Note: The post is edited from the original so as to obey the rules of English style.
My friends Tanya and Tom have an uncanny affinity for wildlife. They live on a hobby farm a few miles away, and whenever I happen to stop in there is always a new baby to care for or another adoption in the works. Last week, I dropped off some feed for their fawn Clover (who was) rescued from the road after her mom was hit by a car. A pudgy, box-shaped bulldog waddled out of the house grumbling at the arrival of my unfamiliar car followed by Sally the sheepdog and Sniff, the terrier (both hoping for handouts and hugs). The bulldog, named Tracker by his previous owner, had been expected to be somewhat ferocious but was dropped off at the hobby farm when it was discovered he had hip problems and would need ongoing care. Tanya and Tom have a soft spot for just about everything and couldn’t turn him away. He’s new and still finding his place in the pecking order.
Tracker, Sally and Sniff followed us down to the neat, clean enclosure that Clover the fawn shares with a goat who was seriously injured when she was born outside in winter and was found frozen to the ground. Her back hooves never formed properly and her ears are cropped by the frost as well, but Gracie has become one of the flock now, enjoying a nip from Clover's baby bottle at feeding time and expecting treats from visitors. Clover is tiny but healthy and strong. She will allow you to pet her now, but will soon be taken to the wildlife sanctuary where she’ll be integrated slowly back into the wild.
There are ducks (both wild and domestic), white geese and Canada geese who were chicks when brought to Tom and Tanya. The wild geese follow the white ones, and we wondered if they will follow the wild flocks when the fall comes. If not, they will have to go the wildlife center as well. It’s always a question when taking in forest babies. Some can go back into the wild right away, but others need time to forget the kindness and the care they receive from the “good” people so they can run, when they’re healthy, from the ones who would do them harm.
"You haven’t met Squirt," said Tanya as she closed the gate to Gracie and Clover's pen. Followed by geese, dogs and me, Tanya went into the breezeway that connects their house to the garage and came out with the tiniest little skunk. He fit into the palm of her hand and was so sound asleep, he just lay there like a bean-bag toy. She gently scratched his tummy and he wiggled his leg just the way a dog does when you scratch the right spot. He yawned and stretched and opened his eyes. Tanya put him down on the grass and said “watch”.
Immediately their sheepdog Sally became Squirt’s mom. She lay down beside him and licked him from head to toe. Squirt disappeared between her front paws and Sally pulled him back by the tail so she could finish the toilette. "We found him on the ground, covered in wood ticks," Tom told me. "Those ticks had just about taken the life right out of him when we brought him home. We took out the ticks and brought him 'round with a special formula for baby animals mixed with a bit of dog food. They fed him a drop at a time and Sally took over the mothering needed to keep him alive." They weren't sure how old Squirt was, but it was evident by the way he was growing that they would have to make a decision soon. If they kept him, he’d have to be descented. If they took him to the center, they would have to stop babying him and let him be wild. Tanya popped Squirt into her breast pocket where he snuggled down for another nap. I offered to contact a veterinarian friend who might be able to tell us something about descenting this baby! It was hard to leave their place without picking up Squirt again. How often, if ever, does one come this close to a real live skunk!
I called my friend Paul who has had some veterinary wildlife experience. He said that operating on skunks was not recommended for two reasons. They can have rabies which often goes undetected for weeks and they are very hard to anaesthetize. He said if you give them too much anaesthetic, they die and if you give them too little, they get up in the middle of the surgery and walk away!
It was decided to let Squirt rediscover his wildlife roots and return to the forest. With great difficulty, Tom and Tanya have stopped cuddling their newest baby. They have stopped hand feeding him and provide his food without touching him when Sally has finished grooming. Sally is his only domestic contact now and soon she will have to stop licking, nuzzling and loving him. It’s all part of giving back to nature something that was temporarily on loan.
I think about the hundreds of times I have seen skunks on the road and the times my dog Willy needed to test his ferocity on one with disastrous results. Other than giving them the right of way on the lawn, I never knew much about them and now I’ve met Squirt. I held him in my hands, watched him curl up next to his surrogate mom and even wished (that with a little intervention) he could be turned into a pet. In a few days he will be en route to his next adventure and hopefully a long and healthy natural life. How lucky I am to live in the country. How lucky I am to have friends like Tom and Tracey. For every person who would harm an animal, there is someone who would rescue them. There’s a place in heaven for these folks and wouldn’t it be nice if there was a crowd of rescued animals there waiting to welcome them home.