Are you sure the baby animal's parents aren't around?
That's a question we at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center ask dozens of times a day. It's not that we're interrogating the concerned people who call or bring animals to us. It's just that we want to do the right thing for the animal, and help people understand the best course of action when they want to help.
The WRC, in Roseville, is one of the nation's largest wildlife hospitals. Last year we treated 8,000 injured and orphaned wild animals from among 180 species. We've been caring for injured wildlife since our beginnings in 1979 at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. We're experienced, and good, at what we do.
However, as good as we are, most baby animals are better off with their parents and/or other adults of their species.
What can you do to help the wildlife you encounter?
Make sure a baby animal is truly orphaned before trying to "rescue" it. Most babies' parents are nearby; they often stay away from their nest to avoid attracting predators or are off gathering food. Unless the baby is injured, it should be left alone but kept under a watchful eye.
Examine your property before running power tools. Check the grass and shrubs for rabbit nests; look for squirrel and raccoon nests before cutting tree branches or patching chimneys, etc. Check the barbeque; many small animals and even birds will nest in unused grills.
Resist the urge, most often from well-meaning children, to try to raise orphaned animals yourself. While the impulse to care for these babies and help raise them is laudable, the unintended consequences are nearly always disastrous for the animal and sometimes for people, too.
Perhaps most important of all: Keep your pets under control. Keep dogs on a leash and keep cats indoors. Last year, nearly 1,000 of the 8,000 injured wild animals admitted to the WRC were the victims of a domestic pet attack.
Yes, it might be annoying to have squirrels nesting in your soffits. But they won't be there long; they'll be gone when their babies leave the nest, at which time you can take care of any repairs.
Summer is often short in Minnesota. Armed with shovels and rakes, accompanied by kids, dogs and cats, we attack our outdoor work with vigor.
Longtime Iowa newspaper reporter and editorialist W. Earl Hall once wrote that "science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny, spring day." So slow down -- enjoy the blossoming of summer and the miracle of new life going on all around you. Doing so might save the life of a small, helpless animal, and -- who knows -- the salutary effects might even save yours.
Phil Jenni is executive director of the nonprofit Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville. If you have questions about an injured or orphaned wild animal, please call the WRC at 651-486-9453 or go to www.wrcmn.org.