Little Raccoon Rascals

Each summer, Snowdon rescues any number of wild animal babies, and this year was no exception. Alyssa and her staff have had numerous orphans streaming through our clinic for treatment, including birds of all sorts, waterfowl, squirrels, skunks, bunnies, fawns, and perhaps the most heart-melting of all, baby raccoons! One summer as a friend and I were volunteering at Snowdon, we noticed there were three orphaned raccoons that were tucked away in the clinic. They needed multiple bottle feedings each day. As the hardworking Snowdon staff was typically overwhelmed with baby animal care during the summer months, we offered to help feed the little guys. I peered into a small kennel and saw three tiny gray and white things all huddled together sleeping. How utterly peaceful and adorable. When they heard the latch of the kennel door open, they sprang to life! All three babes came toddling out, making incredibly raucous screeching cries, and using their tiny little raccoon hands to grab out at anything that might become a handhold. They were perfect little miniature raccoons, so soft and yet so loud! We each gently grabbed one or two and proceeded to fumble around with some syringe tubes filled with warm milk replacer formula. The babies had not learned to use a nipple tip (and never would), so we just put this huge syringe tube in their mouths and slowly squeezed out the formula. Amazingly enough, those little babies unhinged and opened their jaws to grab that huge syringe tube, and we were off to the races. They squawked the whole time unless the milk was actually going down their throats, at which time the screeches turned more into gurgles. They all ended up with milk all over their faces and running down their tiny bodies, but that didn’t seem to matter. All they wanted were full bellies. One by one, when we achieved full belly status, the screeching stopped, we cleaned them off, and they toddled off to sleep in their cushy bedding. It would all be repeated in a few hours. Whew! But boy were those little masked faces and grabby hands cute.


As the little noise-pots grew, they demonstrated amazing climbing and clinging skills on the kennel door. When it was meal time, they would be all over that mesh door, clinging upside-down, sideways, and into any other position their little fingers could get them into. It was all noise, all movement, and all messy fun until those bellies were satisfied. One baby had an obvious case of mange on her tail, which was being treated every few weeks with the appropriate parasite medication. I think it was my second or third feeding when someone casually mentioned that I should be wearing gloves. Oh, right – my mistake. Mange is caused by tiny parasites that burrow into the skin and wreak havoc on one’s hair follicles. Surely once I washed my hands after handling those cute little raccoon rascals, the parasites would disappear down the drain. Not so! The night after my last ungloved feeding, I woke up in the middle of the night with my right hand on fire. I groggily reached over to my bed stand where I had a stash of various creams and oils, grabbed a bottle of peppermint/wintergreen oil, and slathered it on the hand. The next morning, I had a vague recollection of doing something with that oil, but I couldn’t quite remember until I smelled my hand. It felt great and smelled even better! The oil must have drowned the little mange mites. But the memories of that pain came back, and I now have a whole new perspective on what animals with mange go through. It is agonizing. No wonder infestations can kill entire colonies of squirrels and foxes! The pain and relentless burning can sap an animal’s immune system and cause horrible hair loss, leading to starvation and eventual death. Knowing that the baby raccoons at Snowdon had mange that was being successfully treated made me feel quite good about wildlife rehabilitation and the good work they can do.


As the baby raccoons outgrew their kennel and were able to climb well, they were transferred to a special raccoon enclosure. We helped stock the enclosure with tree branches to climb, fun things to do, and we even hung a little hammock for them to sleep in. Now we had to back off from human contact and let them become wild again. That was easier said than done because those creatures are just so cute. Their little busy fingers are always going, and they make these cute little chittering and purring sounds. We just enjoyed watching them play amongst themselves with no input from us. The best part was watching them eat the fruit, veggie, and dog kibble salads we made for them. Hearing them crunch grapes and watching the pure joy on their faces was priceless. They loved playing in the water, too. There’s a great video on Snowdon’s Facebook page of baby raccoons playing with the running water of a hose.


By September, the babies had grown into little adults, and the cute chittering was replaced with a little more growling and hissing, which is perfectly normal and just fine. Raccoons are pretty much defenseless in the wild except for their attitudes and growls and hisses. They need to intimidate to survive since they can’t really run fast or threaten anyone with sharp claws. Those little fingers are sure soft and cute, but they can’t be used in self-defense. All orphaned raccoons rehabilitated at Snowdon, including the two cuties Alyssa and crew have this summer, will exhibit the same behaviors as they grow and mature. Their hissy attitudes let us know when it is about the right time to release them back into the wild. What I didn’t know with that first trio, however, was exactly how to catch them and put them in transport crates. My friend and I volunteered to release the now-large and wild raccoons, and so one day we went into the raccoon enclosure with all kinds of confidence that this would be easy. Just throw their favorite foods into a crate and wait for them to stroll in. Uh, no, that’s not what happened. We tried everything we could think of to get them into the crates, but the little monkeys had other ideas. After my clumsy attempts flailing around and getting beat by those slippery little goons, I was finally able to barely grab one’s neck scruff and toss him into a crate, at which time he let out a growl that sounded like an adult cougar! Yikes. I soon got better at a more peaceful transfer when I was able to grab a young raccoon by her torso from behind. She just went limp and let me do that – no growling, no squirming. It was as if she said, “Well, why didn’t you just do that to begin with?” I have since learned that the torso grab is the best way to handle raccoons, so a few years later when faced with the same task of catching young raccoons for release, it went much more smoothly. I did get a few growls, a bite on the glove, and some loose bladder spray that conveniently went into hubby Jeff’s direction, but we caught those raccoons quickly and drama-free. Holy cow.


At both release sites, we chose areas near streams with lots of trees for the raccoons to climb for safety. Both sets of raccoons that I released acted the same while facing newfound freedom. They initially did not want to leave their kennels. One bold one would finally step out and immediately climb the kennel door, showing us once again their impressive gravity-defying skills. The others would follow eventually, all climbing up, over, and around their kennels. That actually made for some great photo ops. Slowly but surely, the little group of siblings would amble off, all the while smelling, touching, and examining anything they could explore. It must have been a sensory overload for these orphans to finally get this chance to be reintroduced to nature. I loved the way they stuck together. The second released pair found a slick-bark birch tree to climb, and my release partner, Snowdon Board of Directors member Debbie, and I had several silent moments of laughter as they each fell out of that tree twice! But those little raccoon fingers soon learned how to master birch bark, and we left the youngsters with a stockpile of food to snack on before we slowly retreated away. May their little bandit skills serve them well in the wildlife! May the raccoons currently in the care of Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary enjoy a similar release experience in the near future. In other words, this story is to be continued.

Lunches With Luna

I fondly remember my “lunches with Luna” during the summer of 2014. Luna was a red fox who had been hit by a car and injured very badly. Her rear leg was broken, requiring surgery and hospitalization for an extended period of time. The leg bone did not heal correctly, and Luna was left with a limp and mistrust of humans who had caused such pain. When I met her, she was in the large chain link enclosure specially designed for foxes. The Snowdon Board of Directors, in conjunction with Idaho Fish & Game, had determined that Luna’s injury rendered her non-releasable to the wild. Accordingly, the Snowdon staff was instructed to encourage Luna’s socialization to human contact so that she could become an educational animal. Years earlier, Snowdon had an educational fox named Maizey, who was very friendly toward humans and regularly visited children’s classrooms. I saw her on many occasions out and about in town with Snowdon founder Linda DeEulis. They were a delightful pair! Remembering this, I didn’t give much thought to Luna following in her predecessor’s footsteps. I asked the interns if I and my friend could help socialize Luna during our weekly volunteer visits to Snowdon that summer. And thus we began a weekly routine of having our sack lunches with Luna in her enclosure.


At first, we just wanted Luna to be comfortable around us. She was not. Her nervous energy kept her panting and pacing back and forth as we calmly watched. We offered her food, which she suspiciously took from us before running off to bury it. As we learned her food favorites – cheeses, the meats from my friend’s sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and dog treats – Luna came closer and closer, but never quite close enough for us to touch. The interns, who also spent many hours with Luna, showed us her play toys – stuffed animals, balls, and the always-popular stick with a feather on a string. She loved pouncing after the toys. Several times she even playfully grabbed my ponytail from the back, probably envisioning ambushing a bushy-tailed woodrat. I took this as a positive sign that she was getting more comfortable around us. But by the end of the summer, it was clear to everyone that Luna did not truly enjoy being around humans. You could just tell by the look on her face that she wanted a different life. Her nervousness and distrust were evident.


Everyone collectively made the decision that Luna would not become a classroom ambassador. It wasn’t fair to her to remain captive in a gravel environment surrounded by chain link. Besides, Snowdon’s mission is to “Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Release,” with a secondary emphasis on education. I fully supported the idea of a “soft release” for her. She had demonstrated hunting skills in her pen by snatching an occasional chipmunk or bird who had ventured too closely to snack on Luna’s food. And the girl could dig! She buried more food than a barrel of nut-hoarding squirrels. The plan was to transfer Luna to the 1-acre enclosure for a period of about six months, determine if she would be able to successfully hunt for her food despite the broken leg, and then if all went well, open the gate next spring and set her free. She could hang around the sanctuary for food if she pleased or wander off in her own direction.


I made sure to be there for her transfer into the 1-acre pen. It has a forest canopy of larch, lodgepole pine, and spruce, as well as a healthy understory of huckleberry bushes and ninebark. When Luna was released, she immediately ran off and disappeared into the bushes. Kelsey, one of Snowdon’s incredible interns, decided that Luna should have her favorite toy, a pink stuffed bunny. She ran and retrieved the bunny from Luna’s old cage and brought it to the new habitat. We all called for Luna. I don’t think any of us expected to see her. But amazingly, Luna appeared from the bushes and went straight to her pink bunny toy, which was lying in some long grass that had flattened out into a soft bed during the fall weather. She latched onto the bunny and rolled onto her back in that grass. Now, if you can just picture what a face of pure contentment might look like on a fox, Luna had it. It was the very first time I saw her relax and smile! She lolled around in the grass and looked at us with an expression that spoke of gratitude. We had never realized that the entire time she spent at our sanctuary, not to mention her long stint at the vet clinic, she was without grass. She had only known cold, hard steel, concrete, or gravel floors. What a huge oversight on our part! That day, Luna’s actions imprinted on us that we humans need to do better at providing rehabilitating animals a more natural environment. Without it, they may never thrive.


I think everyone expected to spend many more hours with Luna in her new habitat now that she was relaxed. I really wanted to see her begin to thrive. But Luna had her own plans. It wasn’t more than a few days later that the interns discovered Luna was gone. A quick inspection revealed that she had found the one spot in the enclosure that was vulnerable to digging under the fence. The vast majority of the enclosure has chain link fencing buried at the base of the vertical fencing to prevent digging. Except for that one tiny spot, literally no more than 5 inches wide… Luna had released herself! She deftly dug a small hole and slipped out. We all hoped beyond hope that we’d see her again, coming back for a visit or for food. It would be so great to know she was doing well on her own. But Luna needed to leave our presence to fully heal. She was never seen again. With her special skills and wild spirit, we can have no doubt she is living the good life.


Kwaali, The Born-Again Squirrel

Kwaali, the Born-Again Squirrel

Sometimes animals just know best. Such was the case with a tree squirrel that had been hit by a car. Jeff and I were volunteering at Snowdon one day when we received a scratchy cell phone call from a guy who had scooped up an injured, unconscious squirrel and wrapped him in a towel. At least that’s what I thought he said. Cell phone coverage at Snowdon can be fleeting at times. Then the caller said he was speedily on his way to the sanctuary as we spoke, so it was lucky that Jeff and I happened to be on site to assess this squirrel. In my mind, a squirrel vs. a car does not usually end well for the squirrel. When Brent drove up, this was the scene: All the vehicle windows were open; there was a large panting black dog in the back seat; and there was a lively squirrel running back and forth across the top of the bench seat. Apparently, the squirrel came back to life during the drive! I couldn’t believe that the squirrel didn’t jump out the open windows or, for that matter, into the dog’s gaping mouth. This was when I began to chuckle.


When Jeff and I tried to capture the squirrel to assess its injuries, it demonstrated amazing skills at eluding capture inside the car. It ran over Brent, onto the steering wheel, across Brent’s arms, and back to the seat top. At one point, the little squirrel jumped straight onto the big dog’s head and clamped all four squirrel toes onto his doggie scalp, like a toupee! At Brent’s command, Elroy the dog froze, and the little squirrel ran down Elroy’s back to the other end of the vehicle.


OK, at this point I was having a hard time containing my laughter while trying my best to act professionally. Needless to say, everyone realized the squirrel wasn’t fatally injured, so laughing was also good stress relief. After several more clumsy attempts to capture this squirrel who was now flying around the back of the vehicle, Brent finally said he’d like to try the gentle approach.


Jeff and I backed off while Brent stretched his arm toward the squirrel. Then Brent began to sing. It was a gentle little song that he was making up as he went. Brent named the squirrel Kwaali at that moment. We couldn’t believe what happened next. The wide-eyed squirrel slowly walked up Brent’s arm and touched Brent’s face with his little squirrel nose. I am not making this up! Then Jeff made a quick grab and put Kwaali in a beer box (Pyramid IPA, I believe). We transferred him to a small kennel where we could get a good look at his injuries, noting one limp foot but use of the toes, and some scrapes on his face and jaw. This was one lucky squirrel.


We put together a nice bowl of food and water and brought Kwaali to one of the outdoor rehabilitation cages. We felt confident he would recover and be released soon. Snowdon takes in and successfully rehabilitates countless squirrels. Sometimes I think of Snowdon as a Youth Hostel for our young local squirrels. Just ask Sierra how many orphaned baby squirrels she has nurtured during her first year as manager!


At this point in my story, as we were transferring Kwaali from his beer box to the larger cage, he must have decided that the nearby bushes looked better than a cage. As Jeff grabbed the beer box for transfer, little Kwaali flew from the box and jumped onto my shoulder. He then launched squarely onto Jeff’s face and made a final bounce off into the bushes! My laughter just about brought me to my knees. Even Jeff and Brent were giggling now. Kwaali could not have chosen a better spot to release himself than the forested habitat of our wildlife sanctuary. He will have food and plenty of other squirrels for company! Go, Kwaali.


Little Yoga bear

Little Yoga Bear

By Erin Rohlman


Ever since my husband Jeff and I moved to the McCall area in 1986, it seems we have been involved with helping Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary and its founder Linda DeEulis. Jeff is a retired Wildlife Biologist (Regional Manager) with Idaho Department of Fish & Game and is now on the Snowdon Board of Directors.  I am also retired, and having always been a huge wildlife advocate, I’ve been volunteering more for the sanctuary since Linda’s passing. Jeff and I also operate a satellite wildlife care facility at our home for Snowdon’s special needs cases.


So, when there was a 3-month gap between managers one year at Snowdon, we happily stepped in to manage the facility, along with help from other Board members and a trove of dedicated volunteers. It was in the fall of 2017 when we received a particularly distressing call from Jake – Jake had a bear cub in his house. It was snowing and a bitter cold November day, and we wondered how this man ended up with a bear cub in his house. The cub would be 9 months old at this point and surely far too big and feisty for someone to have in a house, so…. Hmmmm…. Jake said that he found the cub lying in the road near his house. He instinctively just scooped it up in a blanket and rushed it home. The cub didn’t put up any sort of fight. Over the phone, Jake said that the cub was small and appeared injured and, in fact, that its head was “oozing.” Jeff immediately contacted the Idaho Fish & Game Regional Manager to coordinate with her regarding this rescue need.


We soon arrived at Jake’s house in a particularly blinding snow swirl. Several friendly border collies appeared out of nowhere to greet us. They seemed to multiply out of the snow dust! But it was all tail wags and some puppy love, so all was good. Then Jake appeared and escorted us into the house. What I saw next was heartbreaking. A tiny bear cub, one of the smallest I’ve ever seen, was staggering around the kitchen area. Its back was hunched, and its face was so thin that it didn’t even look like a bear. In fact, Jake pulled up a cell phone image of a sloth bear from Asia and asked me if this is what the cub was! I said “No, this is a starving black bear cub. It is near death.” Then I had to choke back a few tears. Jake and his wife showed us how they had set up a crate with lots of warm blankets, food, water, and a tiny tether to keep the cub from crawling off. They had kept it overnight and fed it lots of bananas and apples, which it devoured each time something was offered. Just as I remarked that bears don’t usually like bananas, Jake peeled one and the cub grabbed it slowly and ate it. The couple and their two young children had taken care of this dying cub the previous evening, and by the time we saw it the following morning, the cub had regained enough energy to do a little hissing and chomping at the humans. This was a very good sign! The bad sign, however, was the infected head wound. It was oozing and nasty, looking like the cub had been attacked by a predator or perhaps hit by a car some time ago. I wasn’t hopeful that a bear cub at this level of starvation could survive an infection like that. Jeff managed to get the cub into our crate, and we thanked Jake and his family for saving this little female bear. The kids had named her Yogi but then changed it to Yoga when they saw it was female. Soon, we were off in our snowstorm for the drive to Snowdon to begin her rehabilitation.


As we approached the gate at the sanctuary, we intercepted the new winter caretaker on her way out. Her name was Erin, too, and I asked if she wanted to help us give medical attention to a starving bear cub. She turned her car around faster than I thought possible in deep snow! This was Erin’s second day at Snowdon, and it turned out to be the bear cub’s lucky day that we brought Erin back with us. It seems Erin had lots of wildlife rehabilitation experience, and, even better, she loved to dress infected wounds! Infections are not my favorite thing at all, and to tell the truth, I have been known to gag at the sight and smell of such things. Jeff is much more tolerant of dry heaving, so he usually deals with this part of life as we help our animal friends through such traumas. So, with this bear cub, Jeff sedated her and did a physical exam, Erin masterfully drained and dressed the head wound and injected subcutaneous fluids to counter the severe dehydration, while I played nurse, handing them supplies and taking notes. We put this tiny thing on the scale and had to recoil when it read just ten pounds. A nine-month-old cub that weighed ten pounds was simply heart-wrenching. The tiny body had not an ounce of fat on it. Yoga had been starving for quite some time, probably losing her mother back in June and fending for herself for the past five months. No one could believe she had survived this long. It is against all odds.


Yoga spent the next several days in a large crate inside the warm sanctuary clinic building. The outside temperatures were dipping below freezing, and we knew little Yoga didn’t have any body fat for insulation. We also knew it was time to transfer her to an outside pen when, after about five days inside, she showed a lot more normal bear cub aggression during feedings and cage cleanings. Before we let her go, though, we had to “decorate” her outdoor pen. I wanted it to have plenty of places for her to hide, so Erin and June, our Snowdon Board of Directors president, helped me cut and haul in some tree branches to place all around Yoga’s pen, weaving a few through the chain link fencing, and making lots of soft places to nest in. Jeff spent about an hour cub-proofing this pen, which had previously been used for a bobcat as well as many rounds of orphaned ducks and geese. Turns out it had a few holes in the fencing that this tiny cub could squeeze through, or worse, get injured from during any escape attempts. Jeff patched them all quickly and thoroughly. After that, the pen was Yoga’s little paradise for 6 weeks. She had a huge array of gourmet foods at her disposal…. savory designer dog food recently donated by our local pet store, lots of apples, greens, berries, honey, peanut butter, meat chunks of donated fish, beef, pork, venison, and whatever else anyone could give her to that might add fat to her tiny body. The plan was to move her into the one-acre forested pen with another orphaned cub as soon as she gained enough weight. Yoga needed strength to fend him off should the other male cub be aggressive around the food bowl.


Soon enough, it became hugely apparent that all our TLC paid off for Yoga. After six weeks, we decided it was time for her move in with the other cub. She needed to climb real trees and become a real bear, hopefully making fast friends with the other cub. Jeff sedated Yoga for one last health assessment and weight. The health check was amazing! First, she weighed a whopping 44 pounds. No way! – the scale must be off. We weighed her again to make sure it wasn’t off by 20 pounds or so. We had all guesstimated she weighed 24 pounds. But no, it was 44 pounds. When we spread her out to check her former head wound, the fat covering her body rippled like Jell-O at every touch. Even her head wound had completely healed. A nice patch of dark brown fur had covered every square millimeter of what had been an open wound. She was not even going to have a scar! I noticed that her undercoat of fur was coming in gray/brown rather than her normal light brown coat. It was really pretty, reminding me of a roan-colored horse, one of my favorite horse colors. I think perhaps the stress of starvation changed her coat color for this year, and maybe her future coats will return to brown. But I kind of hope not, since that roan color was just so darn cool. We finished Yoga’s exam and took her out to her new home for the next seven months. She eventually woke up from her sedation, staggered around a bit, ate an apple, and then finally made her way out the door and into the snow and trees of her new pen. I got a few cool photos of her climbing her first tree. Once we saw that she was back in control of her limbs and could climb like a pro, we left her to explore her new acre of forest and meet her new bear cub roommate.


Just a few days after her release into the large enclosure, Jeff noted that both sets of snowy bear cub tracks led into a winter den structure that we had stuffed with fresh hay. The two cubs had found each other and were now denning together in the shelter to pass the winter months! I teared up as I reflected that this was the best thing I could have hoped for. These cubs, who started off life in the worst possible way, were now happy, warm, well-fed, and on their way to resuming wild lives, now with a best buddy.


In early June, Jeff was able to catch the two cubs and release them into the wild, both in the same area. They were released about 5 hours apart because they were caught at different times in their sanctuary pen. However, Jeff was confident they would reunite soon using their incredible senses of smell. Hopefully they could explore their new wild habitat together for several months before natural instincts kicked in, sending them on separate journeys. This is, after all, the best we could possibly hope for with wild bears.

 Tiny bear cub found along road in November

Yoga’s belly fat after 6 weeks at Snowdon