Monday, November 14, 2016

"Is he more like a dog or a cat?"

Whenever we take our mammals out for education, or post pictures of them somewhere, the most common question we are asked is, “is it more like a dog or a cat”.  My response is always, “well, he’s just like the species he is”.  Sure, we can compare pretty much anything to a dog or cat if we try really hard, like, “my girlfriend is more like a cat, a bit aloof and scratches often”, or “my other girlfriend is like a dog, very loyal”, but it is kind of a stretch, don’t you think?
It really is just as much of a stretch to compare a raccoon, skunk or fox to a cat or dog.  Yes, they all have fur, yes, they all have tails, but really, as for personality, that is where the similarities end.  

I know that people ask because they are trying to relate it in their own head to something they know and understand, but the comparison is just not fair.  Sure, I could tell you that a skunk is a lot like a cat.  Doesn’t jump all over you when you get home (usually), and will lay in your lap and allow you to pet them (usually).  And, they do shed, so that’s like a cat, right?  Wait, that’s also like a dog, isn’t it?

Given that skunks are only awake 2-4 hours a day, that’s a little cat like, right?  But wait, I’ve got dogs that are only awake that much.  Hmm….I know, I know….

A skunk is JUST like a skunk!

So, we can force an explanation as to how each is like another, but it would not be an accurate depiction of life with that species.  We seriously hesitate to give an inaccurate picture of living with any species, this is how pets end up needing homes.

So, the next time I say something like, “well, he’s just like a fox”, please know I’m not being a smarty boots, I’m trying to be fair to the animals.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We asked some of our JR volunteers what they have learned through working with CLAWS and here were some of their answers:

CLAWS, is a wildlife rescue, rehab, and education organization that is entirely non-profit, all of the work is done by volunteers. Even Kindra and Vinny, who run CLAWS, only get paid in animal pellets and other things they clean up. Volunteering with CLAWS has taught me a lot of things, from working with wildlife, to working with people, and I enjoyed every moment of learning.

To start as a volunteer with CLAWS is to go right into working with the public. Everyone starts volunteering at a public educational event. Most people start as a spotter, someone who stands next to a holder and keeps the public from getting too close. However, I started out holding Grip the African raven, so right away I was talking to the public. Telling all these people why he was one of our permanent education birds and answering questions about Grip, ravens in general and CLAWS. I don’t normally like to talk to people but doing it to educate them about the birds made it easy. It helped, of course, that each bird’s story is like a script.  I learned how to talk to people, and that it’s not so hard to do if you're talking about something you enjoyed.
As I continued volunteering at more educational events, for the next 3 years I got to hold a variety of birds, such as Grip, the African raven, and Eastern Screech Owls. The Screech owls think they are very fierce, but are also very tiny. Both Grip and the Screech are level one birds. I also held The barn owl River and barred owl Watani level two birds. At a recent show, I got the privilege of holding Kiwi the Coopers hawk a level three bird. Holding all the different birds and learning their stories were amazing, each of them has a different personality and I enjoy holding Grip every bit as much as a Kiwi.
Other than at shows there is another way to volunteer, and that is to take phone shifts. On phone shifts calls are forwarded to your phone and people leave a message with their name, number, county and information about the animal they are concerned about. When on phones you listen to these messages and call the people back to tell them what they need to do, be that put the animal back in its nest, leave it alone, bring the animal in, or put them in contact with another rehabber in their area who can help when we can't.

Taking phone shifts requires you to talk to a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds and dispositions. Sometimes telling the person on the other end of the phone that they have a fledgling, a bird that has just left the nest and is learning to fly while it's parents continue to care for it a process that takes 1-3 days, and that they should return the bird where they found him and just let him be is easy. Sometimes it's not, people are often convinced that fledglings are full grown birds with broken wings or legs and they want to hear is that they are right and that they need to bring this animal to us or better yet bring it in and take care of it themselves which isn't legal.(?) you have to convince these people to do the right thing and take the bird outside and let him grow up. This is just one example of how you have to talk to people and even convince them that you know what you are doing and that the bird really will be fine in the wild. Taking phones doesn't have a fixed script, what is required to ask and say changes with every phone call and sometimes you have to contact Kindra to ask her what she wants done about a particular case because you don't know. Taking phones taught me to ask if I don't know and how to talk to a variety of people. Talking to people about animals also taught me patience because when someone calls you about an animal they think is injured they are generally scared for the animal and possibly have already talked to multiple people who couldn't or didn't help them before they get to you, so they might not be frustrated and not the most polite and open to what needs to be done. 

Lastly, over the summer, I got to volunteer at the base of operations for CLAWS. While volunteering over the summer, I did and learned so many things. I got to work with the injured animals who were coming in, but I also made food bowls for the permanent animals, I helped inventory supplies, and I filed paperwork and set up the filing system. Knowing how to be organized and take stock of what you have and what you need are important life skills both for work environments and everyday life.

Tatiana W.
Age 17

Volunteering for claws has, and continues to be, an incredible experience. I started volunteering when I was about ten, and I was incredibly shy and hated public speaking. However, from the first moment I held an owl in my hand (well actually on my arm) I would not stop talking. Over time, speaking while working with animals gives you the chance to develop your public speaking skills, because the crowd doesn't focus on you, they focus on the animal. This allows you to get comfortable speaking to crowds without immediately having all the attention on you. Aside from public speaking skills, just working with the animals is rewarding. Nothing feels better than seeing a small, sick, and/or injured animal come in, helping nurse it back to health, and then getting to see it be released into nature again. You also get to form a special bond with the permanent animals. You learn their habits, and even learn to pick up on their cues and body language. Over the years I have noticed that I've gotten better at picking up social cues with humans as a result of this. The experiences you have at claws stay with you forever, and volunteering there hasn't just taught me these skills, it has truly broadened my horizons and allowed me to meet some truly amazing people.

Stephen S.
Age 18

I like CLAWS. When I didn't volunteer with CLAWS, I was scared to be in front of crowds, but since I volunteer now, I'm not afraid of crowds anymore. I am comfortable because I held birds and I talked about them, so I'm more happy than scared. CLAWS taught me that rehabbers help animals. I was afraid of shots and the first time I saw one, I felt shaky. Then I learned that shots can help animals when they are sick and then I was not very scared.

Sunny L.
Age 8

I started at Claws over six months ago and ever since then, I have become more confident in public speaking, handling animals and taking on responsibility. It all started when I went to a Claws event and asked about volunteering. I was thrilled when they accepted me even though I was only 12 years old.

I started out as a spotter, which allowed me to observe the person holding a bird and pick up information about certain birds. I learned a lot about responsibility on my first event, when I got to hold Gimli, an Eastern Screech Owl. I had a more experienced volunteer watching me and making sure that I was handling the bird correctly, which helped me to understand the proper way to handle the bird hands on. Over time, I was allowed to hold other birds, as I learned more and more at each event.

Learning how to properly hold birds wasn't the only thing I learned during my short time with Claws so far. I also learned a lot about animals in general, weather it was on their very informative Facebook page, which is appropriate for children too, or through their willingness to answer any and all questions as accurately as possible.

I have learned about the many species that live in North Carolina, the anatomy of a bird,  and that not all owls are nocturnal. I have picked up many new words that are related to animals. I have also got the chance to learn how being a rehabilitator works.

Volunteering at Claws has given me the opportunity to speak to large crowds without being put on the spot. Because I'm usually holding a bird while talking to the public, I feel that I'm sharing the spotlight, which makes me more relaxed and gives me the chance to enjoy the experience.

I was also invited to a special class by Claws that went through the basics of bird first-aid. I got the chance to inject fluids into a barred owl, which I LOVED! I wouldn't have got the opportunity to get such hands on experience anywhere else, especially as I was only 12.

Over the months that I've been with Claws, I have gotten the chance to learn about the things that interest me the most. I have learned much more than any book can teach me thanks to the openness of Claws. I look forward to volunteering with them in the future.

Emma P.
Age 13

Friday, February 26, 2016

They aren't domestic!

We humans have become so dependent on chemicals to survive that some believe it really is the only way TO survive. 

It amazes me how often we take in an injured wild animal and receive a multitude of questions wondering if we are treating them properly. Are we giving fluids?  Are we medicating?  The problem is, what most humans believe is proper, and what might be proper for a human, really isn’t proper and can be harmful to wildlife. 

Of course, if an animal comes in with an infection, we do give antibiotics.  Or if an animal comes in so dehydrated that they cannot drink on their own, we will give fluids under the skin, using a needle.
But, for the most part, we allow the animal to tell us what the animal needs.  If they are able to drink on their own or eat on their own, we are not going to take extreme measures to force them to eat or drink, we are going to take a much more hands off approach and allow them to eat and drink on their own.
This does not mean animals are allowed to suffer.  Of course, if the pain is so bad that they truly need pain medication that is always done.  But it isn’t done as often or as freely as it would be with a human or even a domestic pet.

Here are just a few of the reasons why:

Being in captivity is stressful for any adult wild animal (babies don’t yet know the difference), doing things like poking them with needles is only going to be that much more stressful and stress can lead to further complications and eventual death.

Giving certain types of pain medication might actually make an injured animal feel ok enough to further injure themselves because they fight being captive.  If it hurts to fight, they will stay calmer and more healing can take place.

Pain medication can often reduce appetite, depriving the animal of nutrients that are much more important than pain relief.

Mother Nature has given animals an amazing ability to heal on their own.  Often what they need is just a place to do that and food while they do.  This is what CLAWS provides.

And honestly, animals adapt to change and even pain much easier and more quickly than we humans do.  If you have ever seen a cat right after having its leg amputated, they are typically up and running before they are even fully awake.   That is nature, that is how they are designed.  And let’s not forget, humans were once this way as well.  Back before science advanced to the point that we now have the “luxury” to sit around and allow ourselves to recover without the fear of being eaten by a predator or having the neighbor take over our homestead because we aren’t working our own land.

The best advice I ever received as a rehabber was:

“Please do not raise them in a sterile environment.  Don’t sterilize bottles after every feeding.”


The same reason parents don’t keep their children in a bubble as they grow up and those that do end up with the first two years of school being very sickly years.

These animals are going back out to the wild where nothing is sterile.  If we raise them in a sterile environment being dependent on chemicals for survival, they won’t be able to survive in the wild.  They’ll get sick as soon as they are released and die.

The goal of every rehabber is to get these animals to the point where they can safely survive on their own in the wild.  The best way to do this is by not making them dependent on things they can only receive in captivity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How it all began

People are always asking how we got started working with animals.  My story is a bit boring, since I’ve always worked with them, but Vinny’s is interesting and funny, so I thought I’d share some of Vinny’s early days with animals here.

Vinny grew up in Brooklyn, NY, not an area known for their pet or wildlife populations.  His dad was going to get him a puppy when he was a child, but his mom told him that he was allergic, so he never got a pet.

Fast forward many years and he marries this weird chick from New Mexico that grew up with pets and tons of other wacky creatures and the adventures begin.  AND he found out that, not only is he not allergic to dogs, he’s not allergic to any animals.  Thank goodness or this story would get super boring right after this line.
When we were first married, our pet population was quite normal, two dogs (a male lhasa apso, named Slimers and a female Chihuahua), two cats (an indoor cat named Stripers and an outdoor cat that actually belonged more to the lhasa apso than the humans and stayed in the yard only) and a parrot.  What could go wrong, right?

Well, Slimers believed he was the “man of the house” and wasn’t all that thrilled having this new male move in to HIS territory. 

So, a month into the marriage, Vinny was coming inside from the backyard, he had to lift one leg really high to step over something and Slimers took that opportunity to jump up and bit him RIGHT between the legs, tearing his jeans and causing some bleeding to occur.  Yes, for a second we questioned whether children would ever be possible in our marriage after this, thankfully, that was all ok, but the lines were drawn.

Six months after that, we had one of those horrible hail storms that Texas is so notorious for, so we had to bring the dog and cat in from outside for their own safety.  The outside cat was sitting in the middle of the yard (not in either one of the two dog houses we provided for them), being pelted by golf ball size hail!  I was seriously afraid he was about to die, so, being the great sport that he is, Vinny ran outside and grabbed the cat, which really hated being held by humans, and rushed him into the house to safety.  Vinny knew enough to keep a tight grip on this cat or he’d get loose and not be caught.  As he went to the utility room (where the cat stayed when he was indoors), he loosened his grip ever so slightly.  As he did, the cat took advantage and ZOOMED up Vinny’s face and down his back, scaled the nearby wall and dove behind the water heater head first, where he got stuck!

There was blood everywhere!  The cat had caught Vinny’s lower lip with his back claw as he climbed over his head and torn it clean open!  And now the cat is stuck.

This all happened as Vinny was leaving for work, so we patched his lip and he headed out the door.  He got halfway down our road and realized that I was not going to be able to unstick the cat by myself since I was pregnant and not as maneuverable as normal, so he came back. 

The cat was lodged so badly between the wall and the water heater and was so far down that he couldn’t reach him and had to punch a hole in the wall from the kitchen to the utility room to get a hand on the cat!  He did this, the cat clawed his face one more time and the event was pretty much over.
To this day, that cat gave Vinny the worst injury he’s ever had from an animal.

Yes, this was Vinny’s initial introduction to living with animals.  And somehow he still works with animals! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Where is Nirvana


One thing we hear often, especially when we have Lady Di (our American kestrel that is missing part of her wing) or one of our other birds that has been captive since they were babies out in public is, “poor thing, I prefer to see them wild” and then when we explain why she isn’t wild, “well, she fell out of her nest as a baby and lost half of her wing and two of her toes” many people will still say, “oh, the poor thing” and then we often hear something along the lines of, “I bet she wishes she was free” and simply walk away without finding out anything about her, why she's with us, or her species.

While I absolutely agree that it is sad that she had an accident, the rest of this sentiment simply escapes me.  Her accident happened seven years ago, when she was a white, fluffy baby; and it must have been incredibly scary for such a tiny creature to be alone and so helpless .  I do not follow the logic on how she, Lady Di, wishes she was free.  For one thing, Lady Di is quite a happy, spunky little bird who has no issues whatsoever expressing her likes and dislikes (just talk to anybody that has held her without her full and complete approval, it doesn’t go well).  She knows exactly how to get exactly what she wants.  Facts that the people making these statements never seem to notice or even bother to ask about.  It would be nice, just once, to have one of these people ask a question, like maybe, “well, how has she adjusted to captivity”, instead of jumping to a conclusion simply because it is in vogue.

These people are missing out on so much, like learning about Lady Di in particular, or learning about her species as a whole, and all because they feel it is their sacred duty to point out that we, as her "captors" are bad and wrong.  

But the bigger reason that I am always taken aback by this assumption, made by people who obviously don’t know her, is WHY do they believe she misses being free?  If she remembers “the wild” (and I’m not really sure how much she would remember, because my own memory of myself as a baby just doesn’t exist, so I’m not sure how much memory birds have of their time as a nestling), what is she missing about what she remembers?  Falling from a tree; breaking very important parts of her body; which had to hurt; laying on the ground, helpless and terrified until a huge predator picked her up and walked off with her.  All of this, from her perspective sounds painful and terrifying, not something that I myself would miss.

Of course, what these people most likely mean is that she misses being able to fly.  And that would make tons of sense to me if Lady Di had ever flown, even once in her entire life, but she hasn’t. Sadly, because these people don't spend the time to learn her story, they don't realize this.

Just as I do not miss living in Paris, because I never have lived in Paris, I highly doubt that Lady Di misses something she’s never done in her life.

For those who might say that flying is instinctual and living in Paris is not, well, yes, that is a valid point.  But there are humans that lose the ability to walk, like soldiers in war, and some people are born unable to walk.  They adjust just as Lady Di has done.  Sure, her life is not what humans believe it was meant to be, but she has adjusted and changed due to her injuries, just as many humans do.  Instead of being wild and helping to control the bird population, she now educates humans about her species.  And thankfully, nobody has shown her the handbook on how to be a kestrel in the wild.

To be brutally honest, if you were to ask Lady Di if she has any complaints about her new life, she would tell you yes, she surely does.  She wants to live in the house with the humans but due to the laws she is not allowed to.  She voices this complaint often and very loudly.

It seems to be in vogue these days to believe that every animal that is living captive is miserable about it and misses the wild.  The sad part about this new view is that nobody seems to be keeping in mind how the animals might feel, or what life in this mythical nirvana place would really be like for that individual animal.  Could they even feed themselves?

Not that I, in any way, condone simply removing animals from the wild for no reason, or for any reason other than the safety and survival of that animal, but those that are captive aren’t all miserable and pining for this mythical “the wild” that people seem to believe exists.

Honestly, if we think of this from Lady Di’s perspective, “the wild” is quite a terrifying place, that, were I her, I’d be quite pleased to be away from. 

Just as I do not “miss” living as humans were originally meant to live (remember, we didn’t start out with electricity and indoor plumbing, or even houses), I don’t understand how humans can look at an animal that is obviously quite well adjusted and cared for and assume that they miss something that it was not able to survive.  Given a choice between living in a house with running water and electricity and living out of a cave or hut, keeping warm by covering myself with leaves and maybe dirt, scavenging for every bite of food just to survive, I will pick the house living any day.  And I would venture to bet large sums of money that the people making these statements would as well.  So why do we humans assume that these animals’ choices would be different? 

Yes, I truly believe that any animal that can survive wild and free and on their own should be given every opportunity to do so.  But those who cannot should not be forced to do so because of some ideological belief that some human that has built up this mythical nirvana called “the wild” in their head (or in a kids movie).

Had Lady Di remained in the wild, she would be long since dead and food for some other creature.  I just cannot believe that, given the choice, that would be hers.  So, rather than feeling sorry for something she doesn’t either remember or miss, how about we all be happy that she was found and saved and now lives a happy and pampered life?

Maybe a better use of people's time would be to focus on making “the wild” a safe place for wildlife to survive instead of continuing to destroy it and still expecting animals to survive in the mess we have created?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pet Parrot Safety

Recently we rescued a pet parrot that had flown away from his home.  Thankfully for this parrot, he went to a human, most will be too scared to do this, so he was reunited with his owner.  While we were looking for the owner, we received calls and emails from dozens of people who were hoping it was their bird.  Many had been missing their pet parrot for as much as two years.
Of all of the species that we deal with, no species escapes and is lost as often as pet parrots.  In fact, this has become such a common and ongoing issue that several areas of the country are now dealing with an overabundance of now feral parrots that are taking over their natural habitats.  This isn’t good for the parrots or the native wildlife of the area.  In other areas of the country, these parrots aren’t nearly so lucky, they simply cannot survive the weather or local wildlife kills them.
I always worry about the fear factor.  How scary must it be for an animal that was born captive and has always depended on humans for food and other necessities to suddenly be out on their own, having to take care of themselves and get themselves out of harm’s way?  I imagine it would be a bit like putting a child out.  Yes, some may survive and learn to forage and find shelter, but is this a happy, safe or desired existence? 
Having wings means that if a parrot gets out, they can go quite a distance before being even spotted and most just won’t survive our wild.  Remember, these birds aren’t native here, they aren’t meant to live in this area, even the food isn’t right. Between the weather and the predators, chances of survival are slim, and as we’ve pointed out, if they do survive, will it be a nice life when they don’t have the proper food and they are constantly having to outfly predators?  Remember, the majority of these birds were born captive, even their parents have never seen “the wild”.
If you have or want a pet parrot, please do not despair, escape is not imminent.  There are things that you can do to ensure your parrot’s safety. 
The first thing we strongly suggest with all pets, not just parrots, is that you have your pet microchipped.  This is a simple, safe and inexpensive and could mean the difference between seeing your bird again and not.  If you move, please remember to update your information with the microchip company.  We have seen animals returned to their owners up to 5 years after they were lost, simply because they were microchipped!
Wing clipping is a simple and humane way to keep your parrot from leaving. While birds whose wings are clipped do still have enough flight capability to get away from a predator for the time it would take you to get to your bird (assuming that you are watching your bird as you should be).  Of course, birds do molt out and regrow all of their feathers, so this is a process that will need to be repeated a couple of times a year.  Wing clipping only takes off the longest part of the flight feathers, wings will still look perfectly normal when the wings are tucked against the body. Clipping these feathers is very similar to cutting your hair, it does not cause the bird pain.  If you are not comfortable clipping the wings of your own bird, there are many vets who will do it for you for a nominal fee.  While we all believe that we can keep our own birds safe in our homes, it only takes a split second for a bird to get through a door and fly to a place where you can’t get them back.  This could save you a lot of stress and heartbreak and it could very well save your bird’s life!
We do fully understand that fully flighted birds are stunning to watch and that birds who are trained to free fly can be much happier having the ability to fly with the supervision of their owners at times.  And we truly believe that this is a wonderful option for birds that are fully trained!  This training though takes time and patients and must be reinforced continually in order to ensure that your bird always returns when you call!  There are many wonderful training classes available in most areas and even more can be found online!

Having a pet, no matter what the species, can be the most rewarding thing in the world, but it can also be the most heartbreaking if we, the guardians of our animals, do not take steps to ensure the safety of our pets. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Frozen with Fear

Have you ever heard the term FROZEN WITH FEAR?  It is real!

One thing we, as humans, seem to forget at times is that we are large and imposing and that to many smaller species, we are predators.  We receive calls quite often from people who believe a small bird or baby opossum is comforted by them holding it because the animal becomes still and is not fighting.  Many even explain to us that the animals know they are vegan or vegetarian by their scent and that is why the animal is comforted by them holding it.

Well, this is one of those instances when people are anthropomorphizing the animals they are looking at.  Assuming that all animals can smell the meat that we consume coming from our skin is really giving their noses a bit more credit than they deserve.  Also, assuming that at a time when the animal is in fear for its life it is thinking of how we smell is simply not right.  Some can for sure, most mammals can, but songbirds have very little sense of smell and what they have they don’t tend to use and any animal that is in fear for their life is not going to think clearly enough to stop and determine what you smell like.
So how do animals know which animals (including humans) are predators and which are not?  Mother Nature has given them a way to tell this without them having to get anywhere close enough to sniff the other animal!  The placement of our eyes!  If you look at all mammals, those that are meant to eat meat (including humans) have their eyes on the front of their head, those that eat no meat - herbivores (and therefore prey species) have eyes on the side of their head. 
The reality is these animals are quite literally frozen in fear.  In their reality, fighting or wiggling will make most predators kill and eat them faster.  Consider being in their position, a very large predator is holding you, would fighting really help?  Probably not.  But, if you appear sick or even dead, some predators will reconsider their choice in meals and possibly not eat you.  That is what these animals are hoping for.
It really doesn’t matter if you eat meat or not, in the natural world, humans are predators and animals are quite aware of this fact.  Our eyes being on the front of our head make this fact impossible to hide from animals.  Your change in diet did not change the placement of your eyes on your head.
Please, keep in mind your place in nature when you are around wildlife.