Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How did it all begin?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, and I must apologize! Being in a car accident and then sick for weeks on end made me a bit slack in this area. So, I asked our fans what they would like me to blog about and was told they want to know the story of how CLAWS got started.

Wow, ok, good topic, but where do I start? Do I go back to when I was a kid, bringing home strange creatures in need? The first litter of skunks I raised when I was 5? My last pet skunk, before CLAWS started? Where oh where to start? While CLAWS was only incorporated in 2004, I feel I’ve been doing this my entire life, so where is the starting point?

Well, I think I found one, or I hope I did at least.

We moved to North Carolina in 1994 and quickly found out that I could not rehabilitate or even have as pets many of the animals I was used to living with, like raccoons and skunks and foxes. That left a huge hole in my life. While I’d always been a career woman, working in the computer industry as a database administrator/database designer for over 23 years, I still always maintained a level of animal contact that was now missing in my life.

So, the first thing we did was start volunteering at a place that allowed us to work with large cats and some other AMAZING animals! That filled my need pretty much, for almost 10 years. Then the philosophy of the facility took a complete 180 degree turn and we could no longer support it, so that left a new hole. We’d spent up to 40 hours a week helping these animals, plus 40 hours at our jobs and raising our kids (who also worked with the animals) and now, again, there was nothing in my life with wild animals!

So, I tried a couple of other places to volunteer at, most were just too far away. It did enable me to babysit a couple of raccoons though and really drove home my intense need to once again share my life with a raccoon. I had been calling the state and asking for eight years, how I could do this, and all I’d be told was “get one, just don’t get caught”. Well, that’s not “how I roll”, I really wanted to do this on the up and up and not endanger the animal’s life (if you are caught with an illegal animal, that animal is killed).

I did still spend hours and hours on my own, helping animals. I remember right before starting CLAWS, getting an email from somebody who knew I used to work with bear. There were three orphaned cubs in I think Minnesota that were in dire need. The state gave us 72 hours to find a place they would agree to or they were going to euthanize them. I stayed up for 72 hours. I’ll never forget my husband and daughter walking into my office at home; finding me crying and thinking the babies were dead. Quite the contrary! I’d convinced a wildlife officer to introduce them to a hibernating, wild mother bear!!! He was NOT convinced my methods would work, but still uses them to this day! My tears were tears or joy and amazing relief. I also knew this is what I was meant to do with my life! While I never saw those babies, they became a part of my life for those three days and still are to this day. THIS was the type of thing I could do to make a REAL difference in the world!

FINALLY one woman told me how she got her raccoon legally….YAY!

It was a 2 year process of both state and federal licensing, but it was well worth it. We assembled our board, decided that we’d have a three part mission; rehabilitation of native wildlife, rescue of exotic animals (which, in this state, includes raccoons, skunks and foxes, since nobody is allowed to rehabilitate them), and education of the public.

Then came THAT call, the one I didn’t want but was waiting for. A baby raccoon, in November, who was dying and the people were tired of hearing his cries. His entire litter had been “raised” by some people who didn’t know what they were doing, didn’t spend the time needed and all but this last tiny, filthy little guy were dead. The people had kept them in a wooden box, in a goat pen and fed them once a day, cow’s milk (not good for anything) for MONTHS. How this little darling survived is something I’ll never understand.

He got here at midnight, he was so filthy I could not tell if he was a boy or a girl (you tell with raccoons the same way you do dogs, so it should be easy), but I could get him to eat. At a time of year that this little angel should have weighed between 10 and 15 pounds, he weighed 15 ounces. I stayed up all night, talking to him, feeding him, subQing him and falling madly in love with him! He was the most beautiful baby I’d seen EVER! Even if he smelled and was scared and dying!

The next morning, off we went to Dr. Dan! Got him clean and yes, he was a boy! We figured out that it wasn’t that he didn’t have teeth yet, it was that he’d chewed them down to his gum line trying to get out of the wooden box so he wouldn’t starve to death! Nobody was truly convinced we could save this precious angel, who now became known as Pooka!

Three months later, he weighed 5 pounds, ruled our home thoroughly and our lives and the vet really didn’t think he would grow any more so he would not make it in the wild. Well, this boy was NOT leaving! I remember calling my best friend and telling her “I don’t’ care how, but this boy is staying with me, and he’s going to show people why his species is important and why you need to know what you are doing before you try to raise an animal”. I had no idea how the state would react to what I was doing, but it didn’t matter, I was determined to get it done!

And yes, I did get it done. We had permits out our ears within weeks! And Pooka became the first CLAWS educational animal! He ruled my life and my heart for 8 very short years. He met and educated thousands of children and adults alike and he LOVED his job! He KNEW when he went out that he was “representing” for his entire species!

Now, he did fool us a bit in the beginning. AFTER he was fully licensed, he did decide it was ok to grow and made it to almost 30 pounds. Even at 30 pounds, he was still my baby, still trusted me enough to fall into my arms from hanging upside down 8 feet in the air! He also welcomed our other educational animals literally with open arms. He and the kinkajous became hard and fast friends!

Pooka never lived outside; the first 6 months of his life gave him a serious fear of outside, unless Mommy (me) was holding his hand. So he lived in the house, as a family member!

Sadly, at the age of 8, cancer took our precious Pooka from our lives. He will remain forever in our hearts and our mission will continue BECAUSE of this beautiful, pitiful, 15 ounce crying baby!

So, I guess, in the end, Pooka started it all! And now, we will continue his message in his honor!