Sorry about that. It's just that sooo much has been going on, and not all has been pleasant.
I haven't been able to release of all my 2012 wildlife before the weather turned, mainly because my cages were backed up and the weather too inconsistent. So an opossum is spending the winter in my rehab room and a cottontail is still in the oversized outdoor hutch. Heck, why not?, he has it made with a thick layer of hay, a warm nest box, food galore, and protection from the elements. He is completely wild and will be released this spring, I just didn't have the heart to toss him out in the sudden snow last November, and when I tried to release him the first time in October he refused to leave the cage...
As a recap of 2012, when I did my total accounting for the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife the number was staggering: I had taken in 97 animals during the year. Not all made it, but the majority did. All were given the best possible care, and those who died passed away peacefully and relatively pain free. Sometimes that is all a wildlife rehabilitator can do, make them comfortable with pain medication and warmth and allow them to slip away calmly and quietly.
2011 was my year of the raccoons, and 2012 was my first year taking in skunks until their release. I wasn't sure if I could do that simply because usually skunks are kept well away from other wildlife and in outdoor pens far away from human activity and pets. I could do neither: our property is a measely 0.13 acres with often obnoxiciously noisy next door neighbors, and I only have one tiny rehab room which is in the basement. Above is the kitchen with tile floor, and when the dogs play with toys the clunking can get quite loud in the rehab room.
Baby skunks are in the top five in terms of cute appearance, but they can have a temper. My adventure started with Stinker, a little boy who was brought by a young couple who had already fallen madly in love with him. He was quite articulate and let me know that he wasn't happy in his initial home, a large carrier, he wanted out and interact with me. Eventually he settled down in his new abode which I kept in the living room area for close observation. Three days after Stinker's arrival I received a call about a very lethargic baby skunk that had been found baking in the hot sun in the middle of a lawn. The little girl was covered with fleas and quite dehydrated but seemed fine otherwise. It took a while to get rid of all the fleas and administer subcutaneous fluids to give her a head start, but eventually she was stable enough to be introduced to Stinker. I thought he'd be elated to get company of his own kind, a play mate, yaaaaaay! Not so... Stinker had a hissy fit, and when skunks get really, REALLY upset it also gets really, REALLY smelly. "Open the door!!!" I yelled at my husband as I grabbed the carrier and hurried it outside. Stinker wasn't aiming at anybody in particular, he was just letting go indiscriminately while screaming in the little girl's face to get out of his house. She just stood there, dazed, but eventually grew annoyed by his fit and suddenly screamed back. That unexpected retaliation took Stinker by surprise and he did shut up indeed. I was outside the entire time, filming away, trying to stay out of the aim of the swollen anal area whenever Stinke's behind was turning my way, but I never once got sprayed. Eventually Stinker was exhausted and quieted down, and that gave the girl a chance to take a few bites of food. An hour later the two were sleeping together, and yet another hour later they started to play with each other. They remained in the living room until they had grown big enough to warrant a larger cage in the rehab room.
Once I had been "primed", another call came in: five orphaned skunk babies needed help. The woman told me that a neighbor had called Pest Control to remove a skunk that wandered onto his property at night, and Pest Control killed her without first checking if she was nursing young. When the man returned to dispatch the youngsters the woman stood up to him and told him that the babies were on her property and he was trespassing and better get lost. Then she called me.
It took a total of 10 days to trap every last skunk youngster. They were not in good shape, with mangy looking fur, dirty, and pretty skinny, but they perked up quickly. They never grew tame, always ran for cover when they saw a glimpse of me, but never went on the offensive either. When they were sound asleep I got a glimpse into the world of skunks, and I loved every moment of it. Young skunks are in many ways similar to kittens, inquisitive, curious, and playful. The main difference is their powerhouse on-board weaponry which is fully functioning at birth. Babies are not able to control this rear missile so "baby farts" are common but not unpleasant. These little farts do not contain the noxious oily fluid that sends any predator packing immediately.
Stinker, left, and Stinkie. I could easily tell the two apart by their different blazes. Skunks differ greatly in markings, from nearly all white to nearly all black.
Inquisitive younster explores brand new litter box. Her fur is still ratty looking from malnutrition
The opossum lived right next to the five skunk youngsters. Both are nocturnal.
Much to my surprise, the skunks all settled in nicely in the rehab room despite the noise of other animals very close by. I never smelled anything and they never sprayed when I entered the room, they just ran for cover. The one time I did get sprayed was an accident. I was cleaning out their litter box which required both hands, and they were horsing around. I had left the cage door open since it only took a minute to dump and clean out the litter box, and one of the youngsters accidentally got pushed out the door. He frantically hung on with one hind leg and I tried to grab him before he hit the floor nose first, but I could only grab the tail as he fell. In a panic, although not hurt, he let go, and the ricochet spray hit me. I grabbed him and put him back in the cage, then ran for my supplies to mix the skunk odor removal recipe. Half an hour later I was showered, my clothes had been dunked in the solution, and I had wiped down all surfaces in the rehab room that had been sprayed. By morning the smell was quite faint and non-detectable two days later.
Here is the recipe since I know there will be people asking about it.
1 quart Hydrogen Peroxide
1/4 cup Baking Soda
1 tsn dish detergent (I like Dawn since it cuts grease so well,and skunk spray is very oily)
Mix all ingredients in an open container and use immediately. Avoid eye contact. Throw away any unused portions. This mixture is volatile, never put in a closed container or bottle! Note: Hydrogen Peroxide bleaches, so do not leave on long. I poured it in my hair, worked it in, then immediately rinsed it out. The clothes I merely dunked in, the smell was gone on contact.
The five skunks went in the outside cage first for acclimating, and despite rowdy neighbors they remained calm and did not spray. I released them two weeks later into a wildlife management area late at night and watched them slowly wander off into the dark. By then their fur was thick and smooth and they were beautiful. I had given them the best start in life I possibly could, and it had paid off. They were healthy and strong.
Stinker and Stinkie went in the outside cage next and were released at the same spot two weeks following their stay outdoors. This was the tougher release since both had been so friendly with me. I drove by the area again two nights later hoping I wouldn't see any dead skunks alongside the highway, and gladly, I didn't. I checked the release area and called out and nobody came. Despite their friendliness, this had been a good release and I felt a lot better after that.
I will always take skunks despite the high cost of raising them. One skunk cost me about $150 to raise, so these seven were over $1,000. Donations received for them had actually been very generous: Stinker came with a lot of supplies such as paper bedding, pine bedding, rabbit food, and other supplies, all broken bags that could not be sold in retail, the woman had collected at the place she works. Stinkie came with $20, and the five came with a total of $250, the largest donation I've ever received for a litter of babies. Without the supplies the cost would have been higher still.
People who bring animals generally don't think nor expect to be asked about a donation. Whenever possible I ask them on the phone already, and there have been times when I simply could not take on yet another animal that would arrive without a single cent. I have determined that the absolutely low end of raising wildlife, when I average it out over the total number of animals taken in, comes to $65 per animal but is potentially much higher than that. We never factor in the endless hours and 24 hour days when we get a critically ill animal in, time is voluntary. I say "we" because no wildlife rehabilitator worth their salt will charge for their time. Many rehabbers manage to get volunteers to help out with cage cleanings and transportation of sick wildlife, even fund raising to help keep them above water. For some reason I have not been lucky in that area: I have to do it all myself. And it is a killer. Every year more and more birds arrive, I am the "catch-all" in my area since the nearest bird rehabber is 50 miles away and most people refuse to travel that far. Raising both birds and mammals simultaneously is physically extremely taxing and exhausting since birds must be fed and then cleaned every 15-30 minutes from sun-up til past sun-down whereas neonate squirrels need feeding every three hours around the clock. Sleep becomes virtually non-existent, and eventually I crash. Every year I promise myself I will NOT take any more birds, but many people don't even call anymore, they simply show up at my door with the little thing looking at me helplessly... Birds cost a fortune to raise since they devour live insects and worms which we have to buy online by the tens of thousands and then have to pay for overnight shipping since otherwise there is no live arrival guarantee. I kept track of the worms I fed to a clutch of five tiny Carolina wrens one day and was shocked: those little 1-inch bouncy-balls devoured a total of 1,052 mealworms in one day alone. At Petco, where mealworms are sold in containers of 50 or 100, that would have been about $70 for one day. Online prices are a little less than half, but still, the cost is prohibitive. I have a HUGE respect for bird parents who tirelessly hunt insects for their hungry brood all day long.
Maybe now you understand why I try to sell my beautiful paper crafts: it is to help offset the enormous difference between actual cost and donations I receive to raise the wildlife in my care. If I am lucky I manage to get about 1/4 in donation and have to somehow scrape together the remaining 75% out of our own pockets. Is it a wonder that we have no money for heating oil?
I've been told by a Clark University professor who helps people achieve non-profit status that I should lower the quality of my crafts in order to push out more quantity. That did not sit well with me at all. I pride myself with the quality of my items, shortcuts or so-called "five minute" items are not on the menu. I believe in my craft and that, as word goes out, people come to appreciate the uniqueness of my creations in that there isn't anybody else who makes anything similar to what I create.
With that being said, it's off to showing you some of the items I've been working on. See the following post for that!