Event slated to help rehabilitate wildlife

Hartwood Animal Hospital is the only clinic in the Fredericksburg area to treat injured wildlife

Date published: 4/15/2010
By CATHY DYSON

Remember that saying, that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature?

Workers at the Hartwood Animal Hospital kindly remind people of that–especially this time of year when animals leave their young for long periods of time.

“It’s the nature of humans to interfere because they think they’re helping,” said Dr. Helen Jewett, owner of the hospital in Stafford County.

Often, she said, it would be best if they left the babies where they found them.

For instance, that nest of bunnies that looks abandoned? They’re used to being alone while their mother fends for food–and she’s typically gone all day.

The same is true of a fawn, lying quietly in a thicket.

“LEAVE IT ALONE,” states a brochure the hospital staff created about dealing with wildlife. “It is always best to leave what you think is an ‘orphaned’ animal alone, unless it’s in obvious distress or in an unsafe location.”

When wildlife has been injured–or nabbed by well-meaning humans–there’s one place in the Fredericksburg area that treats them: Hartwood Animal Hospital.

“I call them ‘HAH’ ” as in hah-hah, said Randy Brooks, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who works with the staff at Hartwood. “I’ve gone through many front doors of clinics, and this is one of the happiest veterinary clinics I’ve ever walked into. They’re fantastic.”

Jewett opened HAH three years ago, and her staff probably takes 15 calls a week about wildlife during the spring and fall. That’s when animal babies abound and people are likely to come in contact with them.

HAH also treats a lot of injuries to animals from automobiles and farm equipment, weed eaters and lawn mowers. No state or federal agency reimburses the hospital for antibiotics pumped into hurt hawks or epoxy used to mend broken turtle shells.

But then, nobody pays licensed wildlife rehabilitators who work with HAH, who provide care after an animal’s wounds have been stabilized.

Because of that, the hospital is planning its first Walk for Wildlife Saturday at its facility, behind Lowe’s off U.S. 17 in Falmouth.

The one-mile walk down Celebrate Virginia Parkway begins at 10:30 a.m., followed by a talk with wildlife rehabbers at 11:30. Staff members will sell tickets for food, raffles and games, and all money raised goes to area wildlife rehabbers.

Jewett also hopes to educate more people about the risks involved with taking young ones from the nest–or treating their grown-up relatives like pets.

She’s seen some real doozies over the years. One woman came into the office, holding a turtle against her the same way an adult would burp a baby.

Problem was, the reptile was a snapping turtle that could have chomped her neck.

Then, there was the couple who found an injured duck that showed up at their pond. They mended the broken wing–with sewing thread–and brought it into Jewett.

She replaced the stitches with surgical thread and treated the duck with antibiotics and fluids.

“That duck made it,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing.”

Many others don’t.

Wild animals are programmed to hide their injuries “so they don’t become breakfast,” Jewett said.

By the time humans notice a grackle or great horned owl that can’t fly, the problem has been going on for so long, it’s beyond treatment.

That’s not to say some can’t be helped. Jewett has treated dazed songbirds that collided with picture windows or glass doors. After they got some fluids and regained their composure, they flew out the back door.

She knows the squirrels she treats–for distended stomachs after falling from trees–will make it because they’re hardy.

The same is not true of bunnies. The stress of being handled by a human or in a building with a barking dog is enough to kill them.

That’s why her goal–and that of fellow vets Alicia Stamp and Bridgette Shirley–is to get the animals stabilized, out of the clinic and into the hands of a rehabilitator as quickly as possible.

If the vets can’t save them, they ease their pain.

“We feel better humanely putting them to sleep when they’re beyond the point of help versus them dying a miserable death out there,” Jewett said. “We always joke the turkey vultures won’t be happy, but they’ve got plenty to clean up.”

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