To Keep or Not to Keep?

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Made some good progress this week, and I expect to make some more before I sleep tonight. I found a decent groove again, and finally finished chapter 14-15 and sent them out for critique. Also, I’m nearly done with chapter 16 as well. Still distracted by Bleach though…

This week I had a conversation with a customer at the wildlife center that got me thinking. We have monitors showing video of our 7 bear cubs, and this woman brought her 15-year-old daughter in to see the bears. The girl was obviously absolutely enamored by what we do; although she was very quiet, she reminded me of myself when I was younger. I hope she sticks out three more years and then comes to volunteer for us.

Her mother did not remind me of nice things. She wasn’t overtly rude or mean, and I do feel like we had a constructive conversation. But she started out trying to goad me. Or at least, that’s how I felt.

“You got room for opossums right now?” she asked. “‘Cause I just passed a hit-by-car possum on the side of the road. I didn’t stop to check if it had babies because a couple years ago we found some and you wouldn’t take them. You were full. We did the illegal thing and kept them. One year we did squirrels, too.”

She said it like a challenge. She said it self-righteously, almost angrily. She said it, and what she meant was “just try telling me I shouldn’t have done it, I’ll take you on!”

And what could I say, really? We do get full. We’re a non-profit, with limited money, limited space, limited staff. We limit the number of animals we take in because we refuse to give sub-standard care for our animals. We take as many as we can, and we are always trying to find ways to care for more without shoving 80 squirrels into a shoebox.

We work hard to help people find a place to send the animal if we don’t have room, but the truth is there are always more animals than there is space in the rehab facilities in the area. Wildlife isn’t really a priority for most people. I mean, let’s face it, we can’t even get humans the help they need, how much less do we do for animals? Luckily, they take care of their own food and housing as long as we don’t hit them with cars or cats. But still. There is a need, and the four major centers in the state of Washington cannot meet that need in its entirety.

But does all that mean this woman was justified in keeping the opossums or the squirrels? She did break the law, but her goal was admirable – to help those animals. We probably were full. And although there are always options other than keeping the animal – at some level she (and probably her daughter) wanted to keep those babies. They’re terribly cute – trust me, I know how cute they are! She wanted to help. She went to great lengths just to help those animals. She became responsible for their lives, she is a savior. She feels special and accomplished. How could I stand against that? How dare I disagree with that? Am I so selfish and self-righteous that I would scold her for doing that, just because it is against the law?

I suppose so. I disagree at a very deep level with people trying to raise animals without training and licensing. It violates my ethical code.

I’ve seen too many instances where it has gone terribly wrong, for the humans and for the animals. I’ve seen birds fed such poor quality food that their bones cannot even stand up against the pull of their weak little muscles. I’ve seen raccoons that are too old and destructive for the people who raised them to keep them, and now they are so used to people they can’t ever go back out into the wild again. I’ve seen squirrels that were fed with such poor technique that their chests are sunken in with pneumonia. I’ve seen countless animals brought in dying just because people wanted to try to care and something went wrong. These are sad, sad things. These are the situations that I would do almost anything to avoid. This is why I believe that in 98% of cases, humane euthanasia is better for an animal than being raised by untrained hands.

Was this lady one of the 2% or one of the 98%? I don’t know. I’m not so far gone as to say that anyone who violates my beliefs in this area is wrong or bad. Lots of people have the interests of the animals at heart, and have different ways of acting on those interests. I’d like to believe that she did well, and those animals lived well in her care and afterward. I’d like to believe that next time she’ll call us before she tries to do it on her own.

Baby season has begun, and soon we’ll be full. It is unavoidable, and this same situation will arise again and again. As much as I want to, I cannot take responsibility for the animals that don’t make it into our care. I can’t control what people do, but I can educate the people who I come into contact with. After all, unless you have experienced the horror that results from improper care, and seen the suffering of innocent baby animals first hand, how could you possibly understand my stance that euthanasia would be better?

This, I think, is the root of all of it. It is extraordinarily hard (in life, not just regarding wildlife) to be objective. To keep our own goals, wants, and needs from clouding our judgement. In this case, to see that good intentions do not always bring good results. Although it is a struggle and I don’t always manage it, it is my goal and my job to put the needs of the animals first – and to communicate this with people who care.

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