ON WILDNESS AND TRUST

The summer before last I found myself in the right place at the right time to rescue a gravely injured baby possum. I had turned the last corner, heading home, when I saw a tiny gray creature staggering down the center of the road. My brain took a moment to register what my eyes were seeing. The animal had no face. But it was still moving, blindly, trying to get to safety. I realized that I was the safety it needed. 

I did the only thing I could do. I stopped and picked up the bleeding baby and tucked it into my shirt. Frantically, I called around to find someplace that could give the animal care it so desperately needed. I found the place. Fast forward since that day and I am now a sub

certified wildlife rescuer and transporter for the non profit Wildlife Rehab Center in Grand Rapids, MI. 

Since that day I have had the honor of rescuing, and rehabbing, dozens of birds and other wildlife. I’m getting a reputation around my smallish city as the one to call when there is an animal in need. I always have the time to head out on a rescue. I get to touch and care for vulnerable little creatures who need me. 

This past summer was unbelievably busy with various newborns who were orphaned. I hand fed dozens of Starlings, every two hours, and watched them go from naked little babies into fully feathered adults yearning to fly. There were a few Robins mixed in there, as well as one Cardinal. The last bird I rescued, three weeks ago, was a gorgeous red headed woodpecker. His wing was broken and there was no way to fix it.

There were two foxes. One had a broken leg, probably hit by a car, and she survived! The other, sadly, had distemper and he was euthanized. He was beautiful. All of the animals are beautiful.

I also had three Redtail Hawks! One of them we had to chase down and capture with nothing but a blanket. He was a juvenile and was tired and dehydrated and couldn’t fly. My friend and I followed him around a housing complex until he got himself cornered in a side yard. I was pretty scared as I approached him! He was on his back, wings spread, with his taloned feet clawing at the air. I laid the blanket over him and scooped him like a football and he was safe and transported to the rescue. A little rest and sustenance and he was able to return to the wild. The two other hawks didn’t make it. One had a shattered wing that was not repairable. The other had an old break, which kept it from flying, and he died before I could get him into the rehab’s care. He was starving before I even got him so there was little I could do. My heart was still broken. 

My favorites are the possums! I’ve had the tiniest babies to a big old grandad with a scarred face and missing toes. On one of the hottest days of this year I picked up a deceased momma possum that had a pouch full of babies still attached to the nipples. I can not tell you how bad she smelled as I drove the forty five minutes to the rescue. (I don’t have air conditioning in my van). Time was of importance because the babies can not detach themselves and eventually the milk flowing through the nipples will become toxic and kill them. Baby possums swallow the nipples so they can not just be pulled off or the nipple will break and the baby will choke. I made it to the facility and I was taught how to firmly hold the baby’s head and gently slide the nipple out of its mouth. Then I learned how to tube feed them. 

The tiny ones I don’t care for often. I fill in the gap between weaning and release. This year was my first year in this role and I believe I raised and released 11 (or 12) of them. The only hard part of the process is keeping my hands off of them when they are so small and cute! Their care is minimal as the goal is to keep them wild and fearful of humans. I feed them until they weigh two healthy pounds then I set them free. It is amazingly fulfilling and makes me feel like I am making a difference in the world. A world so full of pain and sorrow.

I had someone recently ask me: why don’t you put this much energy into helping people instead of animals? I mean, they are just animals.

Oh, where to start.

Animals are pure. I can not say that about humans. There are always hidden agendas and ulterior motives. We never know the truth about another person. It’s weird though . . . I will help another person at the drop of a hat. Even though I don’t trust most of them. But, the animals are different. I know they are labeled wild. At least with this kind of wild I know what to expect.

When I was cautiously approaching the Redtail Hawk, cornered in a yard, I knew the danger it posed to me. Its wings were spread as wide as they could be. He was trying to intimidate me with his size. Leathery feet with inch long talons rapidly clawed at the air. I knew they were dangerous and would slice through my skin with little trouble. I also knew he needed help even if he didn’t understand that. But, knowing the truth of the predatory bird’s nature made me careful as to how I approached it. I knew the worst that could happen.

We don’t know those things about people, do we? Each has their own set of behaviors they exhibit as we interact with them. Except these behaviors are not to warn us off but to bring us in closer. These behaviors are not unadulterated but used to garner an intended reaction. There is thought behind them. Most times, I’ve found, these thoughts are to serve the purpose of the person who is performing them. Not all purposes are for the good of both people involved. With this being said . . . how do we trust each other? I don’t know if we ever can.

I can, however, trust the wild animals that I rescue and rehabilitate. They just want to be left alone and survive. They don’t want to size me up and see what they can get from me. They don’t lie. Or hide things. Play mind games to manipulate my feelings. Or, change the rules when they’ve had enough. 

Animals are pure. Their love is genuine. Their needs are simple. 

This is why I choose to help animals. Not over people because I still help my fair share of people. But, with animals: what you see is what you get. I don’t get anything from them in return for my care. I do feel happy that I have helped a vulnerable creature and made a difference in their life. I give them what they need in order to get to the next chapter. I am a better person for it.

I can not say the same about my interactions with most people. I know that sounds sad but until we learn to treat each other with pure intention we can’t fully trust. So, I’ll keep giving my time and attention to some of the most vulnerable creatures on earth. There are thousands of organizations that are set up to help people in need. I will let them do what they do and I’ll stick to chasing hawks and fattening up baby possums. 

There is little chance of me being hurt by a wild animal . . . unless I am careless. 

The picture I shared at the top of this blog is of an injured possum I picked up this evening. The text I received said there was a “neuro possum” that needed to be cared for overnight and transported tomorrow. A probable head injury. He’s not very mobile and would not have been able to get to a warm shelter. Currently, he’s snuggled in clean straw, covered with a towel, in my basement. There is a little dish of water, some dog kibble, and a sliced up banana for him to eat. He is safe and secure and tomorrow my friend will drive him into the rehab center where he will be seen by a vet. 

I carefully lift up the corner of the towel to peek at my patient. Making sure I don’t get my hand too close to his mouth. I know he will bite me so I act accordingly. Yep, I’ll take an animal over most people any day of the week. 

If I get hurt . . .it’s my fault. No one else’s. 

Author: Diane Neas

I'm a mother, artist, and writer. A decade ago I lost my daughter. I find writing, and painting, heal me. Sharing my story of loss and healing lightens what I carry. And, hopefully, my words help another along the way.

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