottle, or a syringe, or neosporin and some gauze, depending on the situation.

Farmmom has the same soft spot, though, so she only made me promise to find homes for whatever balls of fur I brought home. Sometimes, it caused her to bring me the fuzzy ones.

I have a certain talent for nursing critters, I guess. Anyway, I've had a fairly good success rate with kittens, injured dogs, and the occasional sparrow. That, combined with my notorious soft spot, has caused other people to bring me critters to save, too. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

When they were cleaning up the area around the ethanol plant near my hometown, they flushed a raccoon from her nest. When they looked closer, they discovered that she had a litter, and several of the workers decided to split the litter amongst themselves. One of the workers knew me, and brought the tiny little bandit to me.

This little guy was so new, his eyes weren't open yet. He was tiny and fragile, and fit in the palm of my hand. Nevertheless, he made plenty of noises as I took him from the bowl lined with a towel that they had used to transport him. His little nose sniffed the air and he chuckled to himself as I talked to him and cradled him against my body to warm him up, while I set up a heating pad under a towel, and an old stuffed animal, in one of our cat carriers.

He cuddled with the stuffed lady bug on the heating pad while I dug out the bottle, and the rodent nipple that I'd never used before, mixed up some condensed milk with a little honey, my standard first meal for quick energy, and warmed it up.

I was concerned about his body temp, but he was a little warmer when I got him out, and he drank a little bit out of the bottle, so I was optimistic.

I cuddled him and talked to him a little bit, to help teach him my scent and my voice, and then put him back in his warm cage while I did some research on the 'net.

See, I'd never tried to save a baby raccoon before. I'd never read anything about it, or seen any shows that concerned it, or anything. So I was in a bad place... I didn't know anything.

Two hours later, I was ready to take a break and give him another feeding, and I knew a little more.

Like the fact that those well-intentioned workers had done the worst thing possible for those little guys by splitting them up. I tried to contact some of them, and arrange for them to be taken care of for a couple of weeks at least, in groups of two or three, but I couldn't get a hold of anyone.

See, baby 'coons don't generate enough body heat for themselves. They survive their first weeks by staying in a big pile with the rest of the litter, with their mother helping keep them warm most of the time. There also seems to be a psychological connection with the litter, since individual 'coons rarely survive, even if they're kept warm. Behaviorists think that the babies only feel secure when they have their families around them, and its possible that the stress of being alone kills them.

So, the lady bug and the heat pad stayed.

Throughout that night, I got up every couple of hours to warm up the bottle and get tiny amounts down him. I cuddled him and talked to him, and he talked back with that chittering chuckle that I've only heard from him.

I fell in love with that little guy in that short space of time. He was tiny and cute, but already he had an attitude. If I pulled the nipple from him before he was finished with his tiny meal, he'd scold me. If he was napping when it was time to eat, he'd tell me about it.

Its hard to rescue anything without falling in love with it. How do you put the effort in to get up every two or three hours to bottle feed something, anything, without loving it a little? If it's not about love, then the effort just isn't worth it.

The next morning, I woke up to his chuckling, and looked at the clock. He still had an hour to go before he needed another feeding, so I left him in his warm bed, and had a cup of coffee.

When I went back to get him and feed him, he was dead. Maybe the behaviorists are right and he was too stressed to live, but I'll never know. None of the rest of the litter lived, either, even the two that went to the same home.

Sometimes, you just can't save them, no matter how hard you try.


Anonymous said...

Kinda reminds me too of these people who pick up "orphaned fawns". A fawn usually isn't orphaned until they pick it up and take it home. Usually the doe is close by and out of sight which is about where the fawn was intending to be too.


Anonymous said...

I raised a porcupine, (placenta attached at recovery) that settled into our lives and did the obligatory visit to the Vet. when he fell from our tree.
Calls to the Stanford Vet Clinic conferred that no porky had yet to be anaesthetised. Can you spell free service? Ours was the first and was a sleep-in-bed pet. Go figure.

Ereshkigal said...

Having picked up more than a few strays myself, I understand exactly where you're coming from. Immediately after a major ferret rescue, I spent a lot of time volunteering at the shelter in my area that took them all in. (All told, we had about 80! ferrets come from deplorable conditions.)

Females stay in heat until they're impregnated or die, so all the females had to go into surgery before they could be taken home. My girl was one of the ones who appeared otherwise healthy but died from stress during the surgery. All told, I think there were 10 that died from the stress. It's never easy.