Last week at Learning in the Woods, I noticed a strange “call”.  I assumed it was a bird that I had never heard before.  About an hour later, some of the kids ran over yelling excitedly “we found a puppy!”  I immediately thought, that’s possible.  Due to our location, we are used as a local dumping area…we’re not exactly remote.  Perhaps someone did abandon a puppy…

“Actually, it’s a Coyote puppy!” someone called.  Ugh.  By the time I approached the group, the oldest had picked it up, thus quieting it’s “call”.  I tried to get them to put the pup down again and said that we shouldn’t touch it, just leave it…but that was hard to convince the kids to do.  It really did look a puppy but with slightly longer nails.  The pup couldn’t really walk yet and, like a human baby, her eyes were still kind of blue.  It was needy and adorable.

The oldest child was saying how we needed to feed it and that he would take it home.  Younger ones were jumping and excited.  Even the adults were looking at each other trying to make sense of this.  Feeling like I couldn’t think straight with all the excitement, I suggested I call someone to figure out how best to handle the situation.

Not thinking especially clearly and not finding anyone local in a search for wildlife sanctuaries, I called several other options.  The only one to answer the phone was Hamilton Animal Services.  I asked what we should do and the dispatcher said that they would have to send someone out to assess the situation.  I felt relieved that someone would arrive to help problem solve because I was not thinking straight.  I stood still, scanning the area for coyote mom while we waited.

Animal Services arrived within 15 minutes.  That seemed really fast.  We are in a valley and by the time I got up the hill to our entrance, (I’m pregnant and don’t move as fast as excited kids and non-pregnant adults), the Animal Services Lady was wrapping the pup in a warm blanket and putting her in the van.  I thought we were going to discuss first…maybe everyone had?…this was all moving so fast.

The animal services lady seemed to be done her work as I arrived.  She seemed to be ready to leave.  Feeling uneasy, I asked her; taking the pup, was this the right thing to do?  She asked where we found the pup; we said in the open, near where our play area is.  She said that most likely the coyote mom had abandoned it for one reason or another; that some animals will abandon the runt of the litter to conserve care taking energy for the rest of the litter.

After she left, I started to calm down…and then some clear thinking and doubt set in.  I thought about how healthy this pup looked and I wanted a second opinion on how things had progressed.  It was then that I found the phone number to Urban Wildlife Care in Grimsby.  It turns out they are our closest provincial wildlife sanctuary willing to take infants, including coyote infants.  This was not one of the numbers I had called initially, but I really didn’t feel settled about how things had progressed so I left a message.

I received a call from Cara the next morning.  Cara’s passion for her work is clear and she is certainly very knowledgeable.  Her rule of thumb when you find a baby animal is WAIT 24 HOURS BEFORE CALLING ANYONE.  Unless you know for sure the baby is orphaned, your best plan is to vacate the area and check in now and then.

When she said this, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I MESSED UP. I knew this.  From personal experience finding baby raccoons and baby bunnies, I know that they should be left alone for a while to give mom a chance to come back and move them.

My next question was, why didn’t Hamilton Animal Services suggest this?  Cara said that there are no rules or laws around ensuring this sort of protection for wild animals in Ontario.  It is up to the discretion of the Animal Services agent to decide how best to handle each situation.  So we got someone who thought it was best to take the pup.

Do they have guidelines or protocol on how to handle a healthy coyote pup in their care?  Cara said that sometimes she will get a call to come and retrieve an orphaned animal from Animal Services but, again, it is up to the individual on the scene to make that assessment.

I told Cara that we didn’t have any coyotes show up on our hunting cameras in the past month. She said that lots of coyotes make their dens under decks and as people start to use their decks more in the spring, the coyote moms, creatures who generally try to avoid human contact, might decide to move their den location after having their litter.  She wondered if this was the case for our coyote mom.  She was moving her litter and we surprised her mid-move.  I thought of our neighbors surrounding Learning in the Woods; all of them have decks and the weather is finally becoming deck weather.

Cara and I went on to discuss the politics of funding for wildlife sanctuaries in Ontario.  While Animals Services is municipally funded, she receives a lot of their “referrals”.  Her funding is completely by donation.  There are not many sanctuaries in Ontario because the funding to run them is by donation, so only passionate people are motivated to do this underpaid work.  They also rely heavily on unpaid volunteers.  Infant animals are more costly to care for, so most sanctuaries do not have the resources to take infants.  Plus, infant survival rates are not always very good.  Wildlife sanctuaries like Urban Wildlife Care are inspected provincially and must abide by the province’s minimum standards, but they do not receive funding provincially.  Cara wants so badly for people to care more about Ontario wildlife so that basic care can be provided to all animals; thus minimizing the use of euthanasia.  She wishes people valued wildlife care as much as they do other provincial and municipal services or the SPCA.  Lastly she wishes that more people were aware of the importance of leaving wild baby animals alone for 24 hours.  Lots of people “jump the gun”, like we did, thus making a situation more complicated and costly than it has to be.

I keep asking myself why did this situation evolve the way it did?  I have encountered baby animals before.  I knew to give them space, check on them from a distance, but call if they seem weak or ill or if there was no parental contact in a day.  Why didn’t I do that this time?  If it had looked like a baby skunk or a fox kitten, would it have registered in my brain a little more clearly that THIS IS WILDLIFE?

I am currently learning about Nonviolent Communication and this week’s reading was about being present and open.  Reflecting back on my own actions, I was not “present” and “open” during the excitement of the pup.  If I could have recognized my own feelings in the moment, that I was feeling confused and excited, (not a good head place for me to be), I would have been better off grounding myself first.  Just taking a moment to breathe and get calm again would have done wonders for my logic to kick in.  Then I would have been in a better place to help the kids get grounded by empathizing with them about their excitement and desire to help.  I could have guided them to find empathy for the pup and the momma coyote without needing to “fix it”.

Instead I went into a reactionary mode.  Goodness, it is so easy to do.  I think a lot of self-aware parents will admit there are occasions when we are not coming from a calm and centered place.  When things are hairy, it’s easy to slip over into a reactionary solving mode when the best thing we could do is be calm ourselves and offer others a  peaceful space to connect, empathize, and think.

And so, I am writing this blog out of guilt.  It’s not a good reason to write a blog.  I usually write as a form of self-expression and I don’t really care if anyone reads it or reacts to it anyway.  I write and I’m done.  This blog is different…I’m still very heavy, wrestling with this…

NVC also promotes being compassionate with ourselves.  I feel angry with myself for not making the right choice for this coyote pup.  I feel angry with myself for being reactionary and that I couldn’t recognize that I needed to be in a calm place before moving forward.  I didn’t recognize that need in myself, and so I made a decision that lead to an outcome that is not in line with my value to be respectful to nature.  Others wish there had been a different outcome too.  I feel insecure because I didn’t meet the expectations of others, the expectations that I try to promote about being respectful to nature and responding from a place of calm.   But if I am kind to myself, I can see that I recognized I couldn’t think clearly and reached out for help.  I just didn’t get in touch with an organization that is in line with my values…Urban Wildlife Care is now on my contacts list though!  Also, I have been trying to reiterate to the kids that the most respectful thing to do would have been to give the pup and the coyote mom space and time to solve the problem on their own.  I’m doing my best to restore balance in accordance with my values.

So I am wishing I had done things differently.  But should you ever find “a puppy” in the woods hopefully you’ll remember this blog… And if you need an organization that is in line with caring for animals in a way that is respectful of their natural habitat, here is the info for Urban Wildlife Care.  905-818-5708 or follow on Facebook here.

It’s a great organization to donate to if your family values wildlife in our area or if you like to donate to animal groups like SPCA.

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