Ah, the General Public

Another aspect of this internship, dreaded almost as much as the “meat run,” entailed answering the wildlife rescue hotline.  One of the few positives of this shift was the fact that it lasted exactly ten hours.  No other shift offered a ten-hour guarantee.  Occasionally, people on the other end of the phone were pleasant, welcoming the information we gave them.

“Ma’am, the bird has not been orphaned.  He simply fell out of his nest.”

“Oh really? Really?  Okay, good.  So what do I have to do?”

“If you know where the nest is located and can reach it, put the bird back into the nest.”

“Do I have to wear gloves or anything?  Because the mom won’t come back to her babies if she smells humans, right?”

“Actually, that’s a common myth.”

“Well, I’ll be…”

Or something like that.

Oftentimes, a Good Samaritan mistakes a fledgling found on the ground for an orphaned bird.  If the bird has some feather plumage, it is likely learning to fly and you can place it back in the nest.  It is a myth that mother's will abandon the nest if their is a human's scent.  Some birds, like this yellow crowned night heron, are actually orphaned and need to be cared for at a licensed rehabilitation center.
Oftentimes, a Good Samaritan mistakes a fledgling found on the ground for an orphaned bird. If the bird has some feather plumage, it is likely learning to fly and you can place it back in the nest. It is a myth that mother’s will abandon the nest if their is a human’s scent. Some birds, like this yellow crowned night heron, are actually orphaned and need to be cared for at a licensed rehabilitation center.

But more likely than not, a frantic, ungrateful and impatient, or, my personal favorite, crazy person, called the hotline.  On one of my hotline shifts, I received a call from the Texas Wildlife Commission (TWC) with whom WRR worked closely.  I was given a number to call regarding a woman needing placement for a bear, a cub that she had been feeding bananas and Three Musketeers.  The following is a real conversation from my hotline shift.

Night hawks were a species of bird I had never seen up close.  They soon became my favorite with their large mouths and eyes.  Remember to monitor a nest once you put a potential fledgling back to make sure the mother comes back.  If she is alive, she will!
Night hawks were a species of bird I had never seen up close. They soon became my favorite with their large mouths and eyes. Remember to monitor a nest once you put a potential fledgling back to make sure the mother comes back. If she is alive, she will!

“Hi, my name is Stacey and I’m calling from Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.  I was given your number by TWC regarding a bear?”

“Oh yes, I need help.  You can help me?  No one else will help me.  I have a bear in my house.”

“How long have you had the bear?” I said, ready with a pen to fill out the form requesting permanent residency for an ex-pet.

“Three weeks.”

“And you would like us to take the bear?”

“Yes!”

“Okay, I have to get some information first.  How did you come across this bear?”

“I didn’t come across him.  He came into my house!”

“Oh… and you decided to keep him?”

“No, he won’t leave!  I need someone to take this bear!”

Now, with reason, WRR has a policy that before going out to handle a wildlife crisis, we need to be well-informed.  In this instance, I was taken completely off-guard, having thought the woman no longer wanted this bear as a pet (which P.S. no one should ever have a bear or any other wild animal as a pet–more on that later).  New information was brought to the table suggesting a bear had entered this woman’s house and taken up residency for the past three weeks.

“Ma’am, how did the bear get into your house in the first place?”

“He came in through the back door, I think.”

“What have you done to try to get the bear out?”

“He won’t leave!”

“I understand.  But how have you attempted to remove him up to now?”

“I can’t get rid of him!”

Inhaling deeply and as quietly as possible, I rephrased the question.  “Do you have an exit way for the bear?”

“What?”

“Well in order for him to leave, you need to open up your doors and windows to give him an exit.  Then you can shoo him out.”

“No, I need someone to come remove this bear.”

With the conversation going in circles, I started asking different questions, subsequently creating an entirely new understanding of the situation.

WRR is home to a handful of ex-pet, ex-show and ex-zoo bears.  Baylor University's bear "retired" to the facility to live out the rest of his life.
WRR is home to a handful of ex-pet, ex-show and ex-zoo bears. Baylor University’s bear “retired” to the facility to live out the rest of his life.

“How big is the bear?” I said.

“I don’t know, three or four inches.”

I started to write that down but then stopped, puzzled.  No bear cub is three to four inches even at birth.

“Do you mean feet?”

“What?  Feet?  Yes, it has feet.”

“No, how big did you say the animal is?”

“I already told you, about four inches.  Are you sending someone out to pick up Baby?” Enter jaw-dropping moment of realization… this lady is crazy.

“I’m sorry, to pick up who?”

“Baby.  That’s what I named him.  But I don’t want Baby in my house anymore.”  At this exact moment, I distinctly remember placing my hand over my mouth to stifle a laugh.

“And how did you come to the conclusion that the animal is a bear?”

“Well, it looks like a bear with those little ears.  They’re like a Teddy bear’s.”

“Ma’am, are you feeding this animal?”

“Well he only eats bananas and Three Musketeers.”

“Okay, Ma’am, please stop feeding the animal.  Take away the food–”

“But he needs to eat.”

“Yes, but if you take away the food and open up a door, he will have to move around to look for food.  Eventually, the animal will leave.”

“But–”

“Ma’am, please do not under any circumstances continue to feed this animal unless it is to lure him outside.  Is it possible for you to take a photo of this animal and send it to us?”  Let’s face it folks, I had no idea what we were dealing with.

“No, I cannot do that.  You need to come get Baby right now.”

“Is the reason that you cannot send us a photo because you don’t have access to a camera?”

“I don’t have one, no.”

“Could you possibly borrow one from a neighbor or a friend, and ask them to e-mail us the photo?”

“No, I don’t like my neighbors.”

The situation was clearly frustrating, but I was also getting a kick out of it all.  “I understand that you want the animal removed,” I said, “but we do not remove healthy animals as we are a non-profit organization advocating coexistence with the natural world.  I can give you the number for Critter Control.”

Black bears and brown bears got along well in the same enclosure at WRR.
Black bears and brown bears got along well in the same enclosure at WRR.

“They won’t help me.  I am not paying them.”

“Is there anyone else who has seen this animal, who can maybe identify him?”

“Well, the police man was here but he tried to get it out with a broom and scared it into a corner.  I told him not to, but he didn’t listen.  He didn’t listen!  I’m going to call them and file a complaint!”

I found that starting my questions with “Ma’am” helped make my delivery calmer.

“Ma’am, has anyone besides the police officer seen this animal?”

“Yes, my Meals on Wheels lady and homecare lady.”  And that was the kicker.  But there was more.

“And get this,” she continued.  “He’s racist.”

“I’m sorry, he’s racist?”  My forehead was now pounding on the desk.

“He ran away from the homecare lady, and she’s white, just like the police man.  But he didn’t run from the Meals on Wheels lady, and she’s black.”

“Interesting.  Ma’am, can I call–”

“So what I’m gonna do is, I’m gonna call up the police station and tell them to send over a black police man with a net so he can trap the bear and get him out.”

“Ma’am, we are receiving a high volume of calls now, so I need to attend to some other calls but I will get back to you shortly while I discuss this situation with my supervisor.”

It’s true; we were receiving a high volume of calls as baby season had exploded upon us.  But I really needed to talk this over with someone who had a little more sanity.  At the end of the day, I told the woman we would look into the situation, and it stayed an on-going case.  Three days later, it came to light that the “bear” had babies, resulting in four animals being fed bananas and Three Musketeers.  We surmised that the animals were a family of raccoons.  Eventually, we stopped hearing from the woman, and, after I had a conversation with her about ghosts, labeled this an illegitimate case.  But still, I turned in the form, putting on my most serious face, roaring with laughter as my supervisor’s look turned to complete bafflement the further she read.

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