Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Diary of a Zoo

6/18/13, AM
Daddy tells me that someone he has trapped animals for in the past has some feral kittens hanging around his house. All the rescues are full, but I hate to see them become coyote food, so I tell him to go ahead and bring them home. Mom is full, too - she has two batches of orphaned puppies right now - but we have one empty kennel we can put them in until they are tame enough to rehome.

6/18/13, PM
Daddy e-mails and mentions, offhandedly, that we will also need a place for the four baby coons that Game and Fish just called him about. We have an old bird cage, maybe they can go in that.

Oh, and there are about ten kittens to trap. My kennel is not that big. I go on the local yard sale web site to find another cage for kittens, and snag a giant guinea pig cage that will work for a little while.

Daddy ascertains that the raccoon mother is definitely out of the picture and, conferring again with Game and Fish, brings the raccoons home. I was picturing bottle babies: these are about 6-7 weeks old. Forget the bird cage, these go in the kennel intended for kittens. After some very unsuccessful attempts at bottle feeding,

and absolutely no interest in mushed puppy food, we come to a happy mutual agreement about bread soaked in KMR.

6/20/13, AM
Guinea pig cage delivered to library. It really is a big cage, it should be fine for kittens.

6/20/13, PM
Or, for baby skunks.

View photo.JPG in slide show
And so begins the great Esbilac search. The local feed store only had one can of KMR. The ranch supply store is out of powdered, but has two cans of liquid. We begin feedings four times a day, followed by pottying (thank goodness the raccoons are good on that end - literally!)

Named the skunks, so we can tell them apart: Sage (the boy), Rose, Lily, Daisy, and Trouble. Draw your own conclusions there. Each has different markings on back and tail, so once you know what to look for, it's pretty easy to tell who is who.

Daisy and Sage are both a bit frail, eating maybe 3-5 cc's at a feeding (should be closer to 8). Trouble, on the other hand, ate until her belly was quite full. When I decided she was done and took the bottle away, she stomped her little feet at me! Baby skunk temper tantrums are officially the cutest thing of the week.

Everyone has gunky eyes, fleas, and mites. They are pottying some on their own, except Daisy, who seems to be constipated. Decided to go ahead and give them all flea baths, with extremely diluted kitten shampoo. Rinsed thoroughly and wiped eyes with wet paper towel. Daisy immediately pooped, yay!

I am 42 years old and getting excited about skunk poop.

Let the raccoons out to play in the living room while we cleaned out their cage. Or, tried to. Thought they would come tumbling out of the basket, but they just wanted to climb to the top (probably because they got a good look at the kids, who we made stay on the sofa - they are allowed to look, but not touch.)

Of course, there isn't a top to climb to, but instinct is strong when you are scared. Two would get it rolling in one direction, and the other two would get carried along upside down. This had the kids in hysterics, which of course convinced the coons they were right to stay inside!
Skunks eating better, and what a difference the bath made for Daisy!

She ate well, and above is sucking on my fingers for more. Everyone seems to be pottying on their own - and all in the same spot - but I'm still wiping bottoms after feedings. All except Sage - he didn't want to eat at all this evening, just wanted to sleep. I put some in a dish, and both Rose and Lily lapped a bit up. Of course, Rose had to walk back and forth through it first, shoving everyone out of her way. She reminds me of Sara in the Land Before Time movies. Maybe I named the wrong one "Trouble"?
Sage died overnight:(
The raccoons NEED some exercise, so we put them in the living room with no basket. They found the hall corner with the vacuum cleaners and hid there, instead.

Blocked the hall off, and the raccoons hid behind M.'s desk. They absolutely would not come to me, but as soon as Daddy sat down and I stepped away, two came running right over to him! Great, even the wild animals are playing favorites.

Oh, right, the kittens! I borrowed another kennel from a friend at work, and Daddy has trapped three so far. Maybe 3 months old, eating dry kitten chow. A black tuxedo and a brown tabby who are halfway tame, just scared, and a solid grey who is going to take a little longer.

There is a stray dog wandering the area. NO. Absolutely not.

Daddy got the stray dog to come to him and eat some food. Just look at this face!

Photo: Anyone in the High Rolls, Mountain Park area recognize this guy? Been hanging around the house for the last few days. Very skinny and timid. Finally sniffed my hand and allowed me to scratch his ears but is still really jumpy.
Not to mention, the bones sticking out. People decide they don't want their dog any more, and think they can just dump it in the forest, and "it can hunt". Obviously, not!!!
Again, NO. There is just no way. I spread the pic around on Facebook, and posted to the same yard sale site where I got the cage.
Went back to the farming supply place, which had restocked its Esbilac, and bought them out again. Somehow, the cashier knew whose wife I was. The man in front of me in line told me to say "Hi" for him. Strange.
Several people e-mailed about the dog, wanting to know if he was good with other dogs, kids, etc. I just don't know, since there is no way I can bring him into the house right now.
Oh, wait, he's playing with the neighbor's hound, who won't even come to ME without much coaxing.

And, now he's curled up on Daddy's lap, watching the kids play and wagging his tail. He started licking jelly off L.'s hand, but I made him stop - who knows what that kid has been into, I wouldn't want the dog to get sick.
Photo: Now if he would let me stand up.
By bedtime, he had a new home with a very nice lady bearing homemade dog treats, and another dog waiting at home to play with him. Whew! And, hooray for happy endings!
Started letting the skunks wander the bathroom a bit after their feeding. The sulcatas were inside for the night, and Rose promptly sprayed poor George. Poor guy, he comes in at night as protection from the skunks and raccoons! Daisy is definitely not the frail one any more - she and Rose drink most of what I put in the bowl, even after their bottle feedings. Rose, of course, has to trundle through it first, to show she is the boss.
The kittens are using the litterbox, which is 50% of finding them a new home - now to get them cuddly and start advertising.
Tried the raccoons in the living room with the kids in bed this time. Daddy would bring two out, and go back to get the next two. The first two would follow him back to the kitchen. He would go back for them, and the second two would follow him out. There was a short vicious-circle thing going on (while I sat back and laughed helpfully), until we gave up and decided to just sanitize the kitchen floor later. We are going through a lot of bleach lately.
Tonight's coon-chosen theme was, "let's investigate cats."
Mija was not impressed.

Neither were the kittens.

And, no, we are not encouraging this - both kittens and raccoons can carry diseases and appear healthy. Had to snap a couple pictures first, though! The tabby wanted to play, reaching through the bars - an encouraging sign that she is feeling comfortable.
This is what happens when baby skunks are not fed IMMEDIATELY upon your arrival home:

Our teeth are in, and we are chewing holes in the bottle nipple. From now on we will be starting with a dish of milk, and then move on to the bottle.
And, this is what happens when you tell your 2yo he can look, but not go near:
In case you don't speak toddler, it's "Look at that one climbing up!" He thinks the raccoons are the funniest things in the world. They still find him mildly frightening, which is a feeling I can completely commiserate with. After having to partially dismantle my beautiful oak buffet after they squirrelled themselves underneath it, however, I am not finding them quite so enchanting.

Further investigation would seem to indicate that Trouble is actually a boy. Probably a good thing I didn't give him a flower name after all. He is also the only skunk who does not seem to be getting the hang of drinking out of a dish. Personally, I think he just wants to be served. Immediately. Frequently.

(Later, same day) That little snot!! I busted him gobbling up formula from the dish when he thought no one was looking - and then...then...I saw him eat a MOTH! Gummed it to death, mostly, they are just getting their teeth, but that's pretty impressive! Also very encouraging - it shows those instincts for recognizing food in the wild are there. Plus, we've had a recent moth infestation - it's a win all around.

We are still bottle feeding, but down to three times a day, and they aren't taking much. They are consuming the formula and cereal mix we put in the dish, and everyone seems to be pottying alone - and in the same area. Going to add a tray of dirt to that corner tomorrow.

I haven't had as much time as I'd like (go figure) to gentle the kittens. The tabby and tuxedo will let me hold them, but they aren't thrilled about it. I made pork chops tonight, and they went nuts at the smell, but wouldn't take any from my hand.

The coons, on the other hand, are feeling comfortable enough to play a bit when they are out.

And then there are the adult, neighborhood coons, who are feeling entirely too comfortable with us altogether:

Notice the eyes poking out of the trash can (which was filled with dog food)? Like how we're using the otherwise ignored coon trap as a stepping stool? Sigh. These are from a litter of four that we did NOT raise - they just appeared last year. We relocated the mama and two siblings, but these two have proven too smart for the trap (and, obviously, the bunjee cord) so far. Guess the dog food is going inside for a while. Another reason the babies will be released faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar away from any houses!

Weighed the skunks today, and they range from 4.2 ounces (Lily) to 6.4 (Rose).

We were actually home all day, and everyone needed fresh air and exercise (we are working on an outside pen, but it isn't done yet.) Put the skunk and raccoon kennels in the garden, with covers. The skunks promptly hid inside their 'burrow' (appropriate skunk behavior in the daytime), while the coons wanted OUT! Sorry, guys, not yet!

The kittens got free run of the biggest bathroom for the morning, while their cage got a good cleaning. Of course, they all squeezed under the door and hid in the closet all day. When I went to put them back at lunchtime, I was missing one. I searched everywhere. Several times. Daddy searched everywhere. We let the golden retriever in, she sniffed around and wagged her tail. Typical cat, she showed up, in the middle of the bathroom, ten hours later.

The raccoons got their turn in the bathroom that afternoon, and had a ball making little handprints EVERYWHERE. Then they, too, hid in the closet. At least I didn't lose any of them.

When the skunks woke up in the evening, they got to wander around the living room. M. had brought her boyfriend up to meet the family. Between the critters climbing on him, being pelted with marshmallows outside in the rain, and the kids asking him things like, "Did you kiss M.?" "Did you go to jail?" and "Did you ever turn into a girl?", I think we made an impression. I don't know what M. was so worried about.

We are still offering the bottle, but Lily is the only one who will take it - everyone else is drinking from the dish.

Trouble. He kept dipping his fingers inside my sandal, which really, really tickles!

Of course, Trouble is M.'s favorite!

Lily wants to wrestle. She keeps lunging at her siblings, but her balance is a little off, so she falls over. They are largely ignoring her.

The raccoons are really starting to wrestle and play. They have killed several old towels, and are doing battle off and on with a tennis ball.

The kittens have moved to the living room, so I can actually get around in the kitchen, and so they will be around people more.

Some of Grandma's foster puppies are finally big enough to go to the no-kill shelter (where two were immediately adopted!), so the bigger kennel was free for us to borrow. The coons are much happier with more room to play and climb, although we still need to get the outside run done.

I didn't really need to get into any of those drawers, anyway.


Let the raccoons run around the house while the kids played outside. These are very intelligent coons, they headed straight for the school stuff, and started exploring:

Can you spot all four?
They also tried doing laundry, but with little success. Too bad, I would have had to think about keeping them around longer!
Figured out what to do about the raccoons outside. We didn't want to just move the dog food inside, because the next available food source was our chicken pen. So, we gave the chickens away and then moved the dog food. Problem solved. The coons signaled their disapproval by leaving muddy handprints all over Daddy's truck.
Everyone is down to three meals a day, which is good, because neither of us can make it home at lunch time any more! The skunks have gained 3-4 ounces each in the past week, and Daisy has gone from being the runt to being the biggest. Wormed the raccoons today and was rewarded with runny green poo - I don't think we'll be letting them out to play in the living room tonight. 
Play hard, sleep hard:
This USED TO be where we put our muddy shoes.
One month since the babies all arrived, and just about time for them to go. The raccoons are happily experimenting with everything as food, which is what we needed to see.
Ohhhhhh, I ate too much!
They can climb anything, and have started getting snappish when people they don't know are around. We have an area picked out for them that is miles from houses, heavily wooded, and has a small pond. The fun part will be transporting them, since it is closed off to vehicular traffic, but we are ready for a good day hike!
The skunks are probably a week or two away. They proved their feeding instincts when I introduced live crickets - holy feeding frenzy, Batman! I want to see them trying more plant matter - so far, they sample but aren't thrilled. They have almost tripled in size since we first weighed them, with Trouble quickly becoming the biggest. They are good at finding places to hide,
although Daddy finds their choices a bit questionable.
(Those boots are there to hold the towel down, so they can't climb out while I clean their cage. Working well, obviously.)
Ironically, it is the kittens that I feel like we have failed with. Two of the three never got much tamer - and didn't quite get the concept of the litter box. Fortunately, the ranch Daddy works at happens to be having a mouse problem. They have their freedom, a million places to stay warm and safe, and food left for them daily, in addition to all the rodents they can eat. Perfect match! Tabby cat, on the other hand, has decided she likes being indoors, understands the litter box, and has developed quite the purr when she gets her ears scratched. We already have a potential home for her, where she can steal somebody else's socks.

IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE: Wild animals are not pets! I know you know this, but I have to say it anyway. It is also illegal in NM (check on your own state) to hold a fur-bearing animal such as a raccoon, even for a day, without the proper license. No, it is not okay if you got it in another state. No, it is not okay if you are using it to train dogs. No, it is not okay if it is under a certain age. No, it is not okay if your cousin's uncle's grandpa's buddy did it. It. is. illegal.

It has been hard to not plaster Facebook with pictures and updates (I mean, these guys are CUTE!), but we haven't, for pretty much the above reason. Yes, Daddy has a license to trap nuisance wildlife year round, including protected fur bearers, and that includes permission to hold them for a short period of time as necessary, but we are not a regular rehab center. He had special permission from Game and Fish to hold these babies until they were ready to survive on their own.

Yes, they are adorable and fun, but there has never been any intention of making them pets, and that would require a completely different license. We knew that, unless we continually posted the information above with any pictures, we would run the risk of well-meaning people wanting to bring us every baby animal they ran across, without going through the proper channels. We would prefer our friends (or ourselves!) not end up in legal trouble!

If you find a baby animal you think may need help, first stand back and watch a bit. Some animals, such as deer, leave their babies alone for long periods while they search for food (it is actually safer for a fawn, which has no scent, to be away from Mom, who does). If you are certain the mother is out of the picture, call your local Game and Fish Department. They may come and get it themselves, they may send someone (like Daddy) to get it, or they may direct you to take it to the nearest shelter. Well-meaning people have been arrested and fined for just picking up a wild animal and taking it somewhere, so be careful!

Remember, also, that any wild animal can carry diseases. Raccoons, in particular, can carry rabies without ever looking sick themselves. Please protect yourself and your pets.

All that aside, we hope you enjoyed these little snapshots into what has been going on in our house this summer, and trust you will now understand why we haven't hosted the many playdates and barbecues we had planned:)

<Sniff> Bye, honey! Be sure to write!!!



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